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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

We have a voice. So we riot.

In the United States we are born with voices. Voices that are not attached to microphones connected to amplifiers but voices that certainly have the port for the connector cable. But a voice is a tricky kind of thing. We may plug the cable in and shoot waves through the wires proclaiming beliefs; igniting the ink; gliding the paintbrush; enlivening the feet. Or sometimes we don’t bother plugging in at all for fear of a shower of sparks or because maybe we would just rather not buy into the idea of a built-in electrical port associated with voice. That’s perfectly fine and for that very reason I will soon stop this far too prolonged voice-cable metaphor. But I will first pose this question to you, dear reader: if we have the port to amplify our voice why do some choose mute?
In Fall 2009 I had the privilege of studying in one of the most historically politically charged countries in the world: Argentina. This is a country where upon telling a young person that you are from the United States they immediately fire questions at you, are dying to know your opinion of three men: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Only after you have proved your worth as a conscious, stereotype-breaking, politically opinionated American citizen can other topics work their way into the conversation. The funny thing is that on the first day of classes we were warned of this by our professor in a political science course about democracy and dictatorship in Latin America. In fifty minutes he gave us the low-down on what we might encounter in conversation as well as on the streets: everything from protests, demonstrations, riots, and rallies to pick-pocketing, attempted kidnapping, etc. No big deal.
Fast-forward three months into the journey, two pick-pocketing experiences, one hold-up in a café, one violently assertive cab driver, 15 days of Subte strikes and one charged Hugo Chavez appearance in Buenos Aires later. Call me crazy but was still smiling just a big as I had been on the first day of classes. That is until one sweltering afternoon in October when I emerged from the underground subway and found myself in the middle of, quite literally, bloody chaos.
I had just taken the Subte for about an hour to a lower income province where I had been volunteering for the past three months. It was always the same routine: I’d hop on the D train in Recoleta, transfer twice, reach my destination and finally walk 6 blocks down the street with my iPod in, avoiding dog droppings and faulty sidewalk stones that would rock and shoot stagnant water into my shoes with one wrong step. That’s how it went every single time. Except for this one. As I stepped off the Subte, sticky and light-headed from the body heat generated by the 50-plus individuals crowded into one train car at rush hour, I inhaled my first breath of personal air. With my backpack on and hands grasping the straps that hung down at my sides I jogged up the 23 familiar steps. After the last step I turned the corner and there it was: a mob of bloody men and women running in every which direction, police officers with plastic shields, everyone yelling, nobody showing an ounce of fear. They were young people, couldn’t have been much older than me.
I was frozen. A woman hurried past me cussing and wiping her blood-soaked nose and; a man lay on his back in the distance, legs bent and feet planted on the ground grasping his head with both hands; another young woman was angrily dragging her male companion out of a heated altercation with a police officer; and behind me, behind the chaos, an old woman stood shaking her head and smoking a cigarette. She seemed the most reasonable person to ask about the situation at hand so I told my legs to defrost and forced them to shakily approach. As I came closer to her, the wrinkles deepened around her mouth and she formed a smile.
“¿Mija, que estás haciendo aquí?”
I told her why I was there and after making fun of me she went on to explain that the issue was over labor disputes and unfair wages.
O algo así.” Or something like that.
She was just there with her son making sure he didn’t get into trouble; the supportive mother, you know the type.
So there we were, chatting in the middle of a riot that was now coming to an end as people trickled away yelling obscenities and checking out their minor injuries. She assured me that it was done, that it would be okay to carry on down the street to my destination. So down the street I went. Just another Thursday in Buenos Aires.
I met Ileana in a café on the corner of Charcas and Anchorena. I was reading Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges and apparently looking quite North American because she leaned over from her neighboring table and asked with a shy smile, “Sos de los Estados Unidos?”
Sí,” I replied. “De California.”
Great answer. She loved Los Angeles. Not before long the conversation cruised toward politics and she was demanding to know my opinion of Obama and did I hate Bush just like the rest of the world too? I happily indulged her as we sipped our café con leche and compared our 21-year- old lifestyles in Argentina and the US.
It was a Sunday, three days after my riot encounter so I decided to ask her about it. She didn’t know the details but offered an insider’s view on why many young people are so passionate about politics in South America. She pointed to the violent oppression during the Dirty War and explained that the collective liberated voice of the people is something that is still relatively new to their country; they had to take every chance to use it. It was the fruit of democracy, a prize of the hard-fought struggle for justice. When I told her that many young people don’t vote in the United States, that many are uninformed and blindly follow their parents’ beliefs, Ileana said that she had heard that before but couldn’t believe that it was actually true. Then with a shrug of her shoulders and a wide grin, she spoke English for the first time that evening:
Bueno…in Argentina we have a voice. So we…we…riot.”

Mallory Massie


Blogger Editorial Committee said...

You are an absolutely brilliant writer! The fluidity with which you write is amazing; you have a great gift for telling stories. Totally inspiring.

February 4, 2011 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger Editorial Staff said...

Great story. I need to go to Argentina! After becoming fluent in Spanish of course.

--Weston Finfer

April 28, 2011 at 5:18 AM  

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