MADRID, SEPTEMBER 5, 1971
After the military coup in September, 1955, the armed forces removed Evita’s body from the CGT, the labor union headquarters in Buenos Aires. The body disappeared. For years Evita’s mother and sisters wrote letters and requested meetings with the officials of the Argentine government and hierachy of the Catholic Church-with no results. In 1957, the military removed Evita’s body from Argentina and buried it in the Cementerio Maggiore in Milan, Italy, under the name of María Maggi de Magistris.
En September, 1971, General Lanusse’s military government returned the body to Juan Perón, exiled in Madrid, Spain. Evita’s sisters, Blanca and Erminda, traveled to Madrid, to Perón’s residence at Puerto de Hierro where he lived with his third wife, Isabel Martinez. Athough the military had promised in 1955 that their coup would have “neither conquerors nor conquered”, their vengeance had not spared even the dead. Evita’s body had been profaned: her neck practically severed, her face disfigured with hammer blows, her face and body slashed with a knife or a sword, her knees broken, a finger severed, her nose crushed, the zinc of the coffin perforated and her body covered and burned with quicklime. Visitors to the Museo Evita in Buenos Aires can see the videos documenting what the military did to the body after they removed it from the CGT.
Ediciones “Centro de Estudios Eva Perón”
©Buenos Aires, 1972
And now like a flame... the memory of your childhood springs up before me. I was your constant companion. In that time when the sun seemed bigger and brighter, our shadows on the ground always went hand in hand. Now that I have found you again, that time comes back to me clearly although not sequentially. Who could remember the days of her childhood in the order that they occurred? Memories are more like explosions that break out here and there.
Do you remember that house in Junín, on the street Roque Vasquez, number 86, where we spent part of our earliest years? Our house had large windows with balconies. And (15) that other house on General Viamonte surrounded by its hedge of cina-cina and an orchard that seemed enormous to us? It seems to me that the cina-cina teaches us to be humble; it is covered with yellow flowers similar to the acacia’s and it has leaves like ferns, but it still looks poor and in the winter it shows the thorns of its suffering. We had five or six weeping willows, all in a row, some poplars, three paradise trees, two fig trees and the beautiful grapevine that formed a bower in the back and was a breath of fresh air in the summer.
How you loved to climb trees! I would scramble after you. Even though you were the youngest, you always took the initiative. I can see you climbing with astonishing speed and skill. The trees were high but you were not afraid: never in your life were you afraid, not even when you learned that you were going to die. But I suddenly remember as I gaze at your sweet forehead, a time when you shivered with fear at the idea that your people could be forced back into abandonment and humiliation. The idea that the workers could be deprived of their rights and the poor could suffer indigence made you so afraid that all your courage crumbled and tears sprang from that fear.
Eva, my sister! I know that in my need to express myself I will jump from one memory to another, in a disorderly way, just as in life, sadness and joy branch out and entwine. If you try to isolate something, you run the risk of separating the facts from their source. I want my memory of you to be alive, even though at times it seems to be a whirlwind.
It’s because everything that is alive is a whirlwind. I need to return to my memory of your love for climbing trees and staying in them for hours and hours, nesting in them like a bird. I would keep you company and we would chat interminably. We used to stay in the trees so long that when evening came and our family began to look for us, the first thing they would do would be to go out to our favorite trees and look up. Yes, the two little fledglings were inevitably in a fork of one of the highest branches. I can see you swinging on the flexible branches of one of the willow trees; you seemed as light as a bough made of air. And that’s really what you were: a luminous breath of air which for years swept away so much injustice and left the sky of our country clear. You balanced gracefully in our willow trees, yet your motion was vigorous as all your movements, your actions, your decisions would be.
And now I discover that many of your childhood events announced in some way your future destiny.
Do you remember that Mama could not buy us toys? She and her sewing machine at work from early morning until past midnight took care of our necessities. We replaced toys with the magical world of nature. You will agree that we came out ahead, and somehow we knew that. You never asked for anything; you found everything in the beautiful freedom you found among the trees, the grass and the birds.
But suddenly it was the eve of Epiphany, the day of the Three Kings.
You could ask the Three Kings for any beautiful toy you wanted. Heaven is not stingy. Your expectations enraptured you. You were feverish, as though you were being given a once in a lifetime chance. But you never wavered: you knew what you wanted, and you asked for it fervently: a life-sized doll.
On the night of that faraway January 5 you slept restlessly; surely your heart was beating rapidly. The next morning you ran to find your shoes that you had left on the windowsill and you saw her. Perhaps she astonished you. She was very tall and truly beautiful. But one leg was broken.
Mama quickly explained that she had fallen from one of the camels and that was why she was mutilated.
What our mother didn’t explain to you was that she had bought the doll for almost nothing, for just a few coins, precisely because of its broken leg. But she told you that the Kings had brought her to you for you to take care of her. A sweet mission.
As soon as you heard those words your tenderness overflowed into action. You didn’t know what to do for her so that her doll soul would feel compensated for its misfortune. You spoke to her, you smiled at her, and you loved her even more than if she had been perfect. To hide her broken leg, Elisa made your doll a long dress, so long it almost touched the floor. We took her for a walk in her new outfit, you holding one of her hands and I the other. I can see all this so clearly! Your lively little face showed your concern: you wanted the outing to make her happy. Perhaps she was smiling at you, with a smile only your eyes could see, your eyes which would later look into the depth of so much suffering which no one else could perceive.
When we took her out for a walk on her poor mutilated leg, you held onto her tightly, careful not to stumble, perhaps fearful of another fall. At that time in your life you dedicated yourself to her more than to anything else. You fulfilled your mission with fervor and with joy. Did you understand intuitively that no act of love or solidarity should be sad? Joy is the luminous letting go of the self, and no one can give to others in any other way but by letting go.
I know how much courage you had to extract from yourself when you were in the presence of the helplessness of a child. You smiled at the child; you infused in the child all the hope of the world. Perhaps your love had its roots in your first act of compassion; perhaps it began at the time when you had to help a doll that had fallen from a camel. Did your doll’s image flicker in your memory the day when a handicapped child was brought to you at the Secretaría de Trabajo y Previsión? Perched in his father’s arms, he looked at you while his eyes begged you to help him walk. The child had infantile paralysis and his father, a very poor man, asked you to help him send his son to the United States, to a nurse who had become famous for her successful physical therapy.
Dr. Oscar Ivanisevich was there and you asked for his opinion. He was opposed to the trip and he gave you his assessment in these words, “Señora, it’s useless. Nothing can be done because the spinal cord is damaged. There is no cure and nothing would be gained by sending him.”
And then something occurred to you, as it always did in the face of the impossible. In your childhood and adolescence one of the dominant characteristics of your personality was always to find a solution for everything; ever since your childhood, you refused to accept the possibility that anything could be unsolvable. Even when everything seemed hopeless, you always tried to save something.
Without a moment’s hesitation, you replied to Dr. Ivanisevich: “I’m going to send him anyway. Do you know why, Doctor? Because if I don’t, this poor father will be left with the sadness of thinking that because he didn’t have the means, his son was left paralyzed for life. On the other hand, if he goes and there they convince him that nothing can more be done for his son, he will at least return with the tranquility of knowing that everything that could be done was done and he will have the strength to carry this heavy burden. Don’t you agree?”
Who could match the sensitivity of your feelings? No one had realized that in the midst of all the hopelessness, there was someone who could be saved. You couldn’t save the son, but in some way you saved his father. You were never limited to the problem in itself, and you perceived that behind one sorrowful face were others touched by the same sorrow.
Of course not every moment was worry-free for us, even if we were the youngest. We worried as we watched Mama, seated at her sewing machine, the pedals moving for hours on end, obedient to her demand that we live with dignity.
What most worried us at the time was to see the wounds opening up on our mother’s legs because of the varicose veins. She wouldn’t surrender to the pain and continued to work. The ulcers on her legs were as shocking as the pain they produced. Each morning we had to help her get out of bed. It cost her a great deal to get up, but she bore her suffering stoically and never stopped working. We were witnesses and participants in her struggle. She never complained. She never put her need to rest above our need to survive. When the doctor recommended rest as a prerequisite for healing, she responded forcefully, “I don’t have time. If I rest, how will I work, how will we live?”
And when, years later, Mama watched you burn yourself up in your vocation of love for the most abandoned of your people, she would say to you, “Daughter, how can you go on like this? You need rest. Each day you will get worse.”
Just as forcefully you replied, “I can’t, Mama. I don’t have time.”
MR. GOOD DAY
Do you remember little old Mr. “Good Day”? He was one of those people who had suffered and been humiliated to the point where he appeared older than he was; he seemed to come from a such far away time that the only thing he had left was his humility. He seemed so forsaken! His eyes had kept a luminous sweetness, as though he still had found something in life to be grateful for. He asked for help. As soon as he arrived, you were the first to run to take care of him.
If he came in the morning he greeted us with a “Good day [Buen día] my little daughters!” If he came in the evening, he would say in his tremulous voice, “Good day!” and if he came at twilight, he would also say, “Good day!”
You were so imaginative, Eva, that you nicknamed him “ Mr. Good Day” [el señor Buen Día]. No name could have been more appropriate, because this way of greeting was so characteristic of him. For Mr. Good Day, who had lived so long, there existed only each day as a whole with no divisions; perhaps it would have been harder for him to have an itinerary that stretched from morning through afternoon to night. Perhaps that is what happens when all you have to eat are crumbs.
The thing is that when he arrived, not only were you the first to greet him but you also caused a commotion in our house, as you ran to Mama to ask her to give something to old Mr. Good Day. And Mama, who had to work miracles each day so that we would have what was indispensable, never failed to help him. I remember that we ran back happily with something for him, but since you were the most agile you always arrived first. Now I know that it was your heart and the profound love you felt for the forsaken ones that caused you to arrive first. Now I know.
Nobody knew, or at least we didn’t know, where old Mr. Good Day lived, where he came from, who he was. Perhaps some thicket was his home, perhaps loneliness was his family. He was without doubt one of those people whom society expels from its midst, as though the person were no longer human. Nevertheless, he still had the appearance of a man, worn away as he was by vicissitudes and sorrows; he still knew how to greet others with his “Good Day!” The fact is that he was the first abandoned elderly person with whom you came in contact, and he awakened in you charity and a need to help.
Then came the others until you arrived at the “Rights of the Seniors.”
I am sure that when you established those undeniable rights for a society which sought justice, the memory of the shivering beggar, perhaps blurred but still alive, of old Mr. Good Day, el “Señor Buen Día”, as you called him, came to your mind. I think you remembered him, sadly perhaps, because he could not take refuge in those rights, could not leave his solitude and his itinerary of so many doors to knock on. Perhaps you hoped to see him on the day of the proclamation of the Decalogue which contained the Rights of the Seniors, coming up to you to say simply, “Good Day... my little daughter.” (59)
Convinced, according to your own words, that no country that does not respect its elderly can aspire to greatness, you elaborated a Decalogue that safeguarded that stage of life, which is often filled with abandonment and destitution. I remember the ten rights: to assistance; to housing; to food; to clothing; to health care; to spiritual care; to entertainment; to work; to tranquility; to respect.
The first Home for Senior Citizens that incorporated the whole of the Rights of the Seniors into a luminous and joyful environment (which later all the Homes would have) was in Buenos Aires Province, in Burzaco. Later came homes in Córdoba, Santa Fe, San Juan, Tucumán, and Comodoro Rivadavia. Because of your tenderness, the common concept of a shelter, cold, inhospitable, with an atmosphere of punishment, was replaced with an environment filled with bright colors, light streaming through large windows, greenery all around; in other words, a place to go on living, not a place to wait for dying. I am sure that when you established those undeniable rights for a society which sought justice, the memory of the shivering beggar, perhaps blurred but still alive, of old Mr. Good Day, el “Señor Buen Día”, as you called him, came to your mind. I think you remembered him, sadly perhaps, because he could not take refuge in those rights, could not leave his solitude and his itinerary of so many doors to knock on. Perhaps you hoped to see him on the day of the proclamation of the Decalogue which contained the Rights of the Elderly, coming up to you to say simply, “Good Day... my little daughter.”
Blanca had graduated with a degree in education and was now teaching in the Catholic school. Elisa continued to work at the Post Office and Juan in the most important pharmacy in the town. Our economic situation was better. I had just started the National School and you, Eva, were still in elementary school.
I belonged to the students’ Central Cultural and Art Commission. We edited a magazine and put on plays; each year we performed two or three comedies. Even though you weren’t in secondary school, you used to come to help us and act with us. You were so happy on stage! Your dream of being an actress, which had sprouted during the years of your childhood, became more concrete and more fervent.
You loved to read and recite poetry.
In Junín a music store had installed a loudspeaker in the street. Boys and girls gave speeches, sang, recited. For the first time, through that loudspeaker, your voice reached out over several blocks in Junín. Years later your voice would cover the entire country and your words would reach the whole world.
We had collected photographs of actors and actresses ever since we were little. And we also worked. Our mother, who had suffered changes of fortune and had faced difficult situations that demanded sacrifice, taught us how to do housework. Our chores had a place in our lives in the midst of the pretend games that sparked in us a desire to be actresses. And things like this would happen: when it was my turn to dry the dishes, you offered to take my place in exchange for the picture of a star to complete your collection. Neither one of us liked to dry the dishes; as far as family obligations were concerned, we preferred to study and to run errands. Nevertheless, you seemed so enthusiastic when you performed this chore that you gave the impression of doing something fascinating, perhaps because of your graceful movements. In spite of your velocity, you never broke even one plate.
Afterward, surely dreaming of the stage, you would run to put in your scrapbook an almost illusionary face of some actor or actress.
Some years later that obstinacy of yours for the artistic world, that vehemence which sustained you and which nothing could debilitate, led you to resist the opposition of our mother. She wanted to keep you from taking risks; besides, she had constructed and small and peaceful paradise in our house and the sole idea of imagining you far from her protective environment frightened her. The distance your vocation imposed on you was great: you wanted to go to Buenos Aires. Only in the great city could you find your way. The conflict persisted. How to lure you away from your determination? Who could, throughout your life, ever weaken any of your convictions? When you came to the conclusion that you had to do something that had taken life within you, your will became invincible. Only in that way could you have done your work for your country. You had the arduous stubbornness of the predestined.
Nevertheless, our mother, in order to safeguard our security, which she had constructed day by day and at such a cost, would not give in to your entreaties. But when she felt that her denials were losing force, she told an old friend of the family, Dr. Jose Alvarez Rodriguez, rector of the National College in Junín, about your desire to become an actress. And these were his words: “Doña Juana, here is my advice: parents should never thwart the vocation of their children. Let your daughter go; if she fails, she will have no one to blame, and if she triumphs, so much the better for her. By not putting obstacles in her way, you will have proceeded as you should.”
The Rector insisted so much that Mother, clenching her teeth, took you to Buenos Aires. She went with you to Radio Nacional. An audition in homage to the city of Bolivar was on the air and you were told to declaim in front of an open microphone. You recited a poem of Amado Nervo’s that always moved you deeply, that perhaps had posed to you one of those great questions which adolescents ask themselves: “Where Do the Dead Go?”
Trembling with emotion, you laid bare its meaning with such sensitivity that the director of Radio Nacional, at that time Pablo Osvaldo Valle, asked that you be brought in to see him.
Together with Mother, you went into his office. Instants later you signed a small contract. Just as you had hoped, everything happened so rapidly that you had to stay in Buenos Aires, at the home of the Bustamantes, longtime friends of our parents. As for Mother, she returned alone to Junín, furious with the Rector of the National College, furious with everyone.
NOTE: Many of Evita’s biographers state that she went to Buenos Aires in company of Augustín Magaldi, a tango singer.
However, “the newspapers in Junín, Democracia, La Verdad, El Amigo del Pueblo and Orientación do not register the presence of Magaldi in Junín in the years 1934/35. Would they omit his presence when their pages take note of all the artists who arrived from the capital to entertain in the Teatro Italiano, in the Crystal Palace or in the social clubs?
“According to Roberto Dimarco, the singer [Magaldi] was there on three occasions: April, 1929; December, 1936; and March, 1938. During those years Eva was not in Junín.” See Noemí Castiñeiras, El Ajedrez de la Gloria: Evita Duarte Actriz (Buenos Aires: Catalogos, 2002), 27.
Eva and Magaldi were not in Junín at the same time although they may have met in Buenos Aires since both worked for Radio París. “The magazine Antena echoes the ‘interesting events dedicated to the city of Bolívar’ that are being broadcast by L.R. 10 (Revista Antena, October 6, 1934), whose artistic director was Pablo Osvaldo Valle. (Castiñeiras, 27)
Ten years later Evita said, “I always remember with profound emotion my first appearance on the radio. I was very young and I started to recite in front of the microphone of Radio Nacional. I still don’t understand how I could overcome the nervousness of my debut.” (Castiñeiras, 26)