Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos coined the term La Raza Cósmica, the Cosmic Race (for lack of a better word), to describe the people of Latin America, and what he considered the future of the human race. Vasconcelos theorized that:
“the different races of the world tend to mix ever more, until forming a new human type, composed of the selection of each of the existent peoples…”
…and that the Americans were a mixture of all races: the Asiatic tribes who crossed over the Bering Strait, and the Iberian colonizers and African slaves who crossed via the Atlantic. Vasconcelos’s theories were not without bias: “A religion like Christianity advanced the American indians, in a few centuries, from cannibalism to a relative civilization.” But you will hear echoes of Vasconcelos’s optimism on Dia de la Raza.
Raza means “race”, but not entirely in the English sense of the word. In the context of the holiday, raza refers to the birth of a new breed of humanity, the synthesis of cultures, races, religions, and ideologies that make up Hispanic America today.
Thus, Dia de la Raza, takes this day of tragedy and turns it into a celebration of life across Latin America.
“…as many people will die in Argentina as is necessary to restore order.”
— Jorge Rafael Videla, October 1975
The film opens in the 1990’s with a teenage girl being called to the school office; there, Christina is essentially kidnapped by the government, taken away from her parents without even a phone call home, and forced to live with total strangers. Cautiva is a real-life horror story, where at first we believe we know who’s ‘good’ and who’s ‘bad’.
As the film progresses, we learn, along with Christina, a murkier, darker truth. The strangers are her real grandparents, and the people Christina believed were her parents, are not.
It turns out Christina was a child of the Disappeared, one of hundreds of babies taken from their true parents who were executed during one of the darkest chapters in Argentine history. Though Christina is a fictional character, her story is by no means unique.
In the 1970’s leftist guerrilla groups staged terrorist attacks on the conservative government in Argentina and foreign conglomerates. The violence caused President Isabel Martinez de Perón to appoint Jorge Rafael Vadila to head the army, and the government granted permission to law enforcement agencies and the military to “annihilate… subversive elements throughout the country.”
On March 24, 1976, Vadila and the army overthrew Perón in a military coup. The military junta—officially known as the “National Reorganization Process”—disbanded the legislature, revoked basic freedoms, and by 1977, had extended their targets far beyond mere combatants:
“First we will kill all the subversives; then we will kill their collaborators; then…their sympathizers, then…those who remain indifferent; and finally we kill the timid.”
— General Ibérico Saint Jean, governor of Buenos Aires, 1977
But they weren’t killed. They were ‘disappeared’.
Between 1976 and 1983, somewhere between 12,000 and 30,000 Argentineans “disappeared.” The true numbers will never be known. There were few official records. Thousands of ‘subversives’, activists, and those with the slightest association to them (or none at all) were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and never seen again. Many were brutally tortured in detention centers before being killed. But it was impossible for families of the victims to file murder charges since there were no bodies, no evidence of an arrest, no graves, nothing.
Through all this, the military junta still received support from the United States government, which was more concerned about protecting the Western Hemisphere from leftist elements.
Overestimating U.S. support, the military junta tried to increase popular approval by retaking the Falkland Islands from the British. But the U.S. supported Britain’s counterattack. The operation’s failure was partly to blame for the military junta’s loss of support from the people. Elections in 1983 returned a civilian government to power, which ended the disappearances, but granted immunity to the perpetrators, a pragmatic compromise to appease the still-powerful military. Relatives of the disappeared protested for years, demanding to know what happened to their loved ones and to see justice. The “Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo” met at 3:30 every Thursday for over two decades to protest the seven-year massacre and to honor their ‘disappeared’ children.
One crime the perpetrators didn’t receive immunity for was the kidnapping of children. During the ‘Dirty War’, hundreds of babies were taken from their ‘disappeared’ parents and given to families who supported the junta. It was for these kidnapping charges that many perpetrators were eventually convicted.
In the late 1980’s and 90’s the government chose to return many of the Children of the Disappeared, like Christina, to their biological grandparents.
In 2002 the Argentina National Congress declared March 24, the anniversary of the coup, as the Día Nacional de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia—the Day of Memory for Truth and Justice.
…never had I entertained any ambition other than to merit the hatred of the ungrateful and the esteem of the virtuous.
-José de San Martín, July 22, 1820
San Martín did both.
One of the greatest heroes of Pan-American history, San Martín was an exceptionally rare kind in that, after achieving what he had set out to accomplish–namely the liberation of most of South America–he held true to his word. He relinquished all power and returned home following a fateful and mysterious meeting with fellow libertador Simón Bolívar.
Both men had hopes for a united South America, and both were disillusioned by the continual conflicts that thwarted their idealistic vision.
Upon vanquishing the Spanish army from Argentina, San Martín had hardly set foot outside his newly independent homeland when internal divisions led that nation to civil war. San Martín’s powerful army and his own fame could have swayed the civil war, but he chose to fight the Spanish in Chile and Peru rather than return to Argentina with his army to take sides and shed the blood of his countrymen.
He was proclaimed Protector of Peru, a title he relinquished after his meeting with Bolívar, along with command of his army. He then returned briefly to his farm in Mendoza, Argentina. After the death of his wife, San Martín placed himself in voluntary exile in Europe, moving to France with his daughter Mercedes. He would spend the rest of his life in France, a nation he had once fought against as a youth in service to Spain.
Today San Martín is revered as the national hero of Argentina.
In Argentina and Uruguay July 20th is Día del Amigo, Friend Day. It’s not a public holiday, but more in the vein of Valentine’s Day—just a day for old friends to get together or strangers to get to know each other. It was promoted by Dr. Enrique Ernesto Febbraro, a professor of psychology, music history and dentistry, who was inspired by the feeling of global communion that swept the world as millions of folks all over the planet tuned in to watch or hear about the lunar moon landing on July 20, 1969.
Writes California blogger Disco Shawn upon visiting Argentina:
My first thought was to dismiss the whole thing as some sort of Hallmark holiday [but] …Apparently Febbraro’s efforts have paid off, as many Buenos Aires restaurants have been booked solid for a week or more. In 2005 part of the Argentinian cellular network crashed on Día del Amigo under the strain of so many people calling and texting their friends and loved ones.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the Lunar Moon Landing by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and that other guy. For that reason, scientists have also proclaimed July 20th Moon Day. Moon Day hasn’t made as deep an impact as Earth Day yet, but if South America keeps up Día del Amigo, July 20th may give April 22nd some competition.
“To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold—brothers who know now that they are truly brothers.” — Archibald MacLeish
Día del Amigo is not to be confused with International Friendship Day, which was proclaimed in 1935 as the first Sunday in August, and which to the best of my knowledge nobody really celebrates.
El único momento de la vida en que me siento yo mismo es cuando estoy con mis amigos. — Gabriel García Márquez
In the two decades between 1804 and 1824 the Spain lost an area of land in Latin America nearly 20 times its own size.
One of Spain’s largest provinces was Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, which encompassed what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The Rio de la Plata (River of Silver) is the widest estuary in the world, forming the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Like the river, Argentina itself is named for the precious metal once so prevalent on its shores. Tierra Argentina is Latin for “Land of Silver”.
As Spain pushed French invaders out of its own borders, liberadores Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín sought to do the same to the Spanish in South America.Bolívar fought the Spanish in the north of the continent while San Martín gathered and led the rebel armies in the south. Between 1813 and 1824 SanMartín’s armies repelled royalist forces from Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. He became known as the liberator of Chile, the Protector of Peru, and the national hero of Argentina, which honors him with his own holiday on August 17, the anniversary of his death.
San Martin crosses the Andes
Argentina’s national day doesn’t celebrate one of San Martín’s decisive battles, but the adoption of the 1816 Acta de Independencia by the Congress at Tucuman. After Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814, the Spanish were able to turn their full attention to the rebelling colonies overseas. In the Spring of 1816 representatives from towns throughout the Rio de la Plata gathered in San Miguel de Tucuman to discuss their political fate. Tucuman in Northern Argentina was chosen for its central location and also to downplay the resentment other territories felt toward the centralist, urban Buenos Aires. The Congress met in the home of the Bazan family, now the Casa Historica de la Independencia museum.
The Congress was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer for what form a future government would take. But on July 9, when the question of Independence arose…
“At once, animated by a holy love of justice, each and every delegate successively announced his spontaneous decision in favor of the independence of the country, signing in consequence the following declaration.
“We, the representatives of the United Provinces of South America, assembled in a general congress, invoking the God who presides over the universe, in the name and by the authority of the people whom we represent, and proclaiming to heaven and to all nations and peoples of the earth the justice of our intentions, declare solemnly to the world that the unanimous wish of these provinces is to sever the oppressive bonds which connect them with the kings of Spain, to recover the rights of which were deprived, and to assume the exalted position of a nation free and independent of Ferdinand VII, of his successors and of the metropolis of Spain.
San Martín pledged to support the Acta de Independencia the following month. He marched his troops over the Andes, joined forces with the Chileans, and defeated the Spanish forces there in 1818, effectively ending Spanish occupation in the southern half of South America.