By Darin Wahl
Argentina, like many countries of Latin America, went through a time of terror where a dictatorial government pursued and persecuted anything and anyone that was or could be a threat to their regime. In Argentina, these people, these ‘threats,’ were hunted down, interrogated and tortured, and then disappeared. 'Disappeared' here has multiple meanings: they disappeared in the sense that their physical bodies have yet to be found; and they disappeared in the sense that one day they were there, had families, friends, futures, and then, suddenly, they were gone.
'Los Desaparecidos' they are called.
There were many many thousands taken. Poets, authors, activists, artists, professors, students, men, women, all taken, all vanished. What does it do to a country to have a generation plundered so? What does it do to us all? A vague outline of the short lives of some of Los Desaparecidos has come to light. People in cities were abducted and brought, black-bagged, to a holding center. Here preliminary interrogations took place. Then they were driven out to the countryside to a facility where there were further interrogations. Pregnant women were sometimes kept relatively healthy until they gave birth. Their babies were then given to a family that could not or did not have children. Given to those loyal to the regime. Then, at the whim of their captors, maybe they were taken, maybe drugged, in a helicopter out over the ocean. Maybe their still living bodies were dropped from the helicopter into their final abyss.
The mothers of the disappeared would gather at the main plaza in Buenos Aires, where they still gather today, to plea for information. Any information. U2 wrote a song about them.
All this was not so long ago.
When I visited one of these holding centers, now a museum, I was surprised at its simplicity and power. While the day rolled along in the bustling city outside of the walls, the silence inside was heavy. I fell silent, as did other visitors. I imagined if I cried out no one would hear. There were cells underground. I descended the stairs, my breathing a bit short, not sure what to expect. An empty cell, a concrete floor. This was the room where real whole people went in and broken shattered ones came out. I ascended. And saw there, on the steps, two index cards, almost accidentally dropped. One said, "aunque no sé donde estas,” the other said, "iqual te quiero."
Although I don't know where you are, I love you still.
My friend brought her young son, who slept while we wandered. But when he awoke, he lifted his head and began to cry. Not softly, but red-faced, mouth gaping, tears streaming. His mother unslung her baby backpack, knelt down where she stood, wrapped him in her arms, and held him close. She pressed her face to his and whispered soothing words, and the enveloping love of a mother gently overwhelmed his fear and he too fell silent.