Dark-eyed and tiny, her presence hardly more substantial than the movement of a breeze, a fleeting shadow wrapped around the corner of our lives, she walked our streets with purpose. The vibrant yellows, reds and purples of her huipil were not a bit of ethnic fashion but protection against death by distracted motorist. “They will not see me”, she said. “I am too small. They go too fast. But my color – they will see my color”.
She worked in homes, cleaning up after children, helping to prepare for parties. Like spring azaleas or the delicious orange-red callas of summer she decorated our life until, one day, we realized she was gone, taking the vibrant flashes of color with her. Where she had gone, no one knew. Weeks passed, and then months. Finally, we heard she had gone back to her country, to the place she still loved best. A family member had disappeared there years before, and now there were rumors and renewed hopes, She had to go – to join in celebration if the lost were found, or to be with her family in renewed grief if the long, cold struggle continued.
I thought of Pílar as International Women’s Day passed. Dedicated to the global theme Women and Men United to End Violence against Women and Girls, it was marked in the United States and parts of Europe as a time to focus on the unhappy realities of spousal and child abuse, rape, assault and murder. In other parts of the world, it was a day to continue a decades-old struggle, the battle of a few to bring justice for the many: the children, the men and especially the women known collectively as “The Disappeared”.
From the earliest days of Argentinian dictatorship, when the witness of Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, The Mothers of the Disappeared, riveted the attention of the world to present-day Pakistan, where the war on terror has led to the arrest, imprisonment and disappearance of hundreds, both men and women, the vigils have continued. Across Central and Latin America, the anguish now reaches into yet another generation, as families continue to pray, protest and search for evidence of the desaparecida.
On March 6, at the University of Wyoming Art Museum in Laramie, a touring exhibit entitled “The Disappeared” opened quietly. Organized by the North Dakota Museum of Art and curated by its Director, Laurel Reuter, the exhibit has already traveled extensively. In the introduction to the exhibition narrative, the facts of the matter are made clear:
“The word “disappear” was redefined during the mid-20th century in Latin America. “Disappeared” evolved into a noun used to identify people who were kidnapped, tortured and killed by their own governments in the latter decades of the twentieth century in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela (during a single uprising). Colombia with its fifty-year civil war and Guatemala with its own thirty-seven-year civil war further expanded the meanings and uses of “disappear.”
“The exhibition contains work by contemporary artists from each of these countries, who over the course of the last thirty years, have made art about the disappeared. These artists have lived through the horrors of the military dictatorships that rocked their countries in the mid-decades of the twentieth century. Some worked in the resistance; some had parents or siblings who were disappeared; others were forced into exile. The youngest were born into the aftermath of those dictatorships. And still others have lived in countries maimed by endless civil war.”
From the Exhibit “The Disappeared”
Fernando Traverso ~ Argentina
After a brief introduction to the artists and a consideration of their work, the narrative concludes with this further note.
“On exhibit for the first time in the United States is a large installation, Identidad (Identity), made by thirteen Argentinean artists in order to assist the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, in their work. The Grandmothers are a group of Argentinean women with disappeared children and grandchildren.
Since its founding in 1977, the Grandmothers have searched for over 200 missing children, some born in clandestine detention centers during the captivity of their mothers or abducted with their parents after being taken into custody by members of the police or security forces. Upon seeing Identidad when it opened in the Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires, three people discovered “who they were” before they had been adopted by military families.”
As so often happens, it is the artists among us who give voice to those who own voices have been stilled by suffering, anguish and loss. It is completely fitting that one of the most painful yet poignant tributes to The Disappeared was sung by Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert, two women sensitized to their plight by simple humanity combined with years of involvement in social causes. While the song has been around for years, it is no less relevant – or moving -today.
Each of us has our own problems and our own difficulties. All of us share concern about the future of our nation, the economic well-being of the world and the needs of generations who will follow. But today, please take just a few moments to click, and listen, and remember that even among those who bring color to our lives and compassion to their worlds, Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida.
(Embedding has been disabled for this poignant and pointed video by Greanteawoman. Please click the linked image to be taken to her site on YouTube. Additional history and information is available in her notes.)