Tag Archives: memory

La Memoria Circundante o La Magdalena de Proust es el Picante de Pollo: Tres Semanas en Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Posted by Guillermo Severiche – MFA Student at Creative Writing in Spanish at NYU

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Poco antes de llegar a Cochabamba releía la frase de Por el camino de Swann en donde el narrador sumerge su magdalena en el té y el recuerdo de pronto lo invade. Allí entiende que del pasado antiguo – una vez todo muerto y derrumbado – lo que más subsiste son los olores y sabores. Allí esperan, dice, aguardan entre las ruinas salvaguardando la memoria incólume de las personas pasadas que han dejado de ser, de los momentos matutinos que quizás significaron más de lo que pensábamos. Al aterrizar en Cochabamba tuve la sensación de un retorno ajeno. Al principio pensé que había algo familiar en todo esto, que volvía a la casa que hacía poco había vuelto a abandonar. Al día siguiente y durante las próximas tres semanas, fueron muchos los indicios que me permitieron entender que los recuerdos persisten en zonas geográficas ajenas para uno pero cercanas a aquellos del pasado; que es posible recordar cosas desconocidas porque significaron la vida diaria de los seres que de alguna u otra forma nos definieron. Un plato de sopa, un pedazo de pan, algunos modos de habla y entonaciones de voz, me trajeron a la memoria cosas de mis abuelos que llevaron consigo al emigrar hacia la Argentina como modos cotidianos de vida y que han permanecido a mi alrededor más allá de su muerte.

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The Complexities of Mourning

Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student.  Media, Culture, and Communication NYU 

During my visit to the Casa Arana building, I could witness the sadness with which the young men that guided me through this site regarded the failed project of a cabinet-making workshop that I described in my last post. The other sign that I interpreted as a gesture of solemn sadness, was their attitude as we visited the cepo. A cepo is a yoke for humans -that is the exact meaning of the word-, but people in La Chorrera actually use it to speak about a small room next to the stairs of Casa Arana, were indigenous people were tortured and murdered during the rubber boom. It is now a warehouse that the school administration uses to keep musical instruments (trumpets and drums), as well as supplies for the school activities (stationary materials, for instance). The three young men told me that this was the place where the overseers punished those who did not fulfilled the amount of rubber requested from them by the Casa Arana Company. One of the punishments, they added, was to leave the person hanging from the columns for an entire day. They also mentioned that the overseers would bring dogs and make them lick the wounds of those punished. One of them sighed as he mentioned how thousands of people died inside that small room. They explained how, afterwards, all the bodies were put on top of each other in a rectangular space on the ground limited by stone divisions, right between the cepo and the stairs.

They didn’t give me more details about the tortures that took place there and I didn’t want to ask them more about it, since what they told me was part of public reports. However, I kept thinking about the fact that their demeanor in this specific spot only repeated when we were at the “cabinet-making cemetery.” It’s not that one situation is more or less important than the other, or even comparable in terms of what could be more significant for the people of La Chorrera. But they have at least one element in common: a feeling of failure, related to a project of modernization that brought violence and death -in the case of the Casa Arana rubber exploitation- or  disappointment for a promise of progress in which the indigenous people would receive all the benefits.

This kind of mourning towards progress repeated in many instances of my stay at La Chorrera. It was the feeling most similar that I found to pain for the past as it is traditionally portrayed in western contexts, as well as promoted by the Colombian state through its policies of memorialization. To my surprise, in the case of the project of building a museum at the site were the Casa Arana Company built its emporium of slavery and death, what seems to be more relevant to the inhabitants of La Chorrera is not to give the space an atmosphere of solemnity or sacredness; this is not a place where they would go to mourn and remember those who died there. Instead, the project represents the possibility to reclaim and reaffirm a status that was historically denied to them: that of Colombian citizens in full rights. Proof of this that what is most important to them in terms of building the museum is what it would represent in terms of their relationship with the Colombian state.  Continue reading

Multiple Forms of Remembering the AMIA

Escobar - Argentina - AMIA

On July 18th, 1994, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) was struck by a van loaded with explosives, resulting in 85 casualties and over 300 injuries. July 18th marks the 20th anniversary of this attack, a date made all the more resonant due to the fact that no one has ever been convicted for the crime.

This date was planted firmly in my mind when I planned my research trip. I knew I wanted to be in Buenos Aires to attend the commemoration, but I had not anticipated that multiple remembrances that would take place. This change of events serves to reiterate what CLACS has informed us throughout the planning process for our research trips; things change once you’re on the ground. Continue reading

Stories of El Salvador: The Civil War and Its Aftermath

Photo by Lyn McCraken

Photo by Lyn McCraken

Next April the Graduate Association of Latin American Studies (GALAS) at NYU will open an exhibition entitled Stories of El Salvador: The Civil War and Its Aftermath. Raúl Guzmán and Camilla Querin, two students of the joint degree Master’s program in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Museum Studies will be curating the exhibition that will be exhibited at the Stovall Gallery in the Kimmel Center.

The exhibition is the result of collaboration between GALAS, CLACS, NACLA, Museum Studies, the Mujeres de la Guerra project and the Stovall Gallery. The photo exhibition will focus on the Civil War in El Salvador and the role of women during and after the conflict. The exhibition will present a historical view of the Salvadoran Civil War through portrait photos, videos and oral histories of women involved in the conflict.

The intention is to educate people about the Salvadoran Civil War, about the power of women, their resilience and their organizational abilities. The aim is to tell their inspiring stories and share their hope, wisdom and dedication with the world, to make people reflect upon different forms of activism and to reach not only an NYU audience, but also the Salvadoran community in NYC, people interested in activism, feminism, community organization, photography and resilience after armed conflicts.

Posted by Raúl Guzmán and Camilla Querin – MA Candidates at CLACS / Museum Studies

Ayacucho and the Legacy of Violence

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Tucked away in the Andes mountain range, the small city of Ayacucho was the birth place of the notorious Maoist insurgent group, the Shining Path (SP). The movement began in the 1960s and 70s in the University of Huamanga, and then spread out into the surrounding communities in the early 1980s. At first, the ideas and ideals of the Shining Path revolution were attractive to many Ayacuchans, the majority of whom were quechua-speakers campesinos (farmers or peasants), who as a population had been historically excluded from full participation – economic, democratic, and social – in the Peruvian nation. Slowly, however, as rural communities began to witness SP’s use of violence as a tool for discipline, punishment, and social control, many began to turn their backs on the group. In some villages ronderos (civilian guards) were formed as a mechanism of defense against the Shining Path. The rondero groups were themselves notoriously violent, especially those which allied with Peruvian armed forces. The Peruvian military itself was also heavily complicit in violence that constituted violations of human rights; in its desperation to rid the country of leftist “terrorists,” it massacred and “disappeared” civilians throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

This last point was driven home for me in no uncertain terms when, upon arrival in Ayacucho, I visited Los Cabitos, a former military base in the desert just outside of city limits. Hundreds of people were said to have entered the base and never been seen or heard from again. These accounts were confirmed when the Specialized Forensic Team (an entity of the Peruvian judicial branch), exhumed more than one hundred dead bodies from impromptu graves in a small valley behind the base. The entire area is still today covered in the grids left behind from the forensic archaeological excavations (pictured). Perhaps even more haunting was the infamous Cabitos oven, which was eventually installed by the military to burn bodies and dispose of remains more effectively. During the excavation, calcined bone fragments, especially teeth, were said to have been found under the site of the oven and scattered around the perimeter of the property. Although it is possible to extract DNA from bone, the charring and calcificaiton of remains greatly reduces this prospect and limits forensic investigators’ ability to identify remains and accurately estimate the number of people killed at Los Cabitos. Continue reading

Theater as a Tool

Reategui - Peru - Palacio de GobiernoI have been working closely with Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” to help contextualize the importance of popular theater and its techniques with my research. In the foreword to his book, Boal writes that popular theater functions as a weapon. That is, popular theater is a tool, a “weapon of liberation” against sources of domination (ix). Boal writes that popular theater fundamentally changes some of the theatrical forms established by traditional theater. In applying Boal’s concepts on popular theater to my research with Yuyachkani’s Antígona, I see how this particular one-woman performance also serves as a tool. In this case, Antígona is a tool not only to remember, but also to make a political statement. In my first blog, I talked about the existence of various forms of memorialization (truth commissions, museums, and performance). Along with this, there also exist different memories, sometimes conflicting. There is not one, sole memory of the internal armed conflict. It may be a result of the same event, but the way one remembers and what they remember is based on certain experiences. Antígona specifically triggers the memory of women who had members of their family disappeared and the struggle in demanding proper burials for their unburied dead. In fact, Teresa Ralli revealed that her portrayal of Antígona was based directly on a group of eight or nine women, whom she later invited individually to share their experiences and stories with her in Casa Yuyachkani. In the performance, Antígona serves as the embodiment of the fragility and power in these women’s testimonies.

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Yuyanapaq: To Remember Peru’s Violent Past

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(Photos taken with permission at Yuyanapaq; collage original)

I recently began my summer fieldwork in Lima, Peru, where I visited the photo exhibit Yuyanapaq, or “To Remember” in Quechua. Created by Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2003, the exhibit is a compilation of photographs that document the impact of political violence on the Peruvian population in the 1980s and 1990s. It groups violent events geographically and categorically, portraying the aftermath of bombings, murders, and attacks by the Peruvian military, the Maoist group the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), and the other communist armed group the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). Yuyanapaq is impressive not only in that it does not shy away from exposing the realities of violence, but in that attracts a wide range of Peruvian visitors who, upon being reminded of the country’s violent period, will hopefully work to prevent it from recurring.

The photos evoke Peru’s violent past, even showing physical harm done to the war’s victims. Multiple images show dead and mutilated bodies. They capture inadvertent looks of shock and awe from survivors and first responders, and the utter anguish of family members as they look over the corpses of their loved ones. The only thing that I can think to compare the exhibit to in the United States is a miniature version of the Holocaust Museum. Yet whereas in the Holocaust it was easy to place the blame on the Nazis, and even on one clear, specific perpetrator, in Peru political violence and human rights abuses were committed by both the state military and leftist armed groups such as the Shining Path. How might the moral ambiguity that this type of conflict generates help us better understand the nature of violence? Were all those who committed violent acts in the context of Peru’s war “bad people” at heart, no matter what side they were on? If not, then what pushes otherwise decent people to commit such horrific acts?

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