A Silent Burial for My Family Who “Disappeared”
by Maria del Sol Crocker, guest contributor
I was born in Argentina, and came here after my marriage. Crocker is my married name; my original surname is Curia. My sister, Gloria Constanza Curia, and my brother Fernando Ramiro Curia, as well as my cousin Horacio Ponce, were kidnapped and killed by the military junta government in Argentina. They disappeared in 1976 and, like Mercedes Doretti says in her interview, my whole life froze.
I was unable to finish college. My mother went into deep depression. My little sister left our home and moved in with her boyfriend’s family.
We could not stand the silence in the house, a house that had been filled with music and joy, since both my brother and my sister played the guitar. We all used to sing together — mostly Argentinian folk music, Brazilian bossa nova, some tangos, Mercedes Sosa — and our friends would drop by in the evenings just to make music with us.
We were submitted to a subtle kind of torture: every once in a while there would be an anonymous phone call with “news” from our siblings. I will never forget that one year we were told that they “would be back for Christmas.” That Christmas Eve night (in Latin America, the big celebration happens on the night that Christ was born) my mother refused to eat, to drink, to talk, waiting and waiting. Finally, she went to bed, heartbroken. After that day, we dreaded Christmas, because my mom would fall into her depression again.
After about ten years, I told my mother that they would not be coming back, and I offered to go through their belongings and decided what to do with them. I felt like I was burying them — going through my sister’s make up, her ballet clothes, my little brother’s shoes (so big, he was 17 when he was taken and had been growing so fast), his overcoat. So much pain, so little justice.
No, I do not hope to find that my brother and sister are alive. I am sure that they are in some mass grave in an unmarked location. It would be a wonderful closure to have their remains identified. The worse part is the uncertainty and the waiting.
As I try to understand, heal, and integrate these painful experiences, I have found that only Vedanta has a clear and acceptable explanation for what has been called the problem of the existence of evil. In the first place, there is the law of Karma, which basically is the law of cause as applied to our actions (and thoughts too!). That accounts for why “bad things happen to good people” and also gives me a larger overview on the concept of justice — meaning that no deed goes unpunished (or unrewarded). So I have come to accept that my siblings, my cousin, and all my “dissappeared” and dead friends had some karmic influences that were working themselves out.
Sometimes a soul needs to experience certain things in order to evolve in a particular area. And what may appear to be very negative occurrences turn out to be wonderful learning opportunities. I pray for the next incarnation of my siblings, that it may be a good one and lead them ever closer to the Goal.
Maria del Sol Crocker lives in Cohasset, Massachusetts.
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Unearthing Mysteries of the Human Experience
Krista Tippett, host
I’m often asked about our process for choosing people and topics. The answer goes something like this. We are always juggling a number of priorities — responding to what is happening in the world; getting to subjects of enduring interest that we feel we can draw out in a distinctive way; bringing important voices on to the show, some of them famous, but more often people who, though captivating and wise, remain below the radar of headlines and hype. Their names find their way to a long list of possible guests that we add to all the time, either from our own reading and conversations or from the many ideas our listeners send in.
At some point, our online editor surfaced Mercedes Doretti’s name, which landed on that long list. She is a leading force in the field of global forensic anthropology and winner of a MacArthur “genius grant,” though she is not by far a household name. We knew that she works at a deeply human level on atrocities that usually come to us by way of gruesome news stories — the kind that leave me, at least, more despairing than reflective.
Doretti grew up, in fact, in one of these “stories” — the period of Argentina’s so-called “dirty war.” The military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976-1983 maintained control by terrorizing its own citizens. Over 10,000 people, many of them young, were “disappeared” — kidnapped, tortured, and killed. For their families they were, from one day to the next, simply gone without a trace. Some of their bodies were dropped into the ocean. Others were buried in unmarked graves.
As the “dirty war” ended, at the invitation of a group of grandmothers who stubbornly sought to know what had happened to their children and their children’s children, an American forensic anthropologist named Clyde Snow came to Argentina. He is the world expert in a field called osteobiography, which I found evocatively described as “the art and science of reading a person’s life story from their bones.” He would shape the course of Mercedes Doretti’s life.
Under Clyde Snow’s mentorship, she and a group of other anthropology students went in search of the bodies, and the stories, of the grandmothers’ lost loved ones. They became experts in all the forensic sciences — including genetics, ballistics, osteology, and radiology. They became archeologists of political crimes — archeologists not of ancient history but of the contemporary past. And over the past three decades, they’ve taken this work to over 30 countries — from El Salvador to Bosnia, from East Timor to Ethiopia — places where civilians have been caught in civil unrest, often kidnapped and murdered by their own governments.
Mercedes Doretti illuminates a rich, human, global landscape that gives me a sense of the nature of real-world forensics and archeology that I could never gain from CSI or Indiana Jones. Unlike those news stories I can barely read to the end, I am riveted and comforted by Mercedes Doretti’s presence. She is a scientist through and through — she loves solving the puzzles that bones hold as much as she loves the fact that this labor of hers becomes a crucial form of reparation for the living. She is not a religious person, but she has much to teach about some enduring, mysterious human experience with profound religious implications — our need to bury our dead, to reconcile ourselves to terrible events, to find justice on many levels.
The poetry of Alicia Partnoy seemed to us a necessary and beautiful complement to Mercedes Doretti’s insights. Partnoy was one of the few who survived her detention in a secret prison during the “dirty war.” Her poems, and the experiences of suffering and life chosen beyond it that comes through Partnoy’s voice alone, are also a testament to the mysterious vigor and transcendence of the human spirit. “Laying the Dead to Rest” makes my world a bit bigger. It adds both a knowledge of science and of a redemptive softness at some of the world’s most treacherous edges.
A Stolen Child of the “Disappeared” Reunites with Father
Colleen Scheck, senior producer, + Trent Gilliss, online editor
“At times I wondered what the hell I was living for. I had to find a way to continue, thinking about everyday things, hoping for this moment of happiness. Hugging him that first time, it was as if I filled a hole in my soul.” —Abel Madariaga
I discovered this remarkable story while I was looking for a way in to writing about our multimedia production pairing portraits of the children of Argentina’s Disappeared with the poetry of Alicia Partnoy, one of the disappeared who returned. After 32 years and the help of the Argentinian human rights group Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo), Francisco Madariaga Quintela learned his true identity and met his father, Abel Madariaga, for the first time in late February.
A DNA test revealed that his biological parents are Silvia Quintela — a surgeon who was kidnapped in 1997 while pregnant with Francisco — and her husband, Abel, who fled the country and lived in exile in Sweden until his return in 1983. He then became the secretary of the Abuelas association and the first male member of the very group Francisco approached just a couple months ago. Silvia is still missing and disappeared shortly after delivering Francisco while imprisoned in military torture torture camp.
Francisco Madariaga Quintela is warmly welcomed by members of the human rights association Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo during a press conference in Buenos Aires on February 23, 2010. (photo: Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images)
The reports in English are limited but these heartbreaking images of Francisco, Abel, and members of the Abuelas help tell the story. I only wish I spoke Spanish so I could learn more about the experience of this reunited father and son. As I look at the pictures of other children of the disappeared from our slide show, I also wish for more hopeful moments like this one.
Top photo: Abel Madariaga embraces his son Francisco Madariaga Quintela as he wipes a tear during a press conference in Buenos Aires on February 23, 2010. (photo: Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images)
The Right to Live in Peace (in song)
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
In looking for potential music for this program with Mercedes Doretti, we came across a rich collection of artists in both Argentina and Chile who’ve documented, in song, the dark times of Argentina’s “dirty war” and General Pinochet’s regime in Chile.
Some of the artists were exiled, as was the case for Mercedes Sosa, whose song, “Sera Posible el Sur?,” became an anthem for the people of Argentina. This song refers to the state-sponsored terrorism used in Argentina to “disappear” thousands of people and dismiss the mothers looking for their children as crazy. Here is a rough translation of the first stanza:
Will the South be possible?
will it be possible with so many stray bullets
to the heart of the village,
and so many mothers are deemed crazy
and all of the memory in a prison
“Sera Posible el Sur?” by Mercedes Sosa
Mercedes Sosa’s lullaby, “Pequena,” was used in the program and can be found on the SOF Playlist.
Victor Jara was an outspoken supporter of Salvador Allende’s populist politics and helped to get him elected president in 1970. Upon the coup of 1973 and General Augusto Pinochet’s grasp of power, Victor Jara was arrested, brought to the national stadium with thousands of others, and over three days was electrocuted, his hands broken, and finally shot to death on September 15, 1973. According to his wife, with broken hands he wrote his last poem on scraps of paper that were smuggled out of the stadium by survivors. The final words of which include:
“Silence and screams are the end of my song.”
Although the Pinochet regime managed to destroy many of the master recordings of Jara’s works, here is a YouTube video of Jara performing, “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz (The Right to Live in Peace)”:
Many others have written homages to Victor Jara:
“The Hands of Victor Jara” by Chuck Brodsky
“Victor Jara’s Hands” by Calexico
“Washington Bullets” by The Clash
Poem: “Homespun Love” by Alicia Partnoy
» download the poem in English (mp3, 0:49)
» download the poem in Spanish (mp3, 0:40)
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
For next week’s program — tentatively titled “Laying the Dead to Rest: Meeting Forensic Anthropologist Mercedes Doretti” — we are weaving in the poetry of one of the people who disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War, Alicia Partnoy. What’s even better, she graciously accepted our invitation to read four of her poems, in English and in Spanish.
Here is the first set of poems I could bounce and encode for you to hear before we air the program. I’ll be putting up the other ones in the coming days. Please note that what you’ll hear above will be markedly different from the versions included in the program. These are the poems as she recorded them — a straightforward, passionate reading.
But, when we produce them for the program, we take a different approach. We want to immerse you in the moment, give you space to reflect and breathe in the words of the poem as well as the import of Doretti’s experiences. Mitch might give an extra second at the end of a line of verse, volume graph certain words or lines, or bed the poems with music.
If you’d like, I’d be glad to post those more highly produced versions in addition to the ones I’m posting today and through the weekend. Let me know what you think. Personally, I still marvel at the difference — for the better or the worse sometimes. I can’t wait to hear them in the context of the final show.
In the meantime, I hope you’re as moved as I am by these lovely points of light and darkness.