“¡Madres de la Plaza, el pueblo las abraza!” The chant erupted from the plaza, but I doubt anyone next door took much notice. For nearly forty years the government officials in the nearby Casa Rosada—the Argentinean equivalent of the White House—have heard the same message.
The people embrace the Mothers of the Plaza.
To honor the memory of loved ones who were “disappeared” (i.e. abducted, tortured and presumably killed) by the Argentinian dictatorship between 1974 and 1983, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo still demonstrate in the heart of Buenos Aires each Thursday. People far and wide have indeed embraced these Argentinian women as leaders in the fight for human rights, and some even march with them in solidarity. On this particular afternoon the co-picketers were calling for an end to violence against transgender persons.
But today a third kind of person joins the mothers and the marchers in the Plaza de Mayo: the tourist.
While the mothers are here to search for children stolen and the marchers to spotlight other human rights violations, the tourists came to snap photos and perhaps clap along for a chant or two before buying a commemorative keychain and marching onward to the Puerto Madero boardwalk (i.e. TripAdvisor’s second-highest-rated attraction in Buenos Aires).
“¿Francisco Alfredo Escamez Ruarte? ¡Presente—ahora y siempre!” The protestors called the names of the disappeared and punctuated each with a resounding “Present—now and always!”
There is something grotesque about the gawkers scratching their heads, turning to Lonely Planet, and skimming a depoliticized paragraph that sums up this living resistance to state terrorism. One wonders whether or not such sightseers would know the difference if a tour company paid look-alike extras to don white headscarves at 4:30pm and parade around the plaza for the latecomers who could not squeeze the real 3:30pm march into their itinerary.
Why don’t these so-called travelers put down their selfie sticks and strike up a conversation? Did they wander into the Plaza de Mayo thinking it was the Buenos Aires Zoo? Do those tour buses run on absurdity?
I could count the number of tourists actively participating on the fingers of one hand! And I would . . . if my hands weren’t already busy rubbing my sunburnt neck and switching my iPhone to Panorama mode. Maybe I should not be so quick to criticize the rubbernecking passersby; after all, I am one.
Though that only makes the question, “Why are we staring?” more pressing.
Daniel Bergerson, originally from Orono, is a junior at Columbia University in New York. He is currently studying history, writing children’s stories and traveling throughout Chile — all in preparation to teach social studies in the Twin Cities. Daniel is also an editor at Young Teachers Collective.