Last weekend, we traveled to Chapadmalal, a small town on the beach a few miles south of Mar del Plata, for the final exhibition of high school students’ work for Jóvenes y la Memoria, a pedagogical program developed by La Comisión por la Memoria focused on human rights. For 20 days during the month of November, students from all over Argentina come to Chapadmalal to dance, make art, and showcase projects they have made over the course of the entire academic year that focus on current and past issues affecting their everyday lives. Topics may vary- some focus on racism, transphobia, gender based violence, or the legacy of the last dictatorship. Not one project is the same- both the medium and the topics could vary. When we went, I saw dances, collages, interviews, and plays that all conveyed topics the students were passionate about.
It was impactful to see so many young people come and share what they most would like to speak out about in their lives. La Comisión por la Memoria is handing a megaphone to voices who normally are talked over or invalidated. Especially given the history of Argentina, in which the last dictatorship targeted young people who spoke out- the majority of those who were taken and killed were university students. Those who come to Chapa are doing what their predecessors could not. In a time where Argentina is still discussing the forced disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, an activist who was beaten, killed, and hidden for 78 days by armed forces in August, events like Chapadmalal have never been so important. Instead of scaring other activists silent, the disappearance of Maldonado only validates the necessity for organizations like La Comisión.
Sitting in the audience watching project after project, I began to reflect on my own experience in high school, when I first began to pay attention to social justice. The adults in my life spit the word “feminist” out at me like it was a dirty word. My history teacher listened to my opinions about class and race in the United States and merely said “You’re young. You will learn to know better.” I was a smart, passionate, ambitious 17 year old girl being told that what I thought was invalid merely because I was young. I was too young to be taken seriously, apparently, but old enough to pay attention when state legislators discussed cutting pensions, knowing that would affect my family’s well being. I was too young to be taken seriously, but old enough to know that cuts to women’s access to birth control would affect me. I was too young to be taken seriously, and at times I felt powerless. I could have benefited from an experience like Chapa when I was in high school. One thing I have learned about the US since coming to Argentina is that we have a culture in which we don’t talk enough. It is taboo to bring up topics like institutional racism and violence, poverty, inequality. It is much, much easier for these things to be glossed over, especially in schools. I was inspired and envious of the environment for young people created in Chapadmalal. Worldwide, it seems to me that the nature of politics and the direction of progress seems to be shifting. I have never felt more uncertain about the future, but in hearing the voices of this younger generation, for the first time in a while, I have something to be optimistic about.
For further reading about the work of Jóvenes y la Memoria and the Comisión, visit http://jovenesymemoria.comisionporlamemoria.net/