Source: Harvard Revista
By Pamela Yates
Walking up to 12,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes took two entire days. With Ramiro Niño de Guzmán, a Quechua-speaking human rights leader, I set out for his childhood home in Checcasa, along the same path that the army had taken when it attacked his village in 1988, accusing his family of being Shining Path insurgents. His brothers were tortured and killed, his sisters raped and dismembered. But this was 2006 and Ramiro and I were returning to Checcasa to show the villagers the documentary film he was featured in and that I had directed called State of Fear: The Truth About Terrorism. Ramiro wanted to have State of Fear create a village-wide dialogue about their memories of the war, and, steeped in that painful memory, have them demand action from the local government to provide promised reparations.
State of Fear is a film that looks backwards as well as forward. It tells the story of what the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission discovered about what had really happened during Peru’s 20-year war from 1980 to 2000. The Commission contested the official version that President Fujimori had promulgated, saying he had created economic prosperity and saved the country from terrorism. It replaced that narrative and rewrote that chapter of Peruvian history, giving voice to those most affected by the violence. The Commission’s findings indict both Shining Path and the government for the massive death toll. They called both for specific military members to be prosecuted, and for a change in the conditions of poverty and exclusion that set the stage for the rise of Shining Path.
My experience of being on the inside filming during the Truth Commission’s investigation inspired the making of a film about historical memory, now in pre-production, titled Memoryscape. Of course I would have to include Peru’s ongoing contested memory in this new documentary.
Our premise for the new film is that memory is fundamental to our humanity. For most of recorded time, history was written primarily by those in power to serve their own interests. Today, the establishment of historical memory is more likely to at least involve debate—and in the best cases negotiation—among competing groups and social forces. Indeed, a society’s shared memories are constructed under specific political circumstances. When different sectors of society have conflicting narratives and framing of past events, vested interests manipulate the present political environment to try to ensure that their version of events is accepted. In countries like Peru with violent and painful pasts, unresolved memory issues can have a toxic effect in the present—perpetuating a societal trauma that needs to find resolution.
Today we strive for a process of remembering that is increasingly democratic, collective, exciting and contested. When a nation engages in debate over how to memorialize its past in public spaces, the road to consensus is usually fraught with fiercely opposed points of view coming from all segments of society, from the heights of academia and state agencies to grassroots movements. In countries around the world, competing groups now have a voice—though often only through fierce struggle—in constructing the physical, narrative, and emotional landscape of shared memory. These memoryscapes—made up of elements ranging from memorials and museums to street signs—and the process of creating them are the subject of our film. A global trend is afoot with the evolution of historical memory into physical places embodied by sites of conscience and public memorials.