Our Trip to Villamartín and Ubrique

On Monday, Team Cádiz travelled to Villmartín and Ubrique, two charming little towns in Andalucía.  We rented a car to get there (which was quite a adventure in and of itself) and had a very busy, wonderful day!

Our first stop was the small Museo Histórico Municipal de Villamartín (the Municipal Museum of History in Villamartín), which we went to because Professor Cate-Arries had heard that they had some objects of memory.  These objects were discovered during the exhumations of mass graves.  When we arrived, José Maria Gutierrez Lopez, the director of the museum, greeted us and informed us that the museum was closed, but that he would love to show us the objects of memory, even though they had never been on public display.  He was so kind, explaining that “this is what museums are for,” as we expressed our gratitude.  We saw a variety of small objects, including numerous belt buckles, buttons, and soles and heels of shoes.  But the two objects that were the most moving for me personally were a bullet and a small photo frame.  I couldn’t believe that the little piece of metal that he held in his hands could be the cause of such death and destruction.  What’s more is that this particular tiny bullet had been the cause of the lost life to whom all these objects belonged.  It’s tragic.

And the photo frame…wow! What a true object of memory, on so many different levels.  The individual who had lost his/her life in such a terrible, violent way (and whose memory we were now trying to honor) had brought this object of “remembering,” a photo of a loved one, to the place and moment of his/her death.  It’s beautiful, and incredibly heartbreaking.

After the museum, we traveled to Ubrique to meet with Ana María Venegas, her sister, and a friend of theirs, three women who have dedicated their lives to remembering and honoring those that had suffered, died, and gone missing at the hands of Franco’s regime.  We talked to them for hours, and they proved themselves to be courageous women, each with a very strong moral compass.  Ana María talked to us about many things, but here is a short list of what I found most striking:

  • The remains of pregnant women were found in the mass graves.
  • In her opinion, a lot of what happened was caused by la envidia, or envy
  • She said, “Tenemos que saber de donde somos para saber adonde vamos” (“We need to now where we come from in order to know where we’re going).
  • She also talked about how they were looking for and asking for justice, and not looking to hate, blame, or get revenge.
  • The importance of the third generation (the grandchildren and great grandchildren)
  • They have worked tirelessly so that the jóvenes (young people) can know where they come from.
  • Fear (of talking, of something bad happening) was ever-present, even years after the regime.  She said, “Nosotros tenemos el miedo metido en la sangre.” (“We have fear deep in our blood)
  • Andalucía is el pionero, the pioneer, of the movement to recover historical memory
  • She said, “Estas personas, no los podemos fallar” (“We cannot fail these people” [those that were killed])
  • She said, “Es la hora de hablar,” (Now is the time to talk [about what happened]”)
  • The franquistas were going to kill a father and a son, and the father begged to be killed first so he wouldn’t have to see his son get killed.  They refused him his dying wish, killing the son first so that the father would have to suffer more.

As you can see, this is all incredibly moving, powerful information.  We are so lucky to have gotten it and to experience the passion behind Ana María’s lucha (fight/struggle).

As we were talking to all of them, Megan and I both felt that the other people in the town looked less than pleased that we were there asking questions, perhaps suspicious of us.  One man sitting near us at a coffee shop told us furiously that he did not want to be filmed (of course, we weren’t filming him at all), and then angrily listened to the rest of our interview, scowling the entire time.  However, after the interviews finished, Ana María and her friend took us on a tour of the town.  As we walked around, looking more like tourists with a local guide, those we encountered were very friendly, showing us their churches, hills, and the best view of the town.  It was a subtle, yet significant change that reminded me, yet again, that this is an issue, a conflict, where tensions run deep and that we can never assume that every person we encounter will agree with what we think is right and just.

Related to this theme, Mike made a very interesting and important point.  He said that as we sat around the main plaza, interviewing Ana María and surrounded by children and their families, it occurred to him why people (especially of the older generation) might want to leave the past in the past.  He pondered on what the townspeople would do if they knew whose grandfather killed whose grandfather.  Needless to say, it would be very painful and have the capacity to cause a lot of problems.  However, I think Ana María’s focus on wanting truth and justice, NOT revenge or looking for someone to blame, is key.  Although it may be sad and painful, I really do think it is extremely important for Spain as a whole to face its past and its ghosts in order to really, truly move forward… and I really do feel that this can be done in a positive way, with emphasis on remembering and honoring, not looking for revenge on the “bad guys.”  The individuals whose lives were taken (whether by getting killed or being tortured and imprisoned for years and years) deserve to be remembered.  As outsiders looking in, this is what we are trying to do with Professor Cate-Arries’ Memory Matters Project.