The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo

By Miho Saito and Monse Sepúlveda


Photo by Norito Hagino

On Thursday, January 12, we visited the Plaza de Mayo, the main square of Buenos Aires, to participate in the weekly marches of the mothers whose children have “disappeared” during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. By the time we arrived at 3:35 pm, which was 5 minutes after the beginning of the march, the majority of the walk had ended and we were only able to witness the last moments of the mothers’ steady walk around the Pirámide de Mayo. 


The history of Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo began on April 30, 1977, when fourteen mothers of the kidnapped and disappeared gathered in front of the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, demanding to know the truth about the fate of their abducted children. However, because there was a law that prohibited groups to stand together in a public place, the Mothers were forced to walk around center of the square: this was the beginning of their symbolic march. 


Now, even after more than 30 years, the mothers walk in the capital’s Plaza as a remembering performance, not only to make sure the world knows that the truth of the fate of their loved ones is not forgotten, but also to march for other human rights causes. Following the mothers with their white handkerchiefs and large photographs of their children, we, along with a large crowd, ended the march in front of Monumento a General Manuel Belgrano. There, the mothers stood on top of the stage and one of them, an indescribably powerful woman wearing polka dots, gave a speech that influenced me more than I could have imagined. 


I, a student who barely understands even the most basic conversational Spanish, was lost in translation and was unable to understand what the mother was saying, but her voice and presence spoke enough for my lack of understanding of the language. I physically felt the pain she endured, her strength, and her purposeful intention of speaking the truth. All I was able to do was stand there and observe; 100 percent of my focus on her. She symbolized revolution and the defiance of feminine cultural norms. From what I saw, she kept the crowd engaged with her humor and passion, resonated by the crowd’s laughter, and claps and cheers of agreement around me. The speech of the woman in polka dots finally ended when she began chanting: “Madres de la plaza, el pueblo las abraza.” (Mother of the plaza, the people embrace you) Slowly, everyone around me joined in on the chant, picking up where she left off and growing louder as the crowd began moving away from the stage. This, I realized, is precisely the purpose of performance… to be able to influence people without words and to ensure that the next generation of human rights activists can continue the chant the mothers started.

Photo by N.H.

Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. Aquel día mientras oíamos a las madres proclamar su derecho a la información y denunciar a esos “fachos” que cambiaron sus vidas hace 3 décadas, me vi embargada por un momento de comprensión… 


Después de caminar alrededor del monumento una vez, como muestra simbólica de la continua lucha por encontrar a aquellos que fueron desaparecidos durante la dictadura militar, las Madres se dirigieron a un podio para dirigirse a la audiencia. Con un vozarrón inspirador, una de las Madres tomo el micrófono y a pulmón abierto grito sus denuncias contra el régimen. “Esos fachos desgraciados,” decía aquella dama, “que no nos dejaron ser quienes debimos haber sido.” Continúo los minutos siguientes criticando algunos de los problemas que Argentina afronta hoy en día, pero también elogiando al gobierno de los Kirchner y su compromiso social. La Madre anuncio que la semana próxima sería la primera vez que las Madres no marcharían en la plaza, porque iban al lugar donde “nuestro querido Nestor” nació. 


Pero más que oír, yo me dedique a sentir. A sentir aquella energía que las Madres emanan. Energía de convicción. Energía de todos menos resignación. Pero por sobre todo, energía de dolor. Cuando me tome un momento para entender por qué aquellas madres estaban reunidas allí, entendí que cada una de ellas perdió a un hijo o una hija. Ellas son prueba que ese dolor no las suelta fácilmente. Es un dolor que no da respiro. A las Madres, no las ha dejado por más de 30 años. Se arraiga profundo y obliga a actuar. Estas mujeres no asisten cada Jueves a las 3:30 religiosamente solamente como postura política, sino porque debemos entender que ellas aun afrontan la desaparición de sus hijos e hijas cada día. 

Y mientras aquella Madre hablaba aquel día, de golpe enmudecí embargada por ese momento de entendimiento fugaz: el dolor perdura a través de nuevas democracias, presidentes electos y reelectos, o decisiones políticas progresivas. El Nunca Más debe empezar por el Siempre Recordar.

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