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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice

Estela de Carlotto, president of Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo
Today, March 24th, is Día Nacional de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justica (Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice) in Argentina. On this day, Argentinians remember the 1976 coup d'etat that toppled President Isabel Perón's government and lead to the seven year repression known as the "Dirty War." During those seven years, some 30,000 people were disappeared, never to be seen again. One mother whose daughter was "disappeared" is Estela de Carlotto. Her daughter was pregnant at the time of her disappearance, and Ms. Carlotto searched for years to find out what happened to that baby. Other women like her also searched, and protested, and they came to be know as the Abuelas of the Plaza de Mayo, all of them searching for the babies that were taken from their children (who were presumably killed) and given in adoption to other families to be raised. It is estimated that 500 such "lost children" exist. 115 have been found and reunited with their families. In the spring of 2013, Ms. Carlotto personally delivered a request to Pope Francis that the Vatican open its records for the period between 1976 and 1983,  for they may contain information about the whereabouts of these children, and any information could help. After all, time is running out for the abuelas, many of whom are in their 80s. "You can count on me. You can count on us," the pope, who was a priest in Argentina during the Dirty War, reportedly told Ms. Carlotto.
Estela de Carlotto with Lionel Messi, who supports the Abuelas

I believe him. This pope, who will come to my home city of Philadelphia next September for the World Celebration of the Family, has been more willing, it seems, than any pope before him, to confront some of the egregious sins of the church. In the case of Argentina, that may include knowingly hiding the origins of babies given for adoption to "good" families. In the case of my country, the United States, that definitely includes convincing young women who were pregnant and unmarried that they were unfit to be mothers and had to give their babies away, and then convincing the public that these same mothers never wanted to be found and needed laws to protect them (and in some cases -- less than 2% -- causing so much shame in those mothers that they actually never did want to be found). I know this to be true because I have met such mothers. They break my heart. One mother I met, well into her 70s, eventually searched for the daughter she had given up for adoption because she couldn't go on living otherwise, but she still feels such shame that she introduces her daughter in public as her niece, and she still hasn't told the father -- a man she loved, and who she planned to marry -- that they have a child together (she went to a Catholic home for unwed mothers once she learned she was pregnant and simply disappeared from his life).

In Argentina, they have a saying for today: Nunca más. Never again. For those adoptees still fighting for laws that allow them the dignity of knowing the full truth of their identity, and for those biological mothers who were shamed and treated horribly, and continue to be used to justify laws that have no benefit for them whatsoever, I say it also. ¡Nunca más! 

Today in Argentina is about Memoria, Justicia, y Verdad: Memory, Truth, and Justice. We could use a bit of that here as well. So many are working for it.
Estela de Carlotto and her grandson

As my mom's story shows, sometimes, despite a lack of truth and justice in the system, people are lucky. She was. She met her sisters, my aunts, who are wonderful, and who brought her an understanding "deeper than I ever thought possible in this lifetime" before she died. Estela de Carlotto, the president of the Abuelas de Mayo who met with the pope two years ago, was also lucky. Often, those who were adopted as babies in Argentina and raised by other families don't want to know the truth. It is too difficult. They love the parents who raised them (and who oftentimes knew nothing about the origins of the baby they adopted). They will never search. But this summer, Estela de Carlotto's grandson - now a grown man - found her. Alegría tremenda, tremendous happiness, is what she felt. Not all those who search will be so lucky, but all should have the right to try. Don't you agree?