My Child Is Your Child
The Mothers of Argentina’s Plaza de Mayo
During the 1970s and 1980s, 30,000 of Argentina's sons and daughters were kidnapped, tortured and killed in the country's "Dirty War." Military juntas were deployed to annihilate left-wing opposition from trade unionists, students and activists. When the government's fear tactics had forced much of the population into silence, a group of mothers refused to hide themselves away.
The mothers demanded to know the fate of their "disappeared" children by gathering and being seen. Linked arm and arm, they circled the plaza outside the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, carrying their children's photographs and names.
It was not a single dramatic protest march. The mothers marched every Thursday afternoon at half past three, for thirty years. Their chant was always the same: "Bring them back alive." This simple, repeated action captured the world's attention, transforming the fate of the "disappeared" into an international human rights cause.
When civilian government was restored in 1983, the perpetrators of the "disappearances" were put on trial. Many received little or no punishment. The government offered the mothers reparation: $250,000 per child. Arguments over whether to accept payment split the group into two.
Still, the mothers marched, joined now by a grandmother's group. Many of the "disappeared" women were pregnant when they were taken. The grandmothers searched for this next generation of lost children. To date, they've located over eighty grandchildren.
In 2006, the Mothers groups officially stopped protesting for the "disappeared," but they still gather each week in the Plaza to march for other causes.
On this page you can view a clip from the 1985 film Las Madres, The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Argentina, the Academy Award nominated documentary by Susana Muñoz and Lourdes Portillo.
The following excerpts are from Circles of Love Over Death: The Story of the Mothers of The Plaza de Mayo. Author Matilde Mellibovsky gathered first-person testimonies from 21 Mothers. She, herself, is the mother of a "disappeared" child.
Carmen Aguiar de Lapaco
Mother of Alejandra Mónica Lapaco
abducted on March 17, 1977 at 19 years of age
I was excessively shy and had trouble doing things. Once what happened to my daughter had occurred, it was as if I had awakened, and for her sake I would do anything, and I forgot about my shyness.
Mother of Lilliana Galletti
32 years old, abducted June 13, 1977
Somebody asked me: " Who do you have that's disappeared?" That word felt like a bucket of cold water, but at the same time I understood that I was not alone, that we were all going through the same thing. And they started to tell me truly terrible things. Some of them had seem their children tortured before their eyes-in their very houses-before being carried away. Others had lost two or three children...it was horrible. ...
Never, never did they ask us anything at all as we walked in our circle, except our names, not even our last names. ... And I remain branded, and tied forever to the struggle and the objectives of the Mothers.
Mother of María Marta Vázquez de Lugones, 23 years old,
abducted with her husband Cesar Amadeo Lugones, 26 years old,
on May 14, 1976
We know that they were listening on our phone lines, that we were being watched all of the time, but also that what we were doing was something that was not against the law, that it was human, that it was legal, that we didn't have anything to hide. And so we kept on marching ahead, talking to each on the phone. When we wanted to say that we had a meeting we'd say: "We're going to play canasta." "We're going to sew." Others would say," We're going to do some embroidering." ...
The uniformed police taught us to go around in a circle. ... They didn't know yet who we were, but something must have made them uneasy, and they started to tell us to circulate, that we couldn't stay there. And that's what gave us the idea of walking all of the time. They tell us: "CIRCULATE! CIRCULATE!" And so we started to walk. ... One day somebody suggest walking "two by two," and then we started to walk that way, and we realized that this way we were more visible, and we kept on walking like that. We could not stop, because when we tried to stop, they made us keep walking...
The strength that one of us lacked on a certain day, another had for that occasion. The other had words of consolation, for pushing us to keep on going, worlds of valor, of courage, and so we kept on.
Mother of Nestro Juan Agustín Zurita,
abducted at the age of 25, August 1, 1975
and of María Rosa Zurita, abducted at the age of 21, November 1, 1975
I keep on looking for my children and everybody else's children, because to me your daughter is my daughter, she's a little bit mine. My children are a little bit yours.
Mother of Graciela Mellibovsky
abducted when 29 years old, September 25, 1976
We mothers agreed that we should wear something so that we could recognize each other just in case some of us were detained. At this point we talked about wearing a white head-band in the Vietnamese style, or a white handkerchief, which everybody carries in her hand bag. This is what I remember.
From then on the kerchief became an irreplaceable item. And this small kerchief became the Plaza de Mayo's symbol. ... People know the kerchief in different parts of the world. And other women, in different situations, make the decision to wear it to go out and fight for a cause "like those women over there in that Plaza in Buenos Aires." ....
The "March of the Posters." ... We were a whole bunch of mothers, each one carrying a poster with a hugely enlarged photograph of her disappeared child. ... We held the posters high so that over our heads beautiful faces appeared, youthful, full of life; our children's faces. And how did people passing by us react? At first, surprised, dumbfounded, they stopped. Their eyes remained fixed on the eyes in the photos; the posters remained immobile; immobile also the faces of the passersby. They looked at each other. Because the photos were not simply portraits. They demonstrated an unquestionable existence that had to be restored. Here they were-with these very faces, this is the way they were-with these looks, these expressions, and these poses.
Once the first moments of consternation were over, people commented, pointed, questioned themselves aloud: "But these kids--are they the disappeared? How is this possible?" ...
We were showing our countrymen the dreadful truth the dictatorship took pains to hide in thousands of ways.
Mother of Juan Patricio Maroni and María Beatriz Maroni de Rincón
and mother in law of Carlos Alberto Rincón, abducted April 5, 1977
The fact that such a tragedy did not paralyze us, but on the contrary, stimulated us, is amazing. It gave us strength to start on a path that we had never thought we were going to take.
At the outset, we asked, begged, repeated petitions so that we would get some news about our children. Had they been swallowed up by the earth? Afterwards, we confronted the dictatorship directly to demand their return. We were not worried about who was the stronger.
Our love for our children made us defy their whole repressive apparatus.
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Support Las Madres
Show solidarity and demand justice for the disappeared children of Las Madres. Join their Thursday protests on the Plaza in Buenos Aires. --Spanish