Final summary: Argentina and the year ahead

Well, I’m finally back on campus after 6 months in Argentina and several weeks of hurried unpacking, repacking, moving, and organizing all my research materials. Because I had a limited time abroad, I focused all my energy while there on finding sources for my research project about the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. I ended up with thousands of newspaper articles, hundreds of historical documents from police archives, sources from the Madres, politicians, activists and victims, and of course months’ worth of personal experience to contextualize my project.

Now that I finally have time to breathe, I’m organizing my research materials so that I can jump into my honors thesis this fall. My end goal for the summer project wasn’t a finished research paper, since I’m using these materials for my honors thesis, but I still put in a full 7 weeks and ended up with an enormous pool of resources that will contribute to a detailed, well-evidenced thesis throughout the school year.

I plan on using the newspaper articles I collected from the 1970s to the early 2000s to contextualize Argentinian society and economics. Since my research question involves the economic radicalization of a human rights organization (HRO), I want to use these documents to construct a timeline of popular opinion and reaction to economic trauma. There are three broad moments of economic crisis in Argentina during this time: the end of the dictatorship (1983), the end of Alfonsín’s presidency (1989), and the enormous crisis of 2001. Primary sources from these times that describe the economic and financial details of the crises as well as popular response will help me understand why HROs responded the way they did in these moments and shifted ideologically left throughout this time period.

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A photo from a 1992 newspaper. Caption: The Madres and their traditional “Appearance with life.” “Our children will die the day this plaza is empty.”

I’m most excited about the dictatorship-era documents I obtained from the Provincial Commission for Memory’s Buenos Aires Provincial Police Force Archives. I was shocked to discover how much information the police kept on these Madres, not only during the dictatorship, but for years after. The documents showed that these mothers were feared by the police and military dictatorship for their moral authority and dedication to the cause. Years later, the documents also prove that the military and police felt the need to keep an eye on the Madres as they broadened their political focus, increased their activism and pursued partnerships with economic justice organizations and leftist political parties. There is a link here between persecution by a corrupt political authority and increased radicalization: as time passed and the Madres grew farther away from the dream of having their children back, they also became more aware of and accustomed with their persecuted status, and in turn became more radicalized and sought other sources of injustice to protest and combat. Of course, this is just an early stage conjecture, but the documents I have will give me plenty to consider as I spend many more hours considering this question as I write my honors thesis.

Being back from Argentina has been hard already. The reverse culture shock is harder than my original culture shock, and having to go back to school doesn’t help! However, I had an amazing time exploring this country, and I loved the opportunity to spend seven whole weeks diving deep into archives, newspapers, interviews, and daily life. In addition to the sources I gathered and brought back with me, I am now familiar with Argentinian media, I’m fluent in Spanish and I know where I can look online for more primary source information on the Madres and Argentinian politics in general.

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