Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Daughter of the Disappeared

Hernan Zenteno

I came across the story of Victoria Donda, a young woman who learned that she had been kidnapped and her identity changed at birth at Broadsnark.  It is a story that you really need to read, and so rather than waiting for Drop it Like it's Hot on Saturday, I am going to get you started and you can finish reading it at Marie Clare.

When Victoria Donda learned that her supposed father was accused of being a notorious torturer in Argentina and that her true parents were political prisoners, she soon unraveled a web of family secrets and lies.

By Mei-Ling Hopgood
 
On a cold, gray August day in 2003, Victoria Donda, a 26-year-old law student, got a call from her friend Isaac. "We need to meet. It's urgent," he said. The petite Argentine was having a hellish week. Her father had tried to kill himself and now lay comatose with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She had barely left his side since, even to shower or eat. Now, her head spinning from lack of sleep, her dark eyes swollen and red from crying, Victoria raced from the hospital to a nearby café to meet Isaac.

Earlier that week, the Argentine government had publicized allegations that her father, along with other ex-military officers, had taken part in Argentina's military dictatorship in the 1970s. He was accused of interrogating and torturing prisoners; he'd tried to commit suicide the night the news broke. Entering the café and sliding into a seat by the window, Victoria desperately hoped that Isaac, a friend from her volunteer work, would tell her the charges had been a huge mistake. Instead, he just looked at her, his eyes welling up behind his thick glasses.

"Negrita," he said, using a term of endearment for the black-haired Victoria, "you are the daughter of a couple murdered during the dictatorship. The people who raised you aren't your parents," he continued. She'd been kidnapped, and her identity had been changed at birth.

Victoria froze. She knew about the "children of the disappeared" — everyone in Argentina did. During the country's horrific military regime, from 1976 to 1983, thousands of ordinary people were killed, tortured, and "disappeared." The government claimed they were dangerous dissidents, but many of the victims were idealistic students and activists, and some of the women were pregnant. Their infants, delivered in jail, were stolen and given to conservative citizens who supported the dictatorship. These new "parents" raised the babies as their own. Now, 20 years after the end of the regime, humanitarian groups were trying to reunite the children of the disappeared with their biological families. At human-rights rallies, Victoria, a budding activist, had stood shoulder to shoulder with women whose pregnant daughters had been jailed. Distraught, decades later, these women were still searching for their grandchildren. She'd never dreamed she might be one of them.

Victoria grew up as Analía Azic, the daughter of Juan Antonio Azic, a retired coast guard officer turned grocer, and Esther Abrego, a housewife, in a middle-class suburb of Buenos Aires. An outspoken tomboy who was fiercely protective of her younger sister, Carla, and her sickly mother, Victoria was often sent home from Catholic school for talking back to the nuns. But her father never got angry: She was his "little princess." She loved spending the weekends selling apples and zucchini with him at his grocery store.

"I trusted my father like any daughter would, but we were especially close," she says now, sipping maté, a traditional South American tea, from a wooden gourd on the couch in her Buenos Aires apartment. Her mother, who loved to sew, made many of her clothes, including a favorite pink-and-white sundress. Victoria's childhood was idyllic.

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