Nonfiction selection from the 2012 issue
Grandmothers of the Disappeared
By Delia Malamud
I have learned that an anonymous report made to Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo states that my parents are not my parents but appropriators. I know that is impossible, since my birth certificate states I am their biological daughter. Still, the report is so categorical that I am beginning to have doubts. I think I’ll get in touch with Abuelas to see what they advise me to do. I am not ready yet to have a DNA test to determine who I really am.
The results of the mitochondrial DNA testing of the blood sample I submitted in November arrived this morning. They irrefutably prove I am the daughter of María Hilda and José María.
The report was right.
The man I have always loved and thought of as my father appropriated me exactly where he tortured people (even my mother?).
I am stunned. Can this be true? My life is collapsing. What am I going to do?
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 Abuelas.
How will I manage to stop being who I’ve always been?
How will I manage to become someone I’ve never been?
How can I possibly move on?
II. Matías and Gonzalo
– Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for joining Who’s Right? Matías Reggiardo Tolosa is the only guest on tonight’s show. Thanks so much, Matías, for granting me this interview. It’s a real pity your brother has backed out.
– Gonzalo has always been reluctant to talk to the press.
– OK, the questions will be for you, then. When did the Miaras take you to Paraguay?
– In 1985.
– How old were you then?
– We were eight.
– What had your life been like until then?
– The normal, happy life of two kids who worshipped their parents. Very happy.
– What changed after you moved to Paraguay?
– Beatriz and Samuel started getting edgy. The atmosphere in the house changed completely. Gonzalo and I were scared.
– What happened in 1989?
– Beatriz and Samuel explained to us that they were not really our parents, even though our birth certificates stated that they were. My guess is they told us because they must have figured out an Argentine judge had something on them. Shortly after that, an extradition request was granted.
– What happened then?
– We went back to Buenos Aires. DNA tests proved we had no blood connection to the Miaras .
– Do you recall how you felt while all of this was going on?
– The DNA tests were the beginning of the most painful period in our lives. We learned that our real parents had “disappeared” and that the man we worshipped as our father faced charges for torture, misappropriation and making false statements to obtain birth certificates. Even then we were adamant in our defense of him. We loved him so much we didn’t care.
– What happened in 1993?
– After many appointments with social workers, shrinks and more DNA tests, Judge Ballesteros summoned us and announced that our true identities had been confirmed: we were Matías and Gonzalo Reggiardo Tolosa. He ordered that new ID cards be issued and that school records be modified to accommodate our new identities. He also ordered our immediate restitution to our biological family, and told us we would never again see Beatriz and Samuel Miara
– How was that order carried out?
– The judge decreed a shock approach to the situation, and our uncle Malamud Eduardo was granted custody. We had never met him before. We were uprooted: new city, new school, new family. From one day to the next.
– What was it like with him?
– A nightmare. We were teenagers. Nobody gave a damn about our timing or our wishes. The situation made us surly. It was impossible for us to adjust to living with Eduardo. We went to the judge for help.
– What did he do?
– He placed us with a substitute family, with whom we stayed until we came of age. The minute this happened we went back to the only home we had ever known, with our Mom Beatriz.
– What’s your relation with the Grandmothers at present?
– Everything’s cool now, but we went through some rough spots over the years. We were just kids when all this started, and it wasn’t easy at all. However, I’ll be forever grateful to them for giving me back my identity.
– Why have you decided to go public with your story?
– There has been a lot of prejudice about how we reacted to our restitution. I would like people to understand how terrible it was for such young kids to go through everything we did. It was hard to come to terms with what had happened. I’m still trying to overcome the pain. I have never seen Samuel since his imprisonment, but I live with Beatriz. I have been trying to get closer to my biological family and to understand as much as I can. I want to find out who my parents were. I feel deeply for those who are still looking for their loved ones, and I know their only hope lies with Abuelas and their persistent struggle.
– Thank you, Matías. Who’s Right? will be with you in a week’s time. Don’t miss it!
My name is Marcos Suárez and I am 35 years old. Before 2006 I was somebody else. I had always had doubts about who I really was, but it was only in 2006 that I mustered courage to have a DNA identity test through Abuelas. I already had two children and was divorced by then. As soon as I knew who I was, I shared the news with my former wife and my kids, who were then eight and nine. Though it was extremely hard for such young children to understand a situation like mine, my son asked to be with me when I met my grandmother.
After that, I went through different stages: while learning the truth was great relief, later I felt pretty wretched and thought ill of my parents because they hadn’t contemplated me adequately and had allowed me to get involved in such a complicated situation. Still later I felt deep distress when I thought that I would never be able to hug them or ask them a zillion things. However, locating my real family has enabled me to find myself.
To put together my new identity I clung to my grandmother, aunts and uncles and fell back on the stories about my parents told by relatives and friends of theirs. I feel the process of acquiring my new identity is now complete.
I cannot condone or forgive the compulsory taking of blood carried out by court order. It violated my constitutional right to privacy and intimacy, physical and psychological integrity. It is an unacceptable interference of the State which has forced me to surrender control of my own body against my own free will. It affects my civil rights since my adult decision to not know my biological origin has been disregarded. Nothing and nobody can destroy my bond with the parents who raised me. I have no desire to know anything about my birth family.
My identity is mine. It’s something private and I don’t think it’s up to the state or the Grandmothers to force knowledge I don’t want upon me.
We, the mothers of the abducted pregnant women, have already given up hope that we will ever see our daughters again. But something deep in our hearts tells us our grandchildren haven’t been killed. We are desperate: we need to locate these babies, no matter what. We are well aware we won’t be able to accomplish much in isolation. We must give one another strength: we must work together.
Our NGO, Abuelas de (Grandmothers of) Plaza de Mayo, has been launched. Our only aim is to find the children and restore them to their real families. We intend to investigate all births registered after the legal deadline and look into every reported abduction of pregnant women.
We have started campaigns aimed at young people who have doubts about their identity, and many young men and women are coming forward. Blood analyses conducted by the National Bank of Genetic Data have been proving the link between the misappropriated children and their biological families beyond the shadow of a doubt.
So far, we have found 102 of the estimated 500 missing children.
It has been 36 years since there was a military coup in Argentina. During the seven years that the armed forces ruled the country, many men and women allegedly “disappeared,” a euphemism used to refer to the abduction and eventual murder of the victims by the military. Some of the abducted women were pregnant. The tormentors often waited until these women gave birth; they then appropriated the children and killed the mothers. Children born during their mothers’ detention in clandestine centers were mostly given to childless members of the regime who then took purportedly legal steps to pass these children off as their own offspring.
Thanks to the relentless work of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, many young men and women, ages ranging 12 to 30 or more, learned that those they believed to be their parents had actually played a part in their true parents’ murders, on occasion even torturing their mothers prior to and during delivery, only to kill them after childbirth. Until their restitution, these youngsters were systematically lied to about their identities. Sometimes the ideological rift between misappropriators and biological families made the whole value system of these young people fall apart.
Confronting reality and truth after years of living in a fake world brought about joy and relief in many cases, though in others it was a very trying experience. The psychological complexity of the situations the restored grandchildren had to go through made them react to these developments in very different ways. After the blow life dealt them, each of these people decided who they wanted to be: by choosing to side with or against their biological families, they ultimately chose their identity.
How can you live when you know you have been raised by the very people who are responsible for your parents’ abduction and death? How can you live after realizing you have loved these people throughout your life? How can you live when everything you were taught to believe in is challenged by incontrovertible facts? How can you live when your identity is shattered and you are forced to start fresh and decide who you are, who to trust, who to side with? How can anybody live with that?