You already know that I came to South America to study the revolutions that have happened in these countries. I wanted to know why times of unrest and revolution seem to create such awesome writing. I was expecting to come here and interview people who lived through the dictatorship and wrote about it. I have done that, and I have some great stories and some fantastic unpublished writing to share with you.
However, to my surprise, the most powerful moments of my time here have not been learning about the past. Don’t misunderstand. I have been nearly moved to tears visiting detention centers and reaching out and touching items that were used as instruments of torture. Of course I will never forget visiting those places and hearing the stories of the victims and survivors. I feel privileged to be able to carry some of their story back to you. It is a responsibility that I do not take lightly, and I promise that I will share the stories with integrity.
Here is what has surprise me almost beyond words: in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, revolutions are not a thing of the past. The revolutionary spirit is alive and restless in these places and in these people. I felt it when I marched with the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. I felt it when I looked up at the humble office building of the president of Uruguay and learned that he was democratically elected and also played an active and visible role in the resistance during the dictatorship in his country. I felt it when I breathed in the tear gas and heard the cries of the students in Chile. Revolution and repression is the legacy of the people in these places, and they are carrying that legacy into the present.
Until the madres de plaza de mayo have answers, people will march for truth and justice in Argentina. Do you want to know what makes me so sure? The moment the madres finished marching they were mobbed like they were holy or like they were rock stars – and not by adults, either, by young people about your age. They lived the revolution, and they are passing it on. It is working. I desperately hope that the youth of Argentina have inherited this capacity for asking tough questions of the people in power.
As long as quality education is not accessible to all the people of Chile, there will be caused for tear gas and tanks with water cannons in the streets of that country. It is the young people who have inherited the legacy of activism and who are speaking loudly and boldly and with once voice about the future that they want for themselves and their country. I can’t allow myself to think about a world in which the demands of those brave, bold students are not held up as ideals for every country, everywhere. They are not showing any signs of stopping or even slowing down. There is great struggle there. There is great hope there.
So where does that leave us? You are a group of young people who will come together to study English and Literature with me this year. You will bring who you are, and the communities to which you belong, to your study of the stories of others. You will find places to connect with the madres and the students and the democratically elected presidents. If you are brave and have trust, you will find a part of yourself in their stories. You will find that you can write and read with enthusiasm and passion, and you will find that you have your own stories to tell about your own revolutions. Not better or worse than the ones I have taught you about here, just different. And all your own.
I am getting ready to leave South American and come and meet you in our classroom in just a few days. I can’t wait to see you and start our work together!