2007-12. Letter to a Forcibly Disappeared Son
December 22nd, 2007
Guatemala City, Guatemala.
December 21, 2007.
Issue: Post-War / Historic Memory / Reparations
On February 23rd 1984, Oscar David Hernandez Quiroa, who served as a volunteer fireman, was forcibly disappeared by the Guatemalan armed forces. (1) Nearly 24 years later, an act to dignify the memory of Oscar was carried out in the Volunteer Firemen Brigades’ Central Station in Guatemala City.
Oscar’s mother, Blanca Rosa Quiroa de Hernandez, has been working non-stop since that 1984 afternoon so as to locate her son’s remains. Her determination to find out the final whereabouts of Oscar have led Mrs. Quiroa to participate in the founding of both the Mutual Support Group (GAM) as well as the Association for Family Members of the Detained-Disappeared of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA) – both well established organizations with an important history in the country.
In 2005, Mrs. Quiroa wrote a powerful letter to her missing son which was published in the book The Truth under the Soil: Guatemala, the Silenced Genocideand was read out loud by her during the event in tribute to Oscar:
Oscar, there are so many things I would like to tell you which have happened over these past twenty years. Ever since you were abducted, on that February 23rd 1984, my heart has remained completely void. You know I considered you not just my son, but also my brother, my colleague. You were everything to me and ever since that day I swore I would neither rest nor give up the struggle to find you.
More than twenty years have passed now and unfortunately I have yet to complete the objective I set for myself. If these walls could speak, they would recall everything we once talked about. How many sleepless nights of work we spent! I don’t know if you remember the amount of cigarettes we smoked together, the cups of coffee we drank while planning our work. Work intended for that struggle you took upon and eventually involved me in. Despite of it all, I do not regret a thing. If things were to go back as they were in the 1980s, now in 2005, I would do it all over. Even if it meant losing you again because I know everything we have done has been worth it. Unfortunately you were not able to see the progress. I won’t lie to you because in truth, most of the changes we set ourselves to make have not occurred. But certain paths have been carved and I am not alone – there are thousands of people who serve as your voices.
I do not know where you are. Whether you were dumped in a ravine, if you are buried, if the dogs ate your flesh… but to me you are still alive. You are my reason to live. You are the reason for the struggle I have taken upon and I know you would be proud of me. The fruits of my labor have been the result of sweat and hard work; never benefitting from others’ pain nor profiting from my own pain or your disappearance.
What I wouldn’t give so that you could see your older nieces and nephews! Each one remembers you with love. Because of what you were, because of what you are now even though you are not here with us. Your memory means so much to everyone in our family and you are always with us. I want you to know that in the same manner as I have continued my struggled to find you, I have also fought hard to raise Donald, Tere, Paty, Marta, and “Chubby” Coca – all of them! Because this enormous sacrifice which all of you had to live through, those tortures suffered, we have also lived them in flesh and blood over these past twenty years.
I also want to tell you that your son is now a grown man; he is 22 years old and is going to be a father himself. I would have loved for you to meet your grandson and share these moments with us! Share with you the little which we have gathered and achieved, the changes that have occurred, which for us are enormous and fill us with satisfaction!
I vividly remember when you went to Chupol* and spent three months there. You told me, horrified, the conditions in which people over there lived in. Now, I share with those people, struggle for them, and share my pain with them when we exhume their relatives from under the mass graves and when I hear their testimonies about the horror they lived at the hands of the Army. You and I talked about this on many occasions. Remember when we would hear about the mass abductions and we would place ourselves in those people’s shoes? By God my son, it is so hard! Many times I told you that if such a thing were ever to happen to me that I would die, that I would not be able to handle it. It has been so incredibly difficult and painful!
*K’iche’ Mayan town along the Pan-American highway in the department of Quiche which was severely ravaged by military repression.
The suffering which I have gone through during these arduous 20 years has strengthened me, believe it. I must have cried non-stop for a year, or possibly two… then the tears dried up for many years. My heart hardened, but not so as to cause harm. Instead, to continue the same struggle we had took upon together. What I wouldn’t give to find you! Even if it was that your bones were inside those holes, but to have you here, so that the day the Lord calls upon me I may die in peace!
If it is true that an afterlife exists, then I hope to find you there so that we can talk and I can tell you every detail about everything I have done these past 20 years. It has not been much, but I believe I have at least kept my promise made to you. Remember? I said to you: “No matter what happens I will not give up this struggle.”
It is possible that at times you and I may have acted selfishly ignoring the wellbeing of the rest of the family and the fact that your son was just a baby. But I believe it has all been worth it and that your sacrifice was not in vain. There are actually moments in which I forget about my one son and believe that I have hundreds of thousands of children, all named Oscar. All of them went through the same horrors and it is then when despite my pain, despite my suffering, I feel satisfaction because there are some goals which I have accomplished.
I also want to tell you that your father now understands things slightly better and instead of blaming me for your death he values what you and I did together. We are now both old but, well, you know that already. You recently turned 43 years old so I can’t really call you young anymore. In fact you are old and your hair would be all grey. Imagine that, being a grandfather at your age! We would be so happy, huh?
Your son chose your birthday for his wedding date. It has not been easy raising him. As I’ve said before, I have made some mistakes and now it is difficult to straighten him out since he’s an adult. But he is not lost. He is a man of good who works hard, though he is a bit closed at times. What I wouldn’t give so that he could be as open-minded and responsible as you! But every son is different, and he does recognize your struggle. It has been very tough for him to succeed because your abduction, your disappearance, the lack of a father figure, has marked him for life.
Even though he never met you, he has grown to know you through my words and remembers you with much love. He will never forget you and does not reproach your absence. He is very proud of you, as is the rest of the family, who once in a while dribble a tear here and there. You have been a hero to your son. A hero who is symbolized by all those disappeared – not only as Oscar, nor as my “dark one”, nor as the “serious one”. But because of what you were, what you did, and what you represent. That is why they remember and admire you so fondly.
I believe that when we reunite, in that faraway place, we will have a lifetime to finish assembling that puzzle which is still uncompleted. Wherever you are, I want you to remember me. Because at times you forget about me, don’t you? And you leave me alone… There are times when I say to myself: “I am going to throw in the towel, I can’t go on anymore. I am too old”. But, when you read this letter, when you hear my words, I want you to remember, give me a slight shove, and say: “You must go on Mom!”
Despite resting in peace, it is very different than being here with us now. And even though it is painful for me to say this, I know you would give anything to be here, right? But things happened in a certain way, one which we never planned, and we paid dearly for our mistakes. Yet, we can never go back in time. So, I hope that when we meet again, we can hug each other and be together for eternity. Goodbye my “dark one”, as I endearingly called you, and truly hope that we will meet again one day.
“The State of Guatemala, in compliance with the friendly resolution agreed upon regarding case P-1194-06, filed under the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, recognizes its responsibility for the forced disappearance of Oscar David Hernandez Quiroa, perpetrated on February 23rd, 1984.”
“Time may pass, but in our memory you will live forever: Love can overcome forgetfulness.”
-Hernandez Quiroa Family
According to the report from the Historic Clarification Commission (CEH), Oscar’s case is just one of roughly 45,000 people who were forcibly disappeared by Guatemalan security forces during the internal armed conflict. (2)
1 Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (ODHAG). Guatemala: Nunca Más. Informe Proyecto Interdiocesano de Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (REMHI). Tomo IV: Víctimas del Conflicto. 1998. P. 361.
2 Dewever-Plana, Miquel. La verdad bajo la tierra: Guatemala, el genocidio silenciado. 2006, p. 6.