AHDA 2019 Fellows Participate in Oral History Project at Columbia University

Milena Durán
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Milena Durán, 2019 AHDA Fellow, was interviewed as part of an oral history project organized by students at the Oral History Master of Arts
Milena works as an oral historian and educator focusing in recent history in Argentina. In 2010, while her country was going through a strong process of memorialization, she got involved in an oral history project at Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo as a volunteer interviewer for the Family Biographical Archive. Abuelas is an organization that was created in 1977 with the aim of finding and restoring to their legitimate families the children that were kidnapped and appropriated by the military during the dictatorship. Milena continues her work with Abuelas today as one of the main interviewers, researchers and archivists. 
As an AHDA fellow, she developed a project called The Identity House: an educational and research center for memory, identity and human rights with the idea of transforming the current museum of Abuelas at the Space for Memory and Human Rights into an integral center for research and education where society can learn about the NGO’s work and apply it to current human rights and identity issues. 
Here is an excerpt from Milena’s Oral History Project interview, conducted by Lily Doron, MA in Oral History Candidate:
“In the case of the oral history archive, in which I've been working for the last ten years, I don't know how to define it, it's unbelievable what it has. It's like a very huge treasure box. 
It started with the objective of reconstructing the life story of the disappeared and went way beyond that. For each family, we begin by interviewing the grandparents and continue with relatives and friends until we reach the younger generations, the brothers, the sisters, the nephews…, [it] depends on each case. They talk to us about their past and also their present life in different parts of Argentina.
At the end, we have the reconstruction of the story of the family across an entire century of Argentine history, because we start from the beginning of the twentieth century and finish today. We have the reconstruction of the life story of the disappeared person, and also the reconstruction of the history of their generation. Each time we interview a friend from childhood, they speak about the disappeared and at the same time they are speaking about the life in their city in the fifties, for example, when they were children. If the interviewee is a university fellow, they talk about how the university environment was in the seventies. Activist fellows talk about how it was being an activist in the organization they belonged to, the ideas of that organization, the activities they carried out, what did they read, what did they discuss… So you have the life story, the generational [history], you have the historical context, and all this in different parts of the country. 
I think it's very important what the Archive did. It has a reconstruction of a big part of the Argentine society in the twentieth century and first years of the twenty-first. It's a huge resource for research, for education, for everything.”
 “Those years that I was a volunteer had a big impact on me. I became aware of the consequences that the dictatorship had for our society, for the families of the victims.
Until then, I knew that part of the history from what I studied in the university, or what I read on my own. Before that I knew very little, because while I was growing up, when I went to school in the nineties and first 2000, society in general didn’t talk too much about the dictatorship. It wasn’t mandatory to teach it in school, for example, the majority of my generation didn't get to study it in class. This is something that today, and since the beginnings of the 2000s, has changed very much in Argentina. But what I meant is that, even in my case, that I knew the process, I knew there were disappeared, tortured, assassinated, why, how…, when I started to meet and interview the people that had been affected directly, it's like I saw face-to-face all the consequences of the enforced disappearance in those families. One knows that the perversion of the enforced disappearance mechanism is that those families never get to close that history. They never get to know what happened to their loved one. But when I started to hear the voices, the stories of those families, I got to really know how that was and what it caused.
I think that's the power of oral history. When you get to hear the stories, you understand them differently than when you read a book that says, ‘In Argentina between 1976 and 1983 there were 30,000 disappeared people.’”