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Mothers for ever

It all began with the rounds of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. At the height of the Argentine dictatorship, in 1976, some women, their heads covered with white headscarves would march every Thursday in front of the government headquarters to demand information about their disappeared children. The military called them “las locas” [the crazy women]. They were very alone, but there were more of them every time. In the space of a few months some of them began to meet on a corner of the square: many of their daughters had been pregnant when they were kidnapped. They were not only seeking their children but also their grandchildren. “On the first day we were a negligible little group. We had different needs, it did not suffice to invoke the law of habeas corpus, to go to the Ministry of the Interior or to the army. We were doing it for our children. So we also went to the juvenile courts and to orphanages”, Mirta Acuña de Baravalle recounted. 

the Mothers in Plaza de Mayo on the 40th anniversary of the military coup d’état (24 March 2016).

She is one of the founders of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo who, at the age of 92, has not yet ceased to seek her grandson. More and more grandmothers and mothers arrived at every gathering. They would meet at the bars surrounding the square. They had only themselves. Even their relatives, including Mirta’s, were asking them give up. It was too dangerous. A car parked for too long in front of a house door, a noise, everything terrified them. But the women insisted. The dictatorship killed Azucena Villaflor, the Mothers’ first leader, whose body was found in the River Plate. She was a victim of the so-called “death flights”.

Terror was the norm, but they did not stop meeting in the square every Thursday. At first they stood still, but then this was forbidden, so they began to march in a circle. “At that time no one helped us, there was widespread fear. With the advent of democracy [1983] people began to give us greater support. They would come running to us every Thursday. Many were curious and wanted to know what had happened in those terrible years”, Mirta says. Just as every morning, even today when she is 92, she starts her day by reading the newspapers as part of a commitment which, she assures us, “is both of the body and of the soul”. The day continues with reading and discussion because, “There are mothers and grandmothers who have different opinions”; and in the end, at five o’clock in the afternoon, she goes home in a bus equipped for disabled people, “To get some housework done, if I can manage it”. She is surprised to be asked whether she will continue to march with the Mothers round the Pyramid of Plaza de Mayo, as she did 40 years ago. “Don’t even ask me”, she jokes. “Every aspect of my life has to do with going to the square”, she affirms in quiet tones, convinced that the Mothers’ Movement was “born from a silent march which has become the loudest cry of all time”. “It’s true that the battle against time, against the passing of the years, against the body that ages and no longer belongs to you is the harshest one to combat, but in spite of it all we are still mothers!”.

a photograph of the demonstrations in 1979

Mirta has never given up and does not intend to do so now. She complains about “the feet that so many Mothers have worn out by marching in the Square, but today we continue to go ahead, some in wheelchairs and others showing an obvious physical decline, yet we still go ahead. The kidnapping of Ana María, her daughter, on 28 August 1976, was the breaking point that urged a mother who was “distant from politics and concerned with looking after the family” to dedicate her life to a shared search. The Mothers made motherhood social. It was only out of love, an infinite love, that “We moved from the fight for our child to the fight for the children of all”, gradually building an awareness of a kind based on the passage from biological to motherhood by association. The children claimed went beyond the ties with their own parents because they were considered to be the disappeared children of a specific social and political community. Mirta maintains that these Mothers, who today are between the ages of 85 and 95 years, unlike what they were 40 years ago, have been “given birth to by their own children”. “What greater suffering can there be for a mother”, Mirta adds, “than losing her own child?”. Perhaps that of seeing him or her disappear into nothing, without knowing what happened or where their body lies. “We must still recover 350 kidnapped grandchildren, but I see the fight with new hope. As long as we are alive, we mothers and grandmothers will continue to fight. In addition, our grandchildren now help us to carry on the organization, which never ceases to grow. We are opening a branch in France”. Mirta is full of energy and optimism.

Silvina Pérez

PRINTED EDITION

 

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St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 12, 2019

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