By Gena Mangiaratti
During Argentina’s Dirty War, which lasted from 1976 until 1983, thousands of citizens were “disappeared” by the government in an effort to keep the military junta in power. The persecuted were predominantly left-wing activists, journalists, students and others deemed “subversive” to the motives of the dictatorship.
Many of those arrested were taken to clandestine detention centers where they were tortured and killed. Though the government hid the exact number of arrests, human rights organizations estimate that over 30,000 citizens had been “disappeared.”
When pregnant women or young parents were arrested, the government put their children in the custody of families who supported the regime. The children were given new names, and many believed their adopters to be their real parents.
In 1977, parents of the disappeared mothers and fathers established the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, a non-governmental organization dedicated to finding their lost grandchildren.
The grandchildren, now in their thirties, continue to learn of their true identities to even today.
Their stories, and how they responded after learning of their identity, vary with the circumstances of their births and their lives leading up to when they were identified.
While some recovered grandchildren have taken on their original names and “have turned their backs on the people who raised them with a lie,” others have chosen to keep the names they grew up with, continuing to call their adoptive parents “mom” and “dad,” Inter Press Service reported.
The 2004 film Cautiva, a fictional story based on real events, depicts the situation of an Argentine girl who learns her parents are not her real parents, but rather that she is actually the daughter of activists disappeared during the dictatorship.
In the beginning of the film, the protagonist, Cristina Quadri is shown celebrating her fifteenth birthday with the family with which she grew up , dancing with the man she knew as her father. She is one day pulled out of school and introduced to a woman who identifies herself as Cristina’s biological grandmother. Cristina learns that her birth name had been Sofía Lombardi and that her date of birth is a year earlier than she had known it to be.
The film depicts her struggle as she initially resists her biological grandmother’s attempts to connect, running away to speak with the people she knew as her parents. Gradually, she becomes increasingly aware of her biological family’s good intentions as she learns to live with her new reality.
In November 2010, Democracy Now! interviewed recovered grandchild Manuel Gonçalves. Gonçalves always knew that he had been adopted, but he had not known that he was a child of the disappeared.
He told Democracy Now! that when he was nineteen, a man came to his home and told him his biological family was looking for him and that his birth parents had been among those disappeared during the Dirty War.
A forensic anthropologist brought Gonçalves to his biological grandmother, who was one of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. When he met his grandmother for the first time, they embraced each other, Gonçalves told Democracy Now!.
Years after recovering his identity, he began a legal case against his father’s killer, conservative Argentine politician Luis Patti, and his grandmother gave testimony before a judge.
Gonçalves’ grandmother has since passed away. He told Democracy Now! that when he first met her, he knew she would not live long enough for him to thank her for all she had done for him.
In November 2008, Inter Press Service reported that the Abuelas had managed to recover 93 children of the disappeared.