BootsnAll Travel Network

Taking it in

This has been a week of astonishment. School began. An ice storm hit Texas. We mailed out the first edition of The Midnight Special. Manko landed two jobs (hooray for Manko!). Meanwhile (how is this possible? where do the hours come from?) I have been reading Nunca Mas, and tonight I just watched, paused and re-watched key moments, and watched yet again two films: La Historia Oficial(The Official Story), filmed in 1985, about the years immediately after the Argentine catastrophe; and Estela Bravo’s documentary, Fidel. Where have I been all my life? What have I been doing? The depth of my ignorance is stunning.

If I hadn’t lived in South Africa during the testimonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I would not have been ready for Nunca Mas. I became convinced, watching weekly excerpts of TRC testimony, that there is no end of the horror that people can do to each other. All my life I had heard stories of the Holocaust; all my life I had known about apartheid. This thing in Argentina was nearer in time and geography, and I didn’t know about it till I was more than sixty years old. How did that happen? Nunca Mas adds page after page of bloody detail to that knowledge; it seeps into my brain and heart, and I feel myself changing. I feel as though a silent alteration is taking place in my cells. Lights are going on. This blog, that began as a travel blog, is more than ever the record of a journey. Travel is always a loss of ignorance, a loss of innocence; I know nothing more dangerous than innocence. So I continue traveling.

La Historia Oficial is subtle, full of layered meaning and superb acting. It leaves me with questions I will look up the answers to (who was Saavedra? what was the sub-plot concerning Andrade about?), but it gives me images I need, in order to imagine Argentina more clearly: images of Buenos Aires, of Argentine people, and little details (traffic, food, the textures of hair, sky-blue and white flags, the sound of the National Anthem). Why do I need this? Why now? I don’t know. Equally I don’t know how I lived so long without these images.

And then Cuba. Castro. I know the Bravo film is selective truth-telling. All “history” is a process of selection and omission. But it’s great to see the Angela Davis of 2002; she’s aging wonderfully, and her admiration for Fidel completely wins me over (everything I’ve ever heard Angela Davis say wins me over). And there is Mandela, and there are pictures of the woman warrior, Celia Sanchez, who was Fidel’s sidekick for twenty or so years–I’d heard whispers that there was such a woman, but I’d never seen her face. Alice Walker breaks up laughing in wonder because Castro, apparently, doesn’t dance. The film is an antidote to the steady diet of demonization I’ve heard all my life from the US media, and to the shallow slogans I so easily adopted among my leftist friends in the 70s. Everybody had that tattered red and yellow poster of Che hanging on their walls, but who knew what he did, what he said, what he and Castro fought for? Not me. I saw the road movie about Che; I had some vague mental image of jungle warriors in the 60s; but the Bravo documentary fills in many blanks. I didn’t, until tonight, know that Castro’s revolutionary movement was named the 26th of July. How did I not know that? I didn’t, until tonight, realize that Castro’s real threat, from the perspective of the US government, was his willingness to offend US corporations. That makes perfect sense.

UPDATE: this paragraph inserted after a night’s sleep and Stephen’s comment: Of course, admiring Fidel Castro requires a deep inconsistency in my beliefs. He met violence with violence. The very uniform he has worn for much of his life is a military uniform. There were those missiles. There was Che, with a machine gun in his arms; and Celia Sanchez also carried a gun. There was Mike Wallace asking Fidel directly, “What happened to the elections you promised?” (Not that elections mean much–the last two US presidential elections prove what a farce elections can be: vote-tampering, fraud, “spin,” masses of non-voters, the intervention of corporate money and the officials corporate money can buy, etc.) I don’t celebrate Castro’s violent means, even though in general, I am on the side of the people he publicly represents: the gente, those who want universal education, health services, at least subsistence wages, and a more equitable distribution of wealth; those who stand up to corporate domination and material greed and say no. I take in the dimensions, the facets of the story I have not heard before. I seek balance, and even in selective documentary-making, there is some balance against the consistent (I use the word again because no other word will do) demonization of Fidel I have been exposed to all my life. And about The Official Story: its genius is that the protagonist is a comfortable, well-intentioned middle-class woman, a teacher who grew up in the middle of evil and didn’t see it. There is no melodrama, no posturing, very little “spin.” Only one character in the film has been through imprisonment, and the story she tells is right out of Nunca Mas. That film is not spin, not opinion; it’s a careful presentation of how good people can be complicit in evil, how good people can BENEFIT from evil (her adopted daughter forms, after all, the center of the story). Back to the original post:

I’m in sponge-mode, soaking up all the images and knowledge I can get of what has been going on in my lifetime, south of where I was living most of the time. There’s so much to learn. Thank god I didn’t die last year. I would have missed all of this. To David, who once responded in a comment to the blog that he sometimes questions why he goes on living. David: here’s another reason. There’s so much to learn. That vast pool of images that we accumulate as we move through life has enormous blanks in it. We have to bear witness. Each time I fill in a blank, I gasp, Wow! Glad I didn’t go to my grave not knowing that part of what happened on the planet while I lived here.

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5 responses to “Taking it in”

  1. stephenbrody says:

    Dear Kendall, no-one can know everything! If you didn’t hear before about what you’re reading now, there are two simple reasons: first, you were occupied doing and learning about what is most appropriate and relevant to yourself; and secondly you didn’t have this apparently infinite and therefore potentially dangerous source of information, or anyway opinion. Besides ‘knowledge’ is mostly only interpretation of words filtered through existing awareness and therefore the choice of what to know is always highly selective. If you pack that suitcase too tightly not only will it be very heavy to carry and distract you from looking ‘contemplatingly’ can I say, but it might burst inconveniently and scatter the valuable contents haphazardly … it’s true of course that discovering new things and new perspectives keeps one on one’s toes and that’s a healthy and entertaining endeavour

  2. donna says:

    Most of us in the US. grow up pretty ignorant of what’s happening in the rest of the world. And especially, how responsible our government is for so much of it. Sad, but we fail to realize what takes place so we can happily ignore it in our sheltered wealth and power.

  3. Seth says:

    Indonesia/East Timor. Vietnam. Saudi Arabia. Iran. Iraq. Pakistan. Panama. Nicaragua. El Salvador. Brazil. The role call keeps going, but the pattern is clear, throughout history and around the world. The US government supports and arms other governments which suppress popular social movements. In order to sustain the profit margins of our corporations, our government must prevent the people of the 3rd World from exercising control over their own resources. This general world-view, in a practical sense, results in brutal dictators who make sure that US business interests are able to operate without the restrictions of organized labor, tariffs, or socially responsive laws.

    I think its good to know about the awful, horrific tragedies that our tax dollars have helped pay for over the years, but then there’s the problem of what to do with the knowledge. Maybe its best taken in small doses, because the deeper you dig, the more bodies you find, and it can become overwhelming and toxic.

  4. admin says:

    Very wise. What we do with the knowledge is absolutely crucial. If we turn it into anger, it can be paralyzing; it can lead to violent acts; it can breed impotent rage; it can poison us. If we turn it into compassion and quietly and firmly stand in solidarity with those who have been suppressed, if we LISTEN and speak when we can (with courage, knowing we may be suppressed for doing this), we meet two possibilities: one, we can be a presence of strength for those who have lived through the horror, and by hearing their stories, we may help them bear the weight; and two, we may find a movement of other people who will stand with us and make change (I think of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo). I am working on the principle of bearing witness. That means attention (witness) and bearing (being willing and able to hold it). Each person will have limits based, I think, on how much they have already borne. The ability to bear witness improves with exercise. That is my experience. Importantly, it isn’t only the 3rd world being prevented from exercising control over their resources. Argentina is not a 3rd world country. The same has been happening in the USA, is happening, right this minute. If we bear witness to this horror wherever it is, we may attract to us–or we may discover–others who are bearing witness, others who have been suppressed. And from that, change may come. Perhaps not change as sweeping and dramatic as we wish. Change that arises from bearing witness and exercising compassion, and what is sometimes called–and sometimes is–“diplomacy” may work better than change arising from anger and violence. This is what I’m working on. We will see, as life rolls on, if it proves true. Thank you so much for your wisdom. It is important to be on guard against the overwhelming and the toxic. I have sometimes let it slip up on me with very bad results. As you know.

  5. Nacho says:

    Kendall, thanks for the post. I’m confronted so often with this same sense of my own ignorance. How little I know, and… why am I awakening so late to this! It is truly funny when the “knowledge” in question is cultural and it is something that say my wife has known all her life. : )

    At the same time, I have the joy of teaching my students much about what has been mentioned above in comments and in your post. It is indeed a joy to see them waking up and committing to finding out more. For instance, in my Latino/a Voices class we cover Cuba briefly, read the Platt Amendment, and study the early part of U.S. involvement in the island, up to 1959. My students are taken aback and how much is left out of the equation here in the U.S. about Cuba that shapes this relationship. I’m happy to leave the figure of Castro as controversial and difficult to make sense of as possible so that it is not as easy for them to just demonize and scapegoat.

    Another eye-opening bit of history for them is Nicaragua’s brief period with an American “strongman:” William Walker. They also like to find out more about Puerto Rico, and the Sanctuary movement of the early-mid eighties (Central American refugees) is so completely new to them!

    Exciting indeed. At the same time I learn so much from them that I am so clueless about!

    Thanks again Kendall!

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