The military junta that toppled the government of Isabel Perón in Argentina in 1976 used the excuse of a couple of decades of social unrest, assassinations and terrorist activity to rationalize its imposition of repressive measures to restore order. But the Guerra Sucia or Dirty War that ensued far eclipsed the sporadic violent incidents that had preceded it. Within three years, somewhere between 9,000 and 30,000 Argentineans – dissidents, trade unionists, students, intellectuals and people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – were abducted by the military and many of them killed.
The thousands held in government detention centers became known as the desaparecidos. Among them was a young woman named Alicia Partnoy. Picked up by the Army in 1977 for having been a campus activist for the Peronist Youth Movement, she spent the next five months beaten, starved and molested in a notorious clandestine prison nicknamed La Escuelita or the Little School, whose inmates were kept blindfolded. Partnoy was one of the few who survived that place; transferred to another prison and then another, she spent a total of two-and-a-half years in detention, never charged with any crime.
When Partnoy was arrested, her mother Raquel Partnoy, an artist, took over care of Alicia’s 18-month-old daughter, known today as Ruth Irupé Sanabria. Alicia was forced to leave the country upon her release, fleeing to the US to be reunited with her husband and daughter. Her parents later followed, and together they rebuilt their lives in Washington, DC.
All three generations of women from this remarkable Argentinean family have spent their subsequent lives working to keep alive the memory of the “disappeared” and to fight for justice in their homeland. Alicia Partnoy’s 1982 book The Little School was the first testimonial written in English about the victims of the Dirty War, and it was used by the National Commission for the Investigation of the Disappeared as evidence in the 1985 trial of the junta leaders. She also writes poetry about her experiences. The paintings of Raquel Partnoy are a call to action on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, and young Ruth went on to write The Strange House Testifies (2009), the first book to document the Argentinean genocide poetically and from a child’s point of view.
These three determined and creative women will speak and share their art, writing, memories and commentary on the continuing struggles for justice in Argentina on Monday, March 10 at Bard College. Titled “Colors through the Darkness: Three Generations Paint and Write for Justice,” the event is sponsored by Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement, the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities and the Human Rights, Latin American and Iberian Studies and Spanish Studies programs.
This event, which is free and open to the public, takes place from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in the Gabrielle H. Reem and Herbert J. Kayden Center’s László Z. Bitó ’60 Auditorium on the Bard campus. For more information, call (845) 758-6822 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Colors through the Darkness: Three Generations Paint and Write for Justice,” Monday, March 10, 1:30 p.m., free, Bitó Auditorium, Kayden Center, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-6822, email@example.com.