Memorias de Chapadmalal: Memory, and Civic Engagement in Argentina

Our W&M-sponsored study abroad program in La Plata, Argentina, is unique in several ways: its focus on human rights is, perhaps, one of the most salient ones.  As part of their pedagogical experience with the Comisión Provincial por la Memoria, our students are able to participate in internships within the different branches of the Comisión: be it doing curatorial work at the Museo de Arte y Memoria, working with the Comité contra la tortura, cataloguing and digitizing archival documents at the Centro de Documentación y Archivo, or working in civic education for the youth via Jóvenes y Memoria.

During the fall of 2015, W&M students Ryan Durazo (HISP & GOVT ’16) and Mary Ellen Garrett (IR ’17) interned with the pedagogical branch of the Comisión, Jóvenes y Memoria, as they organized their annual meeting at the Complejo Turístico Chapadmalal.  Toward the end of the school year, every November, high school students that have been working on projects of local memory and civic engagement for the whole year, gather at Chapadmalal, a former resort created thanks to Perón’s government, in order to share their experiences and present their projects.  Ryan and Mary Ellen seized the opportunity to generate a project titled Memorias de Chapadmalal.  In their own words:

Memorias de Chapadmalal is a photo-narrative project completed during the 2015 session of the “Youth and Memory” Summit in Chapadmalal, Argentina. It seeks to capture the experiences of young people working for human rights from both a local and global perspective. Dreamed up after a long drive with two survivors of torture and styled on projects like Humans of New York, Memorias de Chapadmalal culturally grounds itself by focusing on stories of collective identity. The project was realized with help from the youth of Ringuelet, who invited us into their barrio to test our methods, and the staff of the Provincial Commission for Memory, who finalized and shared the project via social media. Photos by Mary Ellen Garrett (Class of 2017) and interviews by Ryan Durazo (Class of 2016).

What follows is an English translation (by Ryan and Mary Ellen) of two entries in their project.

* * *

Chapa1“One of my friend’s grandmothers had her son kidnapped. She told us her story and we made a short documentary.

“How was it for you to hear her story?”

“Really powerful, it was the first time she had told her story…she broke the silence. She hid herself in silence because if she had talked they would have robbed [kidnapped] her other children. She has five children.

“There are a lot of people who live with fear. We went out on the street to do interviews, and there were a few people who were members of the military. When we approached to interview them, they turned the question around and wanted to know who we were and who had sent us. Because [in] our nation, it makes me angry the silence that the dictatorship has left in our neighborhood.  Because, look, in our neighborhood there is also fear because there are robberies there and they don’t make police reports because justice is useless.

* * *

Chapa2“[Where we started the project, we participated in a march to reclaim respect for the gay community], we were three guys and that was it. And for us three it was difficult to go out on the street with the flag because they shouted [expletive for male prostitutes] at us. And they discriminated against us when we weren’t gay, just that we went to change the discussion and end the discrimination.

“In the first year, no one helped us, no one, nothing.  But now, [the project] is like the flag of our high school, we are 40 or 50 guys and girls.

* * *

For access to the original project, in Spanish, please click here.

Every year, the W&M-sponsored study abroad program in La Plata attracts students from different programs (HISP, Latin American Studies, Government, International Relations, Sociology, etc.) due to its unique focus in Human Rights.  The program offers the possibility of taking courses with the Comisión Provincial por la Memoria and at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP) during regular semesters (mid-February to mid-July; mid-July to mid-December).  Emily Earls (’18), who is currently studying in La Plata, is documenting her experience in her blog, Life in La Plata.

You can also read about Sarah Caspari’s (’15) experience in La Plata here.  For more information about the program, please consult the Reves Center’s website here.

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