Sunday, 12 July 2009

Argentina: Victoria Donda (2)

I've written about Victoria Donda before (here and here), but now there is an extract from her new book, 'Mi nombre es Victoria', in today's Pagina/12. As a member of the Argentine Chamber of Deputies, Donda is a public figure, so it's hardly surprising that her history at the child of disappeared parents, brought up by a military repressor, causes interest.
My name is Victoria. That is the title of the book. It contains the story of the woman who was always Victor but was Analía as well. Who was Analía without stopping being Victoria. The story is told by Victoria Donda, the young woman who recovered her identity* in 2004 and shortly afterwards became the first appropriated child of disappeared parents to become a national Deputy.

Victoria's family history covers a truly extraordinary cross-section of Argentine society. Her biological parents were María Hilda Pérez and José María Donda, both murdered because of their political activism. She was born in the ESMA and, in the little time available before she was killed, her mother named her Victoria. But José Donda's brother Adolfo - Victoria's biological uncle - was a torturer and may even have been involved in the torture of his sister-in-law, so her family really crosses the dividing line of ideologies in Argentina. This is really unusual since military men very often came from military families, and similarly political leftists ('subversives') were often targeted as families, so one family with both extremes among such close relations is rare.
"My story... is not just mine, that of Victoria or Analía, but it is the history of Argentina, a history of intolerance, violence and lies which continues today, and which will not end until the last of the babies stolen during the dictatorship can recover his or her true identity, until the last of those responsible for that barbarity is judged for their crimes, until the last of the thirty thousand disappeared can be given a name, a history and a cause of death, and until the last of their relatives can mourn."

Victoria was brought up by the man known in the book as Raúl, real name Juan Antonio Azic, a torturer in the ESMA. She acknowledges that her feelings towards him are still mixed.
"I'm very clear about the fact that I was appropriated*... but yes, I feel ambiguous towards my appropriator... Nobody says that you necessarily have to hate your appropriators, not even the Grandmothers."
The article then provides a series of extracts from the book, beginning in July 2003 when a judge ordered the arrest of Raúl, who Victoria, then known as Analía, believed was her father.

At one in the morning the phone rang.

"Analía, it's me", said Raúl, in a tone even more serious that the one he had had a few hours previously. "I need you to wait at home a little longer. In an hour, call this number - " and he gave me the number while I noted it down like a machine, with one eye on the television.

An hour later I called, always with my eyes fixed on the television screen, without having been able to sleep or do anything other than wait. Before they picked up the telephone I knew, from the shivers which ran over my spine, from Raul's tone the last time he had called, that it wouldn't be good news. When I heard that the voice which answered the phone was not his, it confirmed my worst fears.

"Is that Analía? Your father is in hospital. He has just shot himself."

Raul had tried to commit suicide, shooting himself in the mouth with his regulation revolver. Maybe he thought he didn't have the strength or the will to face his past, to see the dead return to the silent tombs, and he thought that the best way for his family was to free them from what was to come: jail, the neighbours' looks... and more. Much more.

But he failed. The bullet had not damaged his brain, and Raul was in an induced coma in a room in the Naval Hospital. I didn't have time to cry. Not yet. Graciela [her adopted mother] had always been a woman of fragile health and I had to take care of everything. I went upstairs to wake my sister and my boyfriend, who had stayed over; together we woke Graciela and I called a taxi to take us to the hospital. When I entered the room where my father I just went in without thinking about what I was going to find. There, opposite me was my father, who I had seen just a few hours before, unconscious and without a face. The shot had disfigured him.

Almost as if it had been planned from the start, at the very moment that I left the room and went into the waiting room, the explanation for Raul's actions was to be seen in a television mounted on the wall. On the screen was an information red and yellow table from Cronica TV detailing the extradiction request, the list of the wanted and in the list, Raul's name. It didn't take long for his suicide attempt to take its place in such a table, completely exposing our family to the eyes of the entire country. Then I finally understand why he had taken this tragic decision, but I didn't know why to cry: for my father's suicide attempt, for the suffering of my mother, or for the reasons for his suicide attempt? Suddenly, my father was no longer an innocent fruit and vegetable merchant from Dock Sud, but one of those people whose incarceration I had been campaigning for for years. The images of Raul helping me out with money, some old furniture, or just giving me lifts to and from places like the Azucena Villaflor become incongruous and strange when one thought that the woman who gave her name to the cultural centre was a disappeared person, abducted by the task forces during the dictatorship. The same task forces to which Raul had, apparently, belonged.

Full of guilt about her newly discovered family connections given her own involvement with the human rights movement, Analia/Victoria contacts the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. They reassure her, but little does she know that they already suspect that she herself is a child of disappeared parents and are investigating her case.

The article concludes,

It was two years since the girls from Hermanos [the organisation of siblings of the disappeared] contacted me for the first time, and more than a year since they told me that I was the daughter of disappeared people. And that 8 October, with 99.99% certainty**, finally I could say it, yell it to the four winds if I wanted. And I wanted to say it:

Now, my name is Victoria.

En primera persona (Pagina/12)

* Some of this vocabulary may not be totally familiar to those who have not heard much of the disappeared children of Argentina, but terms such as appropriators, repressors, recuperation of identity and so on are standard for the field.

** I assume she is referring to the results of the DNA test.


walter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lillie Langtry said...

The point of comments is to engage with the post, not to constantly link to your own site. Once was ok, but any future comments will be deleted, Walter.