The Living Disappeared — the California Sunday Magazine
Delia counted the days until Stella’s due date. Then she started looking for Martín, too. A neighbor whose own son was missing told her that searching mothers were meeting in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. The first time Delia went, there were just a handful of mothers, but their numbers multiplied each week. The women made head scarves from cloth diapers they’d saved from their children’s infancy and embroidered them with their missing sons’ and daughters’ names; their white kerchiefs would come to symbolize the search. Public assemblies were forbidden, so the women would make counterclockwise laps around the plaza, sometimes prodded along by soldiers’ gun barrels. (Within a year, three of the mothers would disappear.) In the plaza, Delia met other women who were looking for pregnant daughters or daughters-in-law. Soon they were meeting in parks and coffee shops. They’d bring props like knitting or birthday gifts to pass themselves off as harmless grandmothers on a social call. But really they were plotting investigations. The women made the rounds at candy stores and orphanages and spied on families that might have acquired a child under murky circumstances. They gathered evidence and stuck it in tin cans that they buried in their gardens.
Delia is 91 now and still meets with the group each week, even as their numbers dwindle. “We’re in danger of extinction,” she says. The “crazies” who once skulked around toy stores are now a renowned human rights group, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. They have lawyers and psychologists and work with geneticists and federal investigators. Billboards, radio shows, and TV programs urge people with doubts about their identities to come forward. But while the search has grown much more sophisticated, it’s still not over. If anything, it’s taken on a new urgency as the Grandmothers — and the people who killed their children and snatched their grandkids — are getting old and dying. One hundred and twenty-one children stolen during the dictatorship have been found — 57 of them since the year 2000. But more than 300 are still missing. Now adults in their late 30s and early 40s, they’re considered the living disappeared.