Horns meet World. World meet Elizabeth Gerberich. Elizabeth is an Anthropology and Latin American Studies major here at UT, and she studied abroad during fall 2013 with IFSA Butler in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During her time abroad, she also interned at the Parque de la Memoria, working for the remembrance of the victims of the human rights violations of the military dictatorship of the late 1970s.
The Parque de la Memoria—the Park of Memory—is located on the banks of the Río de la Plata approaching the northern limits of Buenos Aires. At first glance, it seems like any other public park or plaza. Couples ride their bikes around the park’s perimeter. Small children shout “¡Goooooool!” as they try to emulate the names printed on the back of their soccer jerseys. A group of teenage girls drink maté—a type of green tea ubiquitous in Argentina—while their brothers practice the tricks they just learned on the skateboards under the scarlet ceibo trees. Look closer and you see that it is so much more.
Four stone walls, in the shape of an open wound, stand tall in the middle of the park, weaving a path down to the river between the young soccer players, picnickers, and skateboarders. Upon them are nine thousand names, the confirmed victims of state terrorism—those disappeared and assassinated under Argentina’s final and most brutal military dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to 1983. There are at least 21,000 names missing from those walls, as the country has yet to recover the identities of the majority of those disappeared. The Parque serves to commemorate the lives of these individuals, mainly university students and factory workers, as well as to promote the construction of democracy through education and collective memory.
From my first day as an intern, I knew I would love the time that I spent at the Parque. In fact, I ended up spending more time at there than I did in class. The people who work there are warm, welcoming, and passionate, and they constantly encouraged me to push my limits as a student of Latin American Studies.
One afternoon in November, a man walked up to me in the information booth at the front of the park, asking if I knew if a specific name was included on the monument. I told him that I unfortunately didn’t know because I wasn’t familiar with every name included there, but he could consult the public database to find out. He thanked me and then revealed that the name he had given me was that of a good friend who was detained with him. “It’s only because of a coincidence,” he said, “that my name isn’t up there, too.”
I don’t remember the man’s name, nor his friend’s, but I remember that in that moment, things made sense. As university students, it seems that we read everything written on a given topic (I certainly had read enough regarding the dictatorship over the course of the semester), and it’s easy to forget that there are people behind all of those books and articles. Talking with that man reminded me that I was able to learn only because I had been standing on the shoulders of 30,000 giants lost to the water of the Río de la Plata and countless survivors and their relatives that resisted a merciless regime. He reminded me why I had chosen to participate in my study abroad organization’s human rights program and had become passionate about human rights in the first place: they matter because people matter, and it’s our responsibility to work towards a world where we don’t have to build more Parques de la Memoria.
If you enjoyed reading about Elizabeth’s experience in Argentina, check out both the program that got her there and her blog about her time abroad. If you’re a Latin American Studies major like Elizabeth, make sure to apply for the LLILAS travel grants! If you’re a Liberal Arts major, scroll through this database of funding opportunities for study abroad. And, as always, check in with us next week to see where in the world our Horns pop up next!