With every end there is an obligation to reflect on what has passed, on how I’ve changed during my brief yet wild quest for knowledge. But as I write this post hidden away in the confines of a cozy dorm, the same one in which I recorded my first tentative notes about Historic Memory, I find that I’ve very much come full circle. An academic purgatory of sorts between the exhilarating rush of the new semester and the rewarding trials of summer. In these past six weeks, I’ve worked on transcribing testimonies from small towns in southern Spain, from second-hand victims of Franco’s regime and the Spanish Civil War, in addition to subtitling a portion of the documentary La Sauceda, de la utopía al horror, which I’ve posted below for convenience. Yet in my attempts to answer my initial questions about the morality of memory, the stagnant and self-mutilating nature of trauma, and the problematic linear model of history, I’ve become just as confused now as I was from the start, perhaps the only difference being details and personal investment. For every truth uncovered, another is yet to be seen, and I’m still only at the beginning. Or more accurately, I’ve returned to the beginning, the very basis of this entire project: the testimony.
Those who know me in any capacity have had to endure, at one point or another, my evangelical devotion to food, not only as a source of nutrients –please, I am not that practical– but also as a means of constructing communal and personal identity. In particular, I tend to gravitate towards the familial values passed between the generations of matriarchs and the rituals of home cooking. It was David M. Kaplan who once said, “Food has social meaning and significance beyond its nutritive function; it is also expressive [...] Food preparation and consumption are bound to beliefs, practices, laws of nations and cultures. Food and culture define one another,” and I’ve taken his words to heart. What entices us, what sustains us is the symbolic way food connects us to what’s important. After all, do we not mark the milestones of our lives with food? The birthday cake. The highly allegorical Passover feast. Even the proverbial chicken soup that accompanies every illness and heartbreak. Infinite in its nostalgia, food is nothing without its context, and, for me, the context is life itself.
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.
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.”
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.”