This Mothers’ Day I would like to pay special tribute to (you Mom, of course), but also to the women known as Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In March 1976, then-President of Argentina Isabel Perón was deposed by a military coup. This marked the beginning of a military dictatorship known as the “Dirty War” which would last until 1983. During that time, an estimated 30,000 people “disappeared”, mostly young women and men struggling for the return of constitutional rule, for the freedom of their country from its subjugation to U.S. interests, and for the respect of the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights. It was later discovered that most of these young “desaparecidos” had been abducted, tortured and killed for allegedly “corrupting Christian and Western values.”
As critics of the regime started disappearing, mothers began to search for their children and realized they were not alone in their plight. In 1977, the mothers began meeting at the Plaza de Mayo (May Square) to denounce the tyrannical military rule, demanding justice and answers for their missing children. While the Catholic Church and labor unions did not support and at times stood in strong opposition to the women’s interests, the women courageously sought justice. Dismissed by many as being the “Madres Locas” or the “Mother of Terrorists”, some of the original Madres also disappeared in search of their children at the beginning of the resistance. Men were advised not to join as they would be under greater danger while the Madres could use their status as mothers to demand justice in a way that could be more widely heard, as perhaps they were seen as less of a threat than male dissenters.
For the past 33 years, the Madres have led marches to remind the world of their loss, and as a way of carrying on the struggle their children fought. Most of the mothers still do now know where or when their children died.
The Madres, now between 70-80 years old, always wear white headscarves with the stitched names of their children to symbolize the blankets of their lost children.
When democracy returned to Argentina in 1983, the group split in two, between those who continued the original work of reminding the world of their children (Madres de Plaza de Mayo Linea Fundadora) and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a human rights organization which has branched out into many different activities. They have created a radio station — La Voz de las Madres; a newspaper; and the cultural center ECuNHi (Espacio Cultural Nuestros Hijos), which in turn has just opened a cinema.
These women view themselves as the bridge linking their children to future generations. In a recent interview, organization President, Hebe María Pastor de Bonafini, explains:
Educating youth politically is the most important thing to do to free human beings; the need to shape one’s mind, to educate oneself, and to be prepared.
With this mission in mind, the Madres opened a university 10 years ago, La Universidad Popular de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo. The university has an annual enrollment of 1,200 students in 10 different majors (including political economy, investigative journalism, documentary film-making, and law). Many additional students attend classes that are open to the general public.
Las Madres also rebuild slums by working with local residents, teaching them skills such as plumbing and electricity (men and women alike), and paying good wages for their work. At the end of the day, the buildings are fully equipped with services such as nurseries, hospitals, health centers and repaired roads — amenities that didn’t exist for many slum-dwellers before. (For more on this see the IPS article Madres de Plaza de Mayo Bring Housing Hope to Slums)
The mothers are rebuilding pieces of the Argentinean capital from the ground up, in ways that carry on the memory of their children’s own struggles to shape society in a more just and equal way. In this process, they say that they are “socializing motherhood”:
As Las Madres, we socialize motherhood, we are the mothers of all. It was an important step to take because socializing motherhood is breaking the individual tie. It’s beautiful every mother has 30,000 children and every child has thousands of mothers.
Feliz Dia de la Madres, Madres!
For a small history on the Madres, click here
You can find out more (in Spanish) on their website.