I have not yet posted anything about the female ex-guerrilla fighters conference (i.e. the entire purpose of this trip) in part because there are privacy concerns associated with individual testimonies. Everyone who attended the conference generously shared parts of their personal histories that could have been, and oftentimes clearly were, difficult to revisit even at a distance of forty years. It is remarkable that under those circumstances any of the women would feel additionally comfortable enough to have their personal contributions published online. And yet, ex-guerrilla fighters Lourdes Quiñones and Yolanda Casas have agreed to just that, as has ex-political prisoner Gladys López, and ex-guerrilla fighter Alma Gómez has kindly given permission to share her photo. Thus, I will discuss and upload photographs of these four women (except no discussion on Ms. Gómez), and describe all other conference-related activities in terms of generalized, consensus opinions.
Memory and Identity
One of the original objectives of this event, an objective that I believe the conference met, was to bring into sharper focus an epoch of Mexican history that is surprisingly distant to many of my generation even though it was our parents’ generation that would have witnessed it. In the absence of a strong, collective memory of the 1970s guerrilla movement in Mexico, and especially given government efforts to suppress related information, the women who attended the conference have a difficult task cut out for them: to construct a memory that few others share, to try and add a narrative into Mexican history that a limited number of people can or are willing to attest to.
The task was to take several highly personal stories and to try to graft them into something as close to the truth as imperfect human memory will allow. Personal narratives, however, are shaped by the human need to construct an identity, and necessarily so. Pain in particular – an all too familiar sensation for many of these women – can influence the ways in which we remember or forget our past. For these reasons, it is not quite right to say that the primary goal of this conference was to discover a definitive, singluar “truth” on the question of “women and the Mexican Dirty War.”
On the contrary, as long as individuals are uniquely defined by the specific time, place, and even body in which they live, it would seem that several real experiences of the same event are not merely possible, but in fact an unavoidable outcome. Without a doubt, comparing different accounts of the past can help a third party construct a coherent picture of what exactly happened – and this was one of the aims at the conference. But this process of comparison, and sort of “averaging,” should not necessarily cast doubt upon any individual’s testimony even if her account contradicts those of others. If one were to ask, “Did you experience sexism within the guerrilla movement?” Two women in very much the same circumstances might give quite different, but equally truthful, answers about what their personal experiences or understandings of the event entailed.
Thus, the conference aimed to discover the “truth” in all its convoluted and contradictory glory, i.e. in all its reality. And memory, a capacity highly influenced by the passage of time and identity development, was the best tool available to us. Although I could easily describe the conference as a great “success” in a very unimaginative, traditional sense – as an event that shed definitive light upon the actual circumstances of a certain period -I think it better to understand the conference as the much more complex success that it truly was.