Our mission as students is to learn about injustice and prevent living in a world where it is repeated. This is what I learned during my recent trip to Argentina with eleven other students. From day one, we were thrown into a culture embedded with a violent history.
However, traveling with a bunch of Latino students, we had our own assumptions and prejudices against what we had heard regarding arrogant Argentines. In my experience, however, many of the Argentines I met were kind and helpful. Our obvious un-Argentine accent qualified even us native Spanish speakers as outsiders but it wasn’t enough to exclude us from the conversation of social justice.
During our ten days in Argentina, we studied at the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba where we were privileged to discuss topics that ranged from University Reform to the role of youth in theatre and revolutions. Outside of the classroom, the learning continued. We had the opportunity to work with acclaimed photographer Julio Pantoja, and under his guidance developed our own topics for photo essays that we completed throughout our trip.
My photo essay topic was the role of university students to promote social justice. I have learned about the sociological aftermath of civil war from my trip to Argentina, my own family history in El Salvador, and a previous University Ministry immersion trip to Peru. I feel I am starting to grasp the idea behind USF’s motto and I am inspired to teach others about injustices in Latin America.
As part of that task, I would like to inform you that the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, an organization comprised of mothers who demand accountability for the disappearances of their children kidnapped during the Dirty War (1976-1983), still march in the main square in front of the presidential palace thirty four years after the initial coup took place. Mothers outside of Buenos Aires also protest in the main squares of their own cities.
We also had the opportunity to speak to two members of the non-profit organization H.I.J.O.S. (which translates to Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against Forgetting and Silence) regarding escraches. Escraches are public defamations of past military officials who committed human rights abuses and torture during the Dirty War. H.I.J.O.S. will do research on where these people live and essentially stalk them to the point that they feel as uncomfortable as their victims once did. As cruel as the idea might seem at first, having had the opportunity to speak to the founder of H.I.J.O.S about the kidnapping of her father when she was seven years old, I support their effort to bring about justice and accountability.
Coming back from my trip, I was able to link the past with the present and pay closer attention to the current conflict in El Salvador. I recently read an article in the Salvadoran newspaper, “El Diario de Hoy,” which stated that one-hundred and seventy-eight persons had disappeared within the last three months, suggesting it was linked to gang violence. Having just learned about the current struggle for identity and accountability in Argentina, the article was eye-opening. Social injustice is not a subject that can just be studied under a historical lens. It is something that permeates our reality and that we must become aware of to avoid living in a world where it can be repeated.