Tagged: oral history

5. Reading: La búsqueda

Boy, have I suffered through this. While La búsqueda. Testimonio de Leonor Esguerra Rojas (Pregón, 2011) depicts the life story of an utterly interesting character, this (first) edition is barely edited at all. As someone who for professional reasons has a lot to do with interview transcripts, I was apalled by the incoherences of style and organization, and the overall missing conception. What is worse, even as a non-native speaker I notice many mistakes in spelling and punctuation, and the at times unconvincing attempts at Colombian colloquialism. But I continued anyway, because I was curious to see how this nun of upper class origins ended up with the ELN guerrilla.

Even if, as such, this is not a unique story (there have been many nuns and priests in Colombia who collaborated – or still do – with guerrilla groups, most famously Camilo Torres), it is one of very few accounts of how women ended up guerrilleras in Colombia. It might have been a problem from the start that I had Gioconda Belli’s Mujer habitada in mind all the time, and that probably raised my expectations to almost unfulfilable heights. But even comparing her non-fictional biography, which was the basis for mujer habitada, to this supposed testimony left me with the impression that La búsqueda has some valuable stories to share but has not been thought through in its presentation. Especially I would like to rescue the idea of structuring the narrative through the different nome de guerres Leonor used during her life, but insist on the fact that many things she “testifies” would have greatly profited from contextualization with other sources (clearly, this is the anthropologist speaking).

How did I come across the book?

I saw it in the hands of a dear friend and ex-member of the M-19 guerrilla movement, so I assumed this would imply a certain credibility, if not quality. I still have to talk to her about it to see what she really thought about it.

When and where did I read it?

During fieldwork in Bogota.

Le tememos a la violencia porque origina dolor, sufrimiento; cuando hablamos de sangre que corre, de heridos, de fusilamientos, de decapitados, pensamos con horror en el dolor que esto produce, pero nos deja sin cuidado saber que hay miles de niños que se están muriendo por desnutrición, por falta de higiene, por falta de atención medica, no nos afecta mucho saber que hay personas que sólo toman una sopa aguada una vez al día, que hay ancianos que mueren de frío dormidos en la calle helada… todos estos muertos no cuentan, nadie los contabiliza, nadie ve que hay una violencia legal, institucionalizada. (p. 123)


1. Reading: Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation

The Year in Readings started with a mission: more ethnographic monographs. The first book I finished, however, does not fit into this category. On the upside, at least it is remotely related to what I do in my research. Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation. Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal and Spain by Rina Benmayor, María Eugenia Cardenal de la Nuez and Pilar Domínguez Prats (eds.; Palgrave Macmillian 2016) is meant to be an introdcution to oral history work in Latin America, Spain and Portugal. I’ve been doing a more formal review for the Oral History Forum d’histoire orale from the Canadian Oral History Association, which you can find here, if you’d like to have a look.

For the purpose of continuing with my subjective review series, I am just going to mention a few key points. Overall, reading edited volumes is often a challenge, because personally, I am rarely interested in all the contributions. This one had the great advantage, that it were those articles I thought wouldn’t fit my interests, which were the most inspiring. Some of the topics are innovative, like the articles on Lisbon’s tattoo scene, or the performance piece on the Portuguese dictatorship, and I especially liked the articles focusing on female militants from the Southern Cone and on migrant sex workers in Spain. But I would have liked more of that. Most articles are concerned with worker’s history. A real downer was the fact that articles on Latin America were restricted to the Southern Cone and Mexico, giving a somewhat eurocentric idea of the continent, and completely leaving out any indigenous contributions. Given that it is particularly this area where Oral History flourishes in Latin America, I found that quite disappointing. Apart from this (serious!) flaw, the volume is a solid contribution, and might be of interest for people wanting to know more about current trends in the region.

How did I come across the book?

Actually, the journal approached me to ask whether I would review it. I found that flattering and agreed.

When and where did I read it?

In one of Bogota’s amazing public libraries around New Year’s.