While in Buenos Aires I visited the headquarters of las Abuelas and was lucky enough to actually sit down with a volunteer.
She slipped into the conference room with a small packet of tissues, closing the door carefully behind her. She told us about her job and began to explain the work that the organization does. We American exchange students had no idea what was coming.
Initially, we listened to her with little appreciation, perhaps because our minds were working furiously to translate her Spanish into English. She was telling a story of una abuela (a grandmother), which began with a young crippled man who had started a group to advocate for the disabled in Buenos Aires. This sounded like an underdog story, something that could lift spirits, but her tale turned out to be anything but that.
She told us of the military dictatorship that controlled Argentina for nearly five years around 1970. Her words built and hung in the air as our faces twisted into puzzled expressions. “Did she just say that the crippled man was kidnapped and tortured? His pregnant wife, too?” Yes. The disabled man had been seen as a threat by the military. He had been on lists, lists of people who needed to be removed.
But where was the crippled man’s child? We learned that Claudia, now an adult with children of her own, had only recently discovered her identity. She had been living with a colonel and his wife and was raised to think that they were her biological parents.
It was only after we realized that the narrator was telling her own story that we began to cry; the man was her son, and Claudia is her granddaughter. Only one tissue remained in the grandmother’s packet.