Speaking out Together: Testimonials of Latin American Women Lynda Marín Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 18, No.

3, Voices of the Voiceless in Testimonial Literature, Part I. (Summer, 1991), pp. 51-68.
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Speaking Out Together:
Testimonials of Latin American Women

Lynda Marin

Certain words or phrases seem invariably to provoke us, to challenge us to position ourselves, to define and respond. I am thinking of charged language like "right to life," or patriotism, or sex, as opposed to the neutrality of terms like doorknob, or mashed potatoes, or altitude. In academia, the testimonial seems to be one of those charged terms. Its legitimacy as a field of study is never directly questioned, but lurking behind much discussion about it is just that. (I am reminded of similar conversations about science fiction, journal writing- often depending on the gender and social status of the journalist-and children's literature.) After all, the testimonial is not usually produced by great writers, and often not by writers at all. Besides, the testimonial almost always raises issues about genre which remain irresolvable. In an Institute for the Study of Ideologies and Literature publication (see Jara and Vidal, 1986) for instance, 17 essays represent the testimonial as sharing significant territory with autobiography, ethnography, biography, history, fiction, oral literature, documentary, journalism, and even photojournalism. Yet, putting aside the fact that all these "genres" stand in problematic relation to one another, something about the testimonial sets it apart as a genre, even as it overlaps with so many others. This tension between consolidation and individuation that so characteristically marks the efforts to assign the testimonial to its own genre is nowhere more keenly mirrored than in particular post-1960s testimonials by Latin American women. This article explores the mutually constitutive relationship of gender and genre in the testimonials of four Latin American women and suggests ways in which their testimony might offer, to the Euro-North American First World, alternative theories, models, and uses of "women's writing." Although the testimonial has a long and varied history, it has always been seen as a kind of writing from the margins. Those privileged to belong to the dominant class, race, and/or gender write Scripture, literature, autobiography, or ethnography. From the point of view of privilege, the testimonial has
Lynda Marin teaches women's studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is pursuing her doctorate in the literatures of the Americas.
LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, Issue 70, Vol. IS No.3,Summer 1991,51-68 0 1991 Latin American Perspectives




been seen as the means by which those who are not privileged tell about themselves and particularly about their struggle against the powers that claim privilege over them. It would seem, then, that almost all writing of women under patriarchy would have something essentially in common with what constitutes the genre of testimony, that is, a kind of speaking from the margins to and about the systems which oppress that speaking. Seen in this textualpolitical light, three of the four testimonials which I will discuss might be thought of as quintessentially women's writing. Of course, nothing is ever that simple. But the ways in which all four of these testimonials struggle internally with political intention, narrative strategy, and voice contribute a great deal to the discussion about what women's writing might be and might become. What most obviously marks these Latin American women's testimonials in particular and the genre in general is the self-professed eschewal of the first person singular subject. On the opening page of Let Me Speak (1978), the first words of the Bolivian Domitila Barrios de Chungara emphasize her collective stance, her insistence that hundreds of others might be telling exactly the same story, had they not been denied the opportunity or killed in struggle:
That's why I say that I don't just want to tell a personal story. I want to talk about my people. I want to testify about all the experience we've acquired during so many years of struggle in Bolivia (1978: 15).'*

In similar fashion, the Mayan Rigoberta Menchli, in immediate contradiction to the English title of her testimonial, I Rigoberta Menchli (1984), states
I'd like to stress that it's not only my life, it's also the testimony of m y people. . . . The important thing is that what has happened to m e has happened to many other people too: My story is the story of all poor Guatemalans. My personal experience is the reality of a whole people (1984: I ) . ~

In her composite recounting of the life of Salvadoran Commander Eugenia, Claribel Alegria in They Won't Take Me Alive (1987) qualifies the introduction of her subject like this:
But the story is not just Eugenia's. It is that of her suffering and rebellious fellow-nationals, still engaged in waging the 'popular war,' against a system that many of them describe here in cruel and personal detail. . . . And it is a book dedicated to Salvadoran women engaged in political struggle, to Ana Patricia (Eugenia's daughter), to the next generation and a new civilisation (1987: 32).3 *All quotations from Barrios (1978) are copyright O 1978 by Monthly Review Press. Reprinted
by permission of Monthly Review Foundation.



And Elvia Alvarado, a Honduran campesina, suggests the collective nature of her speaking when, in the forward to her Don't Be Afraid, Gringo (1987), she says,
I thought about our struggle, how we suffer hunger, persecution, abuse by the landowners. How w e fight with all the bureaucrats-at the National Agrarian Institute. How w e fight with the police, the army, the security forces. . . . But then I decided that I couldn't pass up a chance to tell the world our story (1987: xiii).j

In forcgounding this collective stance, each of these speakers seems concerned to inform us that hcr life story is interchangeable with any other story of her people, that her experiences and choices are only (and barely) particular but not unique. It's as if each speaker feels the necessity to warn us to resist the power of our Western obsession with individuality, to resist the danger of-as Doris Sommer calls it in speaking of the relationship between autobiography and testimonial - conflating human culture and history with lives of extraordinary individuals (1988: 110). That Latin American women's testimony foregrounds the struggle between the first-person, sacrosanct, individual "I" (usually conceived of as the male hero) and the diffuse, polyphonic, amorphous "we7' (traditionally conceived of as the seething masses, the other, the force against which the "I7'emerges) suggests the kind of politics these women are engaged in: not necessarily a reversal of power of wrenching the "I" from the patriarchy, the colonizer, the dominant position-but rather a transvaluing of the "we," so as to rescind its status as the necessary other against which the tyrannical "I" measures its existence, and to claim instead a space for the collective identity to exist in its own right. In stark contrast to this collective voice with which Latin American women giving testimony authorize themselves to speak stands the testimony of Omar Cabezas in Fire from the Mountain, the Making of a Sandinista (1985). In his book, Cabezas describes the period in his life of coming into political consciousness and joining the guerrilla forces in the mountains of Nicaragua. Here we encounter the individual man whose development as a Sandinista climaxes in a transcendental moment of self-recognition. At the very end of his story, having left and then returned to "the mountain," he meets don Leonardo, an old man, who speaks of fighting 40 years earlier with Sandino:
S o when I met that man, when'he told m e all of that, I felt I really was his son, the son of Sandino, the son of history. I understood my own past; I knew where I stood; I had a country, a historical identity, with everything that don Leonardo was telling me. . . . I had recovered my own history, the tradition, the essence



of Nicaragua. I had found my genesis, my antecedents; I felt myself a continuation, concrete and uninterrupted. I had found the source of my strength, I now realized. It was Sandino who had been my nourishment, but I had never seen, materially, my umbilical cord-and suddenly it was there. Right before my eyes (1985: 2 2 1 ) . ~

Significantly what precedes this finale is the description of a secret drive past his mother's home in Leon to discover that her life and the lives of his brothers have gone on uninterrupted by his absence; that he is not of consequence; that this family does not ground him in any reality whatsoever. That he "discovers," for the first time as it were, his umbilicus to be the struggle of Nicaraguan men in the tradition of resistance and revolution, reveals the extent to which his testimony turns on the trope of the individual male hero whose autonomy is inscribed by reengendering his origins, erasing woman altogether and replacing her with a line of self-same male heroes. The book ends with Cabezas holding the old man's hands. "Well, we'll be seeing each other soon" he tells him. And don Leonardo responds, "I am old now, but remember, here are all my sons" (1985: 221).6 In this final patriarchal gesture, the father confers unilaterally onto the son his exclusive identity, the inheritance of his warring manhood. The difference in voice in the four women's testimonials and that of Omar Cabezas (even as I speak of them, the women group together and Cabezas stands alone) seems to mirror a distinction which Brodzki and Schenck (1988) make regarding the male and female tradition of autobiography. They contrast the premise of the (masculine) tradition- that the autobiographer from Augustine on assumes "his universality, his representativeness, his role as spokesman for the (male) community" (1988: 1) -with the premise of the female autobiographer who assumes marginality in a male-dominated culture and, at best, only a mediated selfhood. And the degree to which Cabezas's assumed representativeness is predicated on the erasure of woman might be measured by reading alongside him Claribel Alegria (1987), who describes the development of Commander Eugenia (Ana Maria Castillo Rivas) in the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front at approximately the same time Cabezas describes his own making as a sandinista. For although both figures inhabit different countries and revolutionary movements, Commander Eugenia's role in the guerrilla effort in El Salvador is suggestive of necessarily similar positions many Nicaraguan women have taken up as fighters and partners in a tradition of struggle and revolution which Cabezas claims at the end of his testimony so exclusively for the sons of Sandino and don Leonardo.' What seems most telling about the difference between these male and female authoredlproduced testimonies is not that they are clearly gendered (they are), but that for Omar Cabezas the gendering



authorizes him to speak unproblematically as the heroic "I," (in the flipside version here as the self-consciously but only temporarily anti-heroic "I") whereas for the women, a much greater struggle ensues to find a subject position that is appropriately inclusive and yet accurately reflects the very problematic status of the collective "we" as viewed through individual experience. Curiously, it is another man's drawing on the model of these women's testimonials which identifies and explores the alternity of that collective and therefore problematic "we." In his fictional One Day of Life (1983), Manlio Argueta formally produces with unerring verisimilitude the fragmented, interpenetrating, overweaving voices that struggle just beneath the broken surfaces of actual Latin American women's testimonials. Arranging the narrative to ostensibly cover a period between 5:30a.m. and 5:00 p.m., we are treated to the boundless wanderings of the minds, hearts, and memories of various (mostly women) characters, all of whom are bound together by their relation to Guadalupe Fuentes the dominant narrator. Guadalupe speaks and is spoken of in any number of ways: to Maria Pia she is Mama; to Adolfina she is grandmother Lupe; to Rubenia Fuentes she is child; to the authorities she's a crazy old whore; and although we never hear from her husband JosC, we surmise from her point of view that to him she just is -the mother of their children and the partner in their struggle to s u ~ v i v eAs each .~ chapter opens, we are never sure who is speaking. Sometimes it is Guadalupe, sometimes one of the other women. Our desire to identify the speaker is mediated by what we begin to perceive as a commingled subjectivity of relatedness among all the speakers, so that the identity of the individual speaker no longer grounds our reading in the traditional sense. In this way Argueta achieves a heightened sense of the collective subject that the actual testimonials he models his fiction on more problematically strive to claim. I say problematically because it is this tension in Latin American women's testimony between its stated project - to speak in a unified way 'for a people in struggle-and its unstated project-to do so in a way that negotiates truthfully among the various positions of inequality that women occupy in their cultures-which pervades this writing and most curiously marks it. On the first page of her testimony, Domitila identifies herself in two ways. She says, "I'm proud to have Indian blood in my heart. And I'm also proud of being the wife of a miner (Barrios, 1978: 19). After identifying her ground, her Indian blood (from her mother?) and her status as a miner's wife, she goes on to describe the Bolivian mining town, Siglo XX, and the kinds of houses the miners live in. As the wife of a miner she includes herself in that category, "the miners." Usually when she refers to the miners, she also means their families, everyone whose lives center around the mine shifts and



working conditions. But that conflation is never really complete, never can be, and her use of nouns and pronouns gives us a clue as to the constant repositioning of her own narrative stance.
The miners' houses in the camp, which from every point of view are on loan, are theirs after they complete some years of sewice. The company doesn't lend us housing immediately, because there's a shortage. Most miners work as many as five or ten years without getting a house. So they have to rent rooms in one of the non-company villages (1978: 23).9

The houses are given to the workers, and although Domitila's life is one of relentless labor, it is her trabajador (worker) husband to whom she says the house is given. In the sentence which describes the delay between the time when a worker's family needs a house and the time when the family gets it, she uses the "us" pronoun- the entire family is equally waiting, subject to the conditions prescribed by the owners of the mines and the towns as well. But when any agency is suggested in the next sentence, when rooms have to be rented while families wait for a worker's house, the pronoun is curiously third person again: ". . . they have to rent rooms in one of the non-company villages." The "they" who has to rent, of course, includes other families as well as her own, but the subject of the previous sentence was "miners" working in the mine, the husbands, therefore, the men. So that when she tells us "they" rather than "we" have to rent elsewhere, the reader can't help but observe the position of powerlessness that her erased otherness in this representation evokes. The content of the next paragraph explains her reasons for "disappearing" herself here while also exemplifying her particular place as wife of a trajabador: "Also they can only use the house during the time they are with the company. Once a miner dies or retires because of occupational disease or miner's sickness, they throw the widow or the miner's wife out of the house and she has ninety days to go somewhere else" (1978: 23).1° Once the worker can no longer work, it is expressly the widow or wife, now in a completely powerless position, who is thrown out. Here the nouns and pronouns do specify her, though only to suggest her disempowered status. But in collectivity with other women, the disempowered status is mediated, though that collectivity itself bleeds through the narrative only via innuendo and context. In speaking of her own home, Domitila tells us it is "very small, that is, we have a little room measuring four by five or six meters." But then she goes on to tell us of others' homes: "there are two little rooms, and one of them is the kitchen; they also have a little corridor." At this point, when she tells us, "this is what the housing that the company loans us is like . . . " (1978: 23),11we can read that "us" in any number of ways: as referring to her own family, to all the miners' families, or perhaps, not so



intentionally but nevertheless, to the women for whom she finds herself speaking most particularly. The rest of the paragraph further suggests the third possibility although never conclusively:
And that's how we have to live, with our children, all crowded together. In my case, we set up three beds in the room; that's all that will fit. That's where my seven children sleep, that's where they do their homework, that's where we eat, that's where the kids play. In the little back room I have a table and a bed where I sleep with my husband. The few things we have just have to be piled one on top of the other, or hung from the ceiling, in the corridor. And the babies, well, some of them have to sleep in the beds and some of them under the beds. Wherever (1978: 23-24).12

The disjunction in the first two sentences between "our children" and "in my case" suggests that the binary is between other women's children and her own. "That's where my seven children sleep" reinforces that suggestion, leaving the other possibility of "our children" to mean her and her husband's children unstated throughout. The first person appears again in a telling way when she says she has a table and a bed where she sleeps with her husband. This is the first time she has mentioned him in relation to the house, and that mention is restricted to the bed that she has, along with her table. When in the next sentence she speaks of "the few things we have" the context suggests that the number and person of that verb form might well refer to "we women" who all live under similar conditions as wives of miners and who all have babies who sleep in and under beds. Later in her account of the proceedings of the International Women's Year Tribunal, Domitila foregrounds her resistance to identifying primarily with women while at the same time she speaks very compellingly from the point of view of the Housewives' Committee of Siglo XX, a group of women who have organized themselves for political and economic change in Bolivia. Finally, when in a postscript added in 1978 (and appearing only in translation) Moema Viezzer asks Domitila about the place of women's liberation in the people's struggle for socialism, Domitila resolves the tension between the voice of the people and the voice of women with a sequencing of priorities that appeals as a theoretical stance but leaves practice (a messier and more complex phenomenon) to fend for itself.
What I think is that socialism, in Bolivia, like in any country, will be the tool which will create the conditions for women to reach their level. . . . But I think that at this moment it's much more important to fight for the liberation of our people alongside the men. It's not that I accept "machismo," no. But I think that "machismo" is a weapon of imperialism just like feminism is. Therefore, I think that the basic fight isn't between the sexes; it's a struggle of the couple (1978: 234).



But no matter how much Domitila resists representing laboring Bolivian women in order to avoid in any way excluding laboring Bolivian men, her story is indeed that of a woman, and much of its effectiveness is due to her gender. Just as we hear from other Latin American women's testimonies that follow hers, much of her political activity is inseparably intertwined with the bearing and nurturing of children. In fact, it is when her husband is angry with her and will not return to Siglo XX, the miners camp, where the children wait alone, that she disguises herself to go to them. On her way she is recognized and arrested. The physical brutality she undergoes while she is in jail is marked specifically by her gender. The torture culminates with the early, forced birth of a son whom, upon her own blood-soaked coming-to, she finds dead on the floor and still attached by his umbilicus. The violence of this story, told in her matter-of-fact way, has an unsurpassable kind of power. And her capacity to survive it does too. Without taking gender into account, John Beverley suggests that the Latin American testimonial is for the proletariat what the novel was for a rising bourgeoisie, that is, a discourse which reflects and constructs simultaneously a working model of subversion, resistance, and survival (Beverley, 1987: 168). But reading testimonials like Domitila's requires us to see that gender, or in the wordsof feminist historian Joan Wallach Scott, "knowledge about sexual difference,"13 in the testimonies of Latin American women is a critical instrument in the rewriting of that history in which these testimonials are embedded. And not just history in the sense of the past. In her very interesting article, Laura Rice-Sayre (1986) also sidesteps the gender question but positions testimony as the reality check on a political discourse that has lost all grounding in recognizable fact. In the article, Rice-Sayer juxtaposes the Latin American testimonial with texts from former U.N.ambassador, Jeanne Kirkpatrick who, in speeches and papers, persistently denied the contradiction between Jimmy Carter's foreign policy based on the principle of human rights and the actual practices sanctioned and funded by the United States in the name of eradicating the threat of communism anywhere on the American continent. In an essay entitled "Dictators and Double Standards," for instance, Kirkpatrick denounces those who criticize U.S. foreign policy for supporting violent autocracy, imperialism, racism, and so on.
[If] revolutionary leaders describe the United States as the scourge of the 20th century, the enemy of freedom-loving people, the perpetrator of imperialism, racism, colonialism, genocide, war, then they are not authentic democrats or, to put it mildly, friends. . . The United States is not in fact a racist, colonial [neocolonial?] power, it does not practice [fund?] genocide, it does not threaten world peace with expansionist activities (Kirkpatrick in Rice-Sayer, 1986:56; brackets Rice-Sayre's).




From this point of view, Rice-Sayre suggests that acknowledging the reality of testimonies like Rigoberta Menchfi's or Domitila Barrios de Chungara's "muddies the water of binary oppositions in which Kirkpatrick wishes to sail the Ship of State" as well as threatens to lift the convenient veil over the contradiction between human rights and cold war foreign policy (1986: 56). Rice-Sayre goes on to demonstrate just how that contradiction is lived out in public opinion polls in 1974, four years before Let Me Speak was published: that 80 percent of U.S. citizens favored standing strong against communism and containing it on their continent, but the same proportion said the United States should not have intervened in Chile (under Allende) to destabilize the government. However, a plurality of respondents also thought the CIAshould be able to work inside other countries to strengthen elements serving U.S. interests and to weaken those opposed to U.S. interests. The extreme saw fighting communism as synonymous with guaranteeing human rights. The testimonio, says Rice-Sayre, cracks open that false equation. It "focuses and gives credence to what might otherwise be seen as the vague altruistic longings of do-gooder idealists." It brings us back in touch with moral law and asserts another order to monopoly capitalism. And crucially, it "brings back the body to the abstract field of human rights" (1986: 68). What I would add to Rice-Sayre's conclusion here is that even more crucially, Latin American women's testimonials bring back women's bodies, which have been, if it's possible, doubly disappeared, to the field of humanity. In the reading of these testimonials, it is the subjectivity of women, rooted as it is in women's bodies and women's experience that mediates what we hear, see, feel, know. Having introduced her childhood family in the first chapter, Rigoberta Menchfi, in the second chapter of her testimonial, "Birth Ceremonies," foregrounds the role of the mother in her Maya-QuichC culture: "Later, when she's in her seventh month, the mother introduces her baby to the natural world, as our customs tell her to do" (1984: 7). In an important sense, Rigoberta's own story begins while still inside her mother's body. Interestingly, Elisabeth Burgos-Debray in her introduction to the book tells us that she had been told that "placing the chapter dealing with birth ceremonies at the beginning of the book might bore the reader" (Which reader? A white Western male?). After trying to rearrange the material in other ways, she says she went back to following "the order of Rigoberta's spontaneous associations" (Burgos-Debray in Menchfi 1984: xx). Certainly we find that the childbearing work of her mother's body plays an essential role in Rigoberta's childhood experience, often in unexpected ways. She describes herself at age five looking after her baby brother while her mother prepared three daily



meals for the workers of her group and worked in between meal preparations picking coffee for wages. "Watching her made me feel useless and weak because I couldn't do anything to help her except look after my brother. That's when my consciousness was born. It's true" (1984: 34).14This consciousness has to do with working for money and becoming a wage earner in the family. She attributes it to an identification and empathy with her mother, whose childbearing and childraising responsibilities flow over onto Rigoberta as a female child, but also by extension locate her point of entry into the enormous work of survival which engages the entire community. In many places in her testimony, Rigoberta claims an even stronger alliance with her father than with her mother, an expressed favoritism about which she exhibits some guilt, or at least tension. Nevertheless, throughout her testimony, we get many more details about her mother and the influences of other women on her than we do her father. In the scene in which the family has to watch the brutal torture and death of her already brutally tortured brother, it is her mother's reactions through which we see the horror but also the incredible endurance that allows both women to go on. It is with the same kind of endurance and spirit that Rigoberta, later, describes the witnessing of her own mother's death -which is even, if possible, more horrendous than her brother's, and which, of course, also includes rape. And it is Rigoberta's own inhabiting of her woman's body that allows her to be so moved by the experiences of other women. She describes the enormous influence of her friend Maria who dies young of poisoning in the fields, but who has left her indelibly marked with the notion of resisting marriage and thereby resisting the agony of watching her children die of starvation, or violence, or illness. "And when my friend died," she tells us, "I said; 'I'll never get married', because that's what she'd said" (1984: 88). Her "first corpse," she tells us, is that of Petrona Chona, a very young woman who is hacked to death for rejecting the advances of the son of a landowner for whom she and her husband are working. For almost three days the twenty-five pieces of her body lie on the floor of her hut while her family and friends wait for the required visit of the authorities. No longer able to bear the disgrace and the odor, it is finally Rigoberta and her father who gather the pieces in baskets and bury her. She does not analyze the impact of this "first" (woman's) body, yet she tells us enough to understand the enormity of it:
Every time I remember it I get the same feeling. The first time I picked up a dead body. All in pieces. For about six years afterwards perhaps, I dreamed about Dona Petrona. There wasn't a single night I didn't feel I'd dreamed about Dona Petrona. For a long time I couldn't go to sleep for thinking about her (1984: 152).



At other times, her condition of being woman is exactly what affords her the chance and the motivation to make incisive analyses of the social, economic and racial inequities that shape her life and the lives of all her people. For instance, her experience of becoming a maid in the city (an opportunity made possible only by her gender) leads to a close tracing of just how it is that poor, uneducated, often Indian women wind up in prostitution (1984: 91-100). And her empathy with other Indian women leads to her observations on the exploitation of their cultural heritages at annual ladino (the Spanish-speaking nonindigenous population) festivals in which native women are forced to participate as "beauty queens," to display their native costumes, and to go home afterwards without any compensation whatsoever even though "everyone has to pay to go in" and the ladinos in charge "get a lot of money from the presentation of the queens" (1984: 209). Like Rigoberta and Domitila before her, Elvia Alvarado speaks for both men and women but clearly from a woman-centered experience. Her testimony, however, occasionally points directly to the gender tension which the other women's earlier testimonials tend to suppress. In a chapter entitled, "Taming Macho Ways,"I5 she tells us,
when I started working with the mothers' clubs in the Catholic church, it was the first time I realized that we women work even harder than the men do. . . It's true that there are some jobs that require a lot of strength and that women can't do as well as men. . . I don't know if it's a physical difference from birth, but the fact is that here in Honduras women are usually either pregnant or nursing, and that takes a lot of energy out of you. Men may be out working during the day, but when they come home they usually don't do a thing. They want their meal to be ready, and after they eat they either lie down to rest or go out drinking. But we women keep on working. . . . Even when we go to sleep, we don't get to rest. If the babies wake up crying, we have to go take care of them. . . . And if our husbands want to make love, if they get the urge, then it's back to work again (1987: 51-52).



She moves on to speak of economic inequities that arise from a man's privilege to abandon his family and a woman's inescapable sense of responsibility for her children. (In fact, she herself leaves three of her children with her mother when she decides to live with Alberto; in keeping with her point, however, the children become yet another woman's responsibility.) But in the same chapter, she discusses the connection between her own realization of gender inequality and her capacity to alter what she describes as negative behavior patterns such as gossiping and criticizing among other campesinas. Through this personal change, she recognizes the value of unity among women fighting for social change.



Although this most recent of the four testimonies discussed here more openly recognizes the problems of gender inequality within the community which Elvia speaks for, it never identifies with what she sees as North American feminists' separatism. It cannot afford to. As in the other Latin American women's testimonials that precede hers, Elvia Alvarado recognizes the necessity that her entire people achieve the land reforms which will supply them with the basic resources they need to live and thrive. And so, in her critique of machismo, she concludes by ostensibly positioning women as the beneficiaries of her mandate for cultural change.
We all have to make changes. Campesino men have to be more responsible with their women. They have to have only one woman. Because they have a hard enough time supporting one family, let alone two. Campesinos who drink have to stop drinking. And campesinos who fight with their wives have to stop fighting. Our struggle has to begin in our own homes (1987: 56).

But even as she speaks for and with women here, she is, in the first and last sentence, also speaking to them, exhorting them to demand these changes of men, their own men with whom they are inextricably bound. The "we all" and "our" of these two sentences literally embrace and contain all those "they's" in the middle. Far from using her gender critique to split women off from men, Alvarado uses it ironically, in the end, as a platform for overturning the traditional positions of the Third World vis-A-vis the First. Reappropriating the feminized space of the Third World as it is constructed by the First, Alvarado speaks in solidarity with all Hondurans when she takes it on herself to turn the gaze back around on the big gun.
It's hard to think of change taking place in Central America without there first being changes in the U.S. As we say in Honduras, "Sin el perro, no hay rabia." . So you Americans who really want to help the poor have to change your own government first. . . . You have to begin educating people, telling them the truth about what's happening in the world. Because if the press in the U.S. is anything like it is in Honduras, the people aren't well informed. . .And once you've educated people, then get them organized (1987: 144-145).



This is exactly, of course, what Alvarado has herself done in Honduras, beginning as she did in the mothers'club of the Catholic church. Here, in the simple language appropriate to U.S. ideas about how Third Worlders speak, Alvarado displaces the signifying power of the "First World" or, as we know it, the one and only world that has the market cornered on determining who signifies what. In the chapter titled "Democracy?/Communism?" in which she does a comparative critique of the U.S. and Cuban governments, she "innocently" offers these observations:

Marin / TESTIMONIALS OF WOMEN We hear that the United States is a great democracy. I don't know much about what things are like inside the United States. I used to think there were only rich people in the United States. But now I learned that there are rich and poor there, just like in Honduras. Maybe the poor aren't as poor as we are, but the United States is such a rich country there shouldn't be any poor people there. If it were a really democratic country, there wouldn'tbe people without homes and jobs (1987: 122-123).


She also does an amusing transvaluation of the Reaganesque mentality on capitalism versus communism.
If someone doesn't like what you're doing, they label you a communist. But we campesinos aren't afraid of the Soviet Union. I've never seen a Soviet person in my life. But I've seen lots of gringos, almost all of them soldiers. So that's who we're afraid of- the United States (1987: 124).

Through simple language and "innocent" observation, Alvarado consistently disrupts the system to claim her own authority. "Reagan can't tell me what to do. Ortega can't tell me what to do. My own mother can't even tell me what to do because my thoughts are my own" (1987: 125). (We can't help noticing who, in the hierarchy of three, she credits with the most power.) And it is exactly in the position of mother that she assumes the greatest authority and strength with which she encourages the frightened, childlike First World to educate, organize, and denounce U.S. policy in Central America. "We need you to join the struggle," she says. She closes her testimony with the most familiar of motherly reassurances: "don't be afraid, gringos. Keep your spirits high. And remember, we're right there with you!" (1987: 146). A whole country full of mothers to set an example and to comfort us with their presence seems to me a quintessential instance of the "discursive displacement" that Gayatri Spivak claims as a fundamental strategy for subaltern discourse (1988: 197-221).16 The subversion of the "I" by the collective "we," as emblematic of the various kinds of displacements that Latin American women's testimonials perform, is enacted also by their mode of production. Doris Sommer (1988) points to the collective construction of testimonials- that their generic logic and their material relation to literary and political history require that they be collaboratively produced. Very poor peoples in a day-to-day struggle for survival have neither the resources or leisure to produce their own texts. Testimonials of Latin American women have grown out of a close teamwork that is initiated by people of a different class, often of a different culture, and inevitably motivated by different (though certainly sympathetic) interests than those giving their testimony. In her foreword, Elvia Alvarado characterizes Medea Benjamin as an outsider with whom she decides to take a risk.



"So here comes this gringa asking me to tell our story." After an initial distrust, she decides the possible benefits outweigh the dangers. "Even if you are a gringa, I thought, once you understand why we're fighting, if you have any sense of humanity, you'll have to be on our side" (1987: xiii). Moema Viezzer tells us first off that the idea for her book grew out of Domitila's presence at the International Women's Year Tribunal, and by reading Domitilas's account of her somewhat frustrating experience there we learn more about why she felt willing to collaborate with Moema on her testimony. In a 1978 postscript, Domitila emphasizes the use of her testimony as an internal document to be "analyzed and criticized" by the Bolivian people. We cannot doubt that Moema shares that purpose, but it is likely she has other, possibly wider ranging political and literary motives as well. In her introduction to I . . . Rigoberta Menchd, Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, a Venezuelan living in France, tells us how the project began when she met Rigoberta in Paris in 1982 as a representative of the 31January Popular Front. "The idea of turning her life story into a book came from a Canadian woman. .. very sympathetic to the cause of the Guatemalan Indians" (1984: xiv). At least three women from three distinct cultures are involved in the inception of Rigoberta's testimonial, and four if we include the British Ann Wright who translated it later into English. Claribel Alegria's composite reconstruction of Commander Eugenia of the Salvadoran guerrilla forces draws on multiple testimonies of friends, relations, and comrades. Alegria, herself born in Nicaragua but raised in El Salvador, writes this testimonial from the vantage point of North America (the preface alludes to her exile) where she received her college education, married, and had four children. Amanda Hopkinson, the translator is a Londoner. Here, with only a bare bones tracing of those involved, we get the multicultural/multiclass sense of the project. What's even more striking, though perhaps not surprising, is that everyone involved in the collecting and writing and editing of these testimonials is a woman. In her essay, Sommer points to the power of the flesh and blood exchange that happens in the process of producing these testimonies. The narrator speaks her story to an actual person, another woman. The audience is never an abstraction. Therefore, Sommer says, the narrative voice sometimes slips into the second person, and as a result each reader becomes the "you" that addresses the interviewer. That slippage facilitates the transgression of cultural and political boundaries in much the same way that Rigoberta's heteroglossic mixing of Spanish and Quichk does. By extension, I would add that it also transgresses gender boundaries in equally important, liberating ways, because it is an exchange among women within which all readers must locate themselves.



The collective voice, the woman-centered view of "the people's" story, and the collaborative, gendered mode of production of Latin American women's testimonials model a kind of women's writing that has important literary and political implications. Sara Ruddick (1989) in attempting to theorize a feminist maternal peace politics, attributes to those who birth and/ or care for children (mostly but not exclusively women) certain cognitive skills that resist and exceed Western rational man's militaristic mode of "survival" (in quotes because typified by such absurdities as MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction -etc.). Like the narrators of Latin American women's testirnonials, Ruddick in her search for an alternative thinking to inform a politics of peace, women's bodies at the center of what that thinking might be. She quotes the South African novelist, socialist and pacifist Olive Schreiner: "No woman who is a woman says of a human body, 'it is nothing.' . . . On this one point, and on this point almost alone, the knowledge of woman, simply as woman, is superior to that of man; she knows the history of human flesh; she knows its cost; he does not" (in Ruddick, 1989: 186). Certainly the testimony of Latin American women who have lost their children, the flesh of their flesh, and their brothers and sisters, and their husbands and compadres and neighbors and extended family whom they have cared for as their own in their concerted struggle for survival is saturated with the knowledge of that cost. And it is exactly that cost, Ruddick suggests, understood within the context of central maternal concepts- the primacy of bodily life and the connectedness of self and other -which propels women to bring their bodies to bear against the institutionalized violence of the state. Ruddick offers the example of Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who, by attaching to themselves photographs of their children and relatives during their public demonstrations against the government's kidnapping, torture, and murder of these loved ones, translate the symbols of mothering into political speech (1989: 229). The testimonials of Latin American women might be seen as the counterpart, that is, political speech translated into a maternal practice, a practice motivated by what Ruddick calls preservative love. Their speaking out is a historical intervention whose object extends beyond personal interest because maternal thinking is about collaborative survival, collective deliverance. "The testimonial produces complicity," Sommer says. Let us hope so.

1. In compliance with editorialpreference, I am quoting from the translated texts. However, because many of my observations rest on the specific linguistic choices of those giving their



testimony (and if we can bust that their editors have respected and left intact those original choices), in most following notes I include the Spanish text and citation. "Por eso dig0 que no quiero hacer nomis una historia personal. Quiero hablar de mi pueblo. Quiero dejar testimonio de toda la expenencia que hemos adquirido a trav6s de tantos afios de lucha en Bolivia . . . " (Barrios, 1979: 15). The English title has a much more forceful and individualistic tone than the more polite insinuation of the original Spanish title. 2. "Lo importante es, yo creo, que quiero hacer un enfoque que no soy la hnica, pues ha vivido mucha gente y es la vida de todos. La vida de todos 10s guatemaltecos pobres y tratar6 de dar un poco de mi historia. Mi situacibn personal engloba toda la realidad de un pueblo" (Menchh, 1983: 30). 3. This quote, located in Amanda Hopkinson's note in the English translation, is a reworking of comments Alegria and Flakoll make in the prologue to the Spanish edition: "Eugenia, modelo ejemplar de abnegacibn, sacrificio y heroism0 revolucionario, es un caso tipico y no exceptional de tantas mujeres salvadorefiasque han dedicado sus esfuerzos, e incluso sus vidas, a la lucha por la liberacibn de su pueblo" (Alegria and Flakoll, 1983). Claribel Alegria is a major figure in Central American letters and is the only career writer among the women discussed here. 4. This testimonial was originally published in English, a fact which might be explained by the title itself regarding its intended U.S. audience. Although it has been translated now into Spanish, it has not yet been published in that language. 5. "Entonces, cuando yo encuentro a ese hombre y que me dice todo eso yo me siento hijo de 61, me siento hijo del sandinismo, siento que soy hijo de la historia, comprendo mi propio pasado, me ubico, tengo patria, reconozco mi identidad histbrica con aquello que me decia don Leonardo . . . me habia reencontrado con mi propia historia, con la tradicibn, con la esencia de Nicaragua, encontr6 mi gtnesis, mis antepasados, me senti continuacibn concreta, ininterrumpida, encontr6 mi fuente de alimentacibn, que no la conocia, yo estaba siendo alimentado por Sandino, pero no habia logrado ver materialmente mi cordbn umbilical, y eso me nacib, lo descubri en ese momento" (Cabezas, 1982: 288). 6. "Ai nos vamos a estar viendo . . . . Si, yo ya estoy viejo, pero acutrdese que ahi estin mis muchachos" (1982: 289). 7. A number of texts detail women's roles and experiences in the Revolution in Nicaragua: Helen Collinson (1990), Jane Deighton et al. (1983), Margaret Randall (1983, 1981). 8. The representation of Guadalupe through her recountings of her husband is curiously the most problematic because it comes closest to merginglerasing her subject position in the complex intenveavings of the various characters' perspectives. 9. "La vivienda que ocupa el trabajador en el campamento, y que desde todo punto de vista es prestada, la tiene t l cuando ya ha cumplido algunos ~ o desservicio. No es inmediatamente que la empresa nos presta la vivienda, por la eseasez que hay. Muchos mineros trabajan hasta cinco, diez afios sin tener su vivienda. Y entonces se van a alquilar cuartos en una de las poblaciones civiles" (1979: 21-22). 10. "Ademis, la vivienda es prestada solamente durante el tiempo en que el trabajador esti en la empresa. Una vez que se muere o es retirado del trabajo por la enfennedad profesional, que es el ma1 de mina, la botan de la vivienda a la viuda o a la esposa del trabajador y ella tiene noventa dias para desocupar la pieza" (1979: 22). 11. "Muy reducida, o sea que es una cuartito de cuatro por cinw o seis metros . . . hay dos cuartitos, y entonces uno sirve de cocina; y tienen tambitn un corredorcito. . . . En esto consiste la vivienda que nos presta la empresa" (1979: 22). 12. "Y asi tenemos que vivir con mis nuestros hijos, en una gran estrechez. En mi caso armamos tres camas en el cuarto; es todo lo que entra. Aqui duermen mis siete hijos, aqui hacen



nos chicos sus tareas, aqui comemos, aqui juegan 10s chiquitos. En el cuartito de atrhs tengo una mesa y una cama donde duermo con mi marido. Las cositas que tenemos, bueno, tienen que estar ataucadas en el techo, ataucadas en el corredorcito, ataucadas unas sobre otras. Y las wawas tienen que dormir algunas en las camas y otras debajo de ellas. Asi" (1979: 23-24). 13. In her introduction, Joan Wallach Scott makes the claim for gender as a useful category of historical analysis in this way: "that gender offers both a good way of thinking about history, about the ways in which hierarchies of difference-inclusions and exclusions-have been constituted, and of theorizing (feminist) politics" (1988: 10). 14. " . . . pues yo me sentia muy inhtil y cobarde de no poder hacer nada por mi madre, ~nicamente cuidar a mi hermanito. Y asi es cuando a mi me naci6 la conciencia, pues" (Menchfi, 1983: 79). 15. Especially because this text was published originally in English, I assume the chapter headings reflect directly Medea Benjamin's sense of the intended audience that ElviaAlvaradols testimony (and Benjamin's questions which elicit it?) so clearly identifies. 16. The context for this phrase is a discussion of how Spivak sees the Subaltern Studies Group attempting to represent the means by which the colonial subject emerges into a narrative of political agency and self-definition. One of these means includes marking the political moment(s) of change by a functional change in sign systems so as to locate the agency of change in the subaltern. She uses the phrase "discursive displacement" as a (slightly) shorter method of referring to that functional change in the sign system (Spivak, 1988: 197).

Alegria, Claribel and D. J. Flakoll 1983 No me agarran viva: La mujer salvadoretia en lucha. Mexico City: Ediciones Era. 1987 They Won7 Take me Alive. Translated by Amanda Hopkinson. London: Women's Press. Alvarado, Elvia 1987 Don? Be Afraid Gringo. Translated and edited by Medea Benjamin. San Francisco: Institute for Food Development Policy. Argueta, Manlio 1983 One Day of Life. Translated by Bill Brow. New York: VintageiRandom House. Barrios de Chungara, Domitila with Moema Viezzer 1978 Lef Me Speak! Tesfimony of Domilifa, a Woman of the Bolivian Mines. Translated by Victoria Ortiz. New York: Monthly Review. 1979 "Sime permiten hablar. . . " Tesfimonio de Domitila una mujer de 1asminasdeBolivia. Mexico City: Siglo XXI. Beverley, John 1987 Del Lazarillo a1 sandinismo: Esfudios sobre la funcidn ideoldgica de la liferafura espatiola e hispanoamerica. Minneapolis, MN: Prisma Institute. Brodzki, Bella and Celeste Schenck (eds.) 1988 LifeiLines: Theorizing Women's Autobiography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Cabezas, Omar 1982 La monfaiia es algo ma's que una inmensa esfepa verde. Mexico City: Siglo XXI. 1985 Fire from the Mountain: The Making of a Sandinisfa.Translated by Kathleen Weaver. New York: Crown Books. Collinson, Helen (ed.) 1990 Women and Revolufion in Nicaragua. London: Zed Books.



Deighton, Jane, Rossana Hosley, Sarah Stewart, and Cathy Cain 1983 Sweet Ramparts, Women in Revolutionary Nicaragua. London: Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign. Jara, Rent and Hernan Vidal (eds.) 1986 Testimonio y literatura. Minneapolis, MN: Institute for the Study of Ideologies and Literature, Monographic Series of the Society for the Study of Contemporary Hispanic and Lusophone Revolutionary Literatures (3). Menchd, Rigoberta 1983 Me llamo Rigoberta Menchli y asi me nacid la conciencia. Havana: Casa de las Amtricas. 1984IRigoberta Menchli. Edited by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray and translated by Ann Wright. London: Verso. Randall, Margaret 1981 Sandino'sDaughters: Testimonies ofNicaraguan Women instruggle. Edited by Lynda Yanz. Vancouver, BC: New Star Books. 1983 . . . y tambikn digo mujer: testimonio de la mujer nicaraguense hoy. Santo Domingo: Ediciones Populares Feminista. Rice-Sayre, Laura P. 1986 "Witnessing history: Diplomacy versus testimony," pp. 48-72 in Rent Jara and Heman Vidal (eds.), Testimonio y literatura. Minneapolis, MN: Institute for the Study of Ideologies and Literature, Monographic Series of the Society for the Study of Contemporary Hispanic and Lusophone Revolutionary Literatures (3). Ruddick, Sara 1989 Maternal Thinking. Boston: Beacon Press. Scott, Joan Wallach 1988 Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University Press. Sommer, Doris 1988 ''Not just a personal story: Women's testimonios and the plural self," pp. 107-130 in Bella Brodzki and Celeste Schenk (eds.), LifelLines; Theorizing Women's Autobiography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Spivak, Gayatri 1988 "Subaltern studies: Deconstmcting historiography," pp. 197-221 in Gayatri Spivak, In Other Worlds. New York: Routledge, Chapman &Hall.

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