Professor Aurelia Gomez Unamuno is a member of Haverford’s Spanish Department, and her areas of expertise include Mexican literary works of the twentieth century as well as the relationship between social movements and literature. Thus it comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the focuses of her work that this summer Professor Gomez travels to Mexico in order to lead a conference intended to facilitate the production of testimonial literature written by women who participated in social movements and guerrilla fighting during – you guessed it – the twentieth century. The conference is entitled “Convergences: Women and Guerrillas during the Mexican Dirty War” (Confluencias: Mujer y guerrilla durante la guerra sucia en México), and occurs from July 15-17 in Mexico City.
Female members of several guerrilla groups that resisted government repression in Mexico during the 1970s will participate in writing workshops and discussion activities in order to reexamine a period in Mexican history known as the “Dirty War,” an era marked by state crime, economic hardship, and political repression. And yet, the 1960s-1970s in Mexico was also distinguished by popular resistance, including massive student protests, labor strikes, and an armed struggle waged by civilians against government counterinsurgent forces. The women invited to participate in the conference can shed light upon the complexities of this remarkable era in two critical ways: first, by bearing witness to the state crimes of the Dirty War; second, and perhaps more importantly, by describing their unique experiences as female fighters in the armed resistance struggle, as women participating in the overwhelmingly male-dominated activity of warfare. Although many male guerrilla fighters and political prisoners have shared their trials and ordeals through prose and poetry, the women of the same era have remained surprisingly silent on the issue, and thus Proessor Gomez’s goal is to create a space in which these neglected fighters may finally have their voices heard.
Funding for the conference has been generously provided by Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, and the Quaker house “La Casa de los Amigos” in Mexico City has kindly agreed to host this event.
I’m Sally Weathers, and last spring semester (during my sophomore year at Haverford) I took a class with Professor Gomez that radically effected my plans for summer break. The course was entitled “The Politics of Memory in Latin America,” and it examined Latin American governments’ attempts to manipulate and even erase parts of their nation’s collective memory, especially the memory of state crimes. Professor Gomez returns to Mexico this summer to try and begin to overturn the work of just such a manipulative government by encouraging women to speak out about their experiences fighting against the Mexican regime during that country’s internal Dirty War of the 1970s. These women participated in counterinsurgent, guerrilla operations aimed at halting the state’s repeated use of violence against its political dissidents, and at igniting a socialist revolution. In response to these efforts, the Mexican political leadership of the time incarcerated, tortured, and even killed thousands of counterinsurgents, subsequently censoring survivors’ attempts to describe the incredible hardships the government had inflicted upon them. Professor Gomez and I return, nearly forty years after the insurgents of the Dirty War have been released from prison, in order to help a group of ex-guerrilla women break their silence; two kinds of silence in fact. The first, a politically-motivated censorship imposed by a government that did not wish to be exposed internationally as corrupt and undemocratic; secondly, a culturally-implied phenomenon that privileges the experiences of men over those of women, even when the genders participate equally in a given epoch. During a three-day conference, I will live with the ex-insurgents in a dormitory at the Quaker institution “La Casa de los Amigos” in Mexico City, I will ask the women questions specifically aimed at communicating their experiences to a younger generation, I will keep notes on all of Professor Gomez’s discussions with them, and of course update this blog as often as I can! Also, while Professor Gomez and I are in Mexico City, we will attend a musical performance by Astrid Hadad that satirizes Mexico’s politics and sexist culture; we will visit some historic sites related to the events of the Dirty War, including the plaza at which the state massacred hundreds of peaceful civilian protesters in 1968; and I’ll meet the author of one of the books I read in Professor Gomez’s class!