Storytellers of War: The Power of Narratives in Constructing Identity

I am many things: an avid doodler, a fairly average student, and an almost offensively green transcriber, as I’ve quickly learned from working on this project. But in the growing days of sitting -with surprising discipline- in front of a computer, trying to decipher the elusive sounds of Andalusian Spanish only to melt into a pool of confusion and consolation chocolate, it is my passion as a storyteller that grounds me in the reality of the work. The voices of victims and survivors who speak with almost casual conviction. The intimate nature of their testimonies like confessions liberated from decades of silence, some of which are inherited through parents and grandparents. These are stories that demand their pain to be recognized and, above all else, felt.

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Amparo Menacho

In this post, I translate and reflect on key parts of Professor Cate-Arries’ interview with Amparo Menacho in Grazalema, Cádiz. Menacho is the great-niece of one of the sixteen women from that town who were killed by Franco’s troops and supporters at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). A surviving grandmother was able to relate the story of what happened in Grazalema to Menacho, with details provided by another family member who observed the scene from a hidden location. In the process of taking Grazalema, Franco’s supporters humiliated, tortured, and killed men and women. Menacho describes that women were raped, their heads shaved, forced to consume castor oil, and paraded through the town. Menacho’s great aunt was one of the three murdered women who were pregnant when the violence began. According to her, the baby was born amidst the violence and “was thrown away, and pigs ate the child” as his mother died.  Men in Grazelema were also affected by the violence. Her grandfather, described as “not a politician” but one who “liked politics,” was killed as well. Franco supporters, in their attempt to stamp out all resistance, killed many who were not directly involved in governing the Second Republic, many of the victims in Grazalema being prime examples. Another interviewee of Cate-Arries said that the troops justified the killing of “fifteen year old boys” by saying that even those who did not pose an immediate threat would “change, come tomorrow, into sharpened knives.”

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The difficulties posed by 21st century testimonies in studying the Spanish Civil War

Testimonies collected from the families victimized by Franco during and after the Spanish Civil War are a crucial part of understanding the historical memory movement. I hope to continue my research focused on the difficulties that surround projects of historical memory in Spain. As we transcribe and analyze the interviews of those in Cádiz who lost family to Franco’s dictatorship, I hope to add on a new dimension to my understanding of the difficulty of preserving the memory of an era that was forced into the periphery of Spanish society. While I focused nearly exclusively on the exhumation project at La Sauceda in my research project for the study abroad program, I hope to now shift the focus of my studies to the process of gathering testimonies. As the historian Santiago Moreno pointed out to me during our interview in Cádiz, “exhuming mass graves isn’t the only part of remembering, maybe the most striking.”

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Coming to an End

It’s probably pretty obvious, but I’ve been putting off the last blog post. It’s sad! I’ll try to cover as much as I can.

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Treasures in Benamahoma

When we visited Benamahoma, well first it took us a few hours to learn to pronounce the town’s name. Beh-Na-Ma-OH-Ma. But in all seriousness, it was only meant to be a stop-off point on our way to Grazalema to speak with the mayoress about her town’s history of repression and about the fosa de las mujeres or “mass grave of the women” that was linked to Grazalema. Ana María and her companions had spoken to us about that site a little that Monday and this was Friday and we were supposed to learn more.

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