I WAS BORN IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP
(Based on a interview given by Isabel Plaza, age 13, to the magazine Analisis in August 1988)
“I do not think about what happened all the time, but I was born in jail, my mother was tortured while pregnant… I am the living proof of what happened, I am not going to forget nor will I be dismissed just like that.”
Isabel is a normal teenager. Perhaps that is the extraordinary thing. She was born a prisoner like Amanda, Jose Miguel, Miguel or Chinito sharing the same cell. She tells her story with the truthfulness of a thirteen years old child. She gives her testimony because she wants people to know about all those years in exile from the point of view of children who have now grown up. She recalls the time when she was three years old going around telling people that she had been born in jail…And then when she was five years old telling her friends at school in France “that my mother had been tortured”. Not quite understanding the meaning of it.
“My parents Francisco Plaza y Rosa Lizama met during the Popular Unity government. They were members of the MIR. They were arrested in 75. My mum was already expecting me. They were taken to “Villa Grimaldi” and moved to “Tres Alamos”. Soon after, on the 7th of May of 1975 I was born...
They took my mother to a hospital, she had a caesarean section and then they put us back in jail. We were confined to a wooden cell, it was crowded, dirty, and with no facilities…The men were kept separated from the women, but somebody told my dad about my birth. A guard let him see me for a few seconds. Although we were in jail he was happy and overwhelmed by my arrival. The women took turns to wash the nappies and look after the babies. However some of the mothers couldn’t endure any more and became very depressed. My mum breastfed Miguelito because his mum from La Bandera shanty town just wanted to die. Luckily mum had enough milk for both of us.
While in exile I found out that many children had been tortured or had been forced to witness their parents being tortured… That is so horrendous…On the one hand, they use your children to get to you and on the other hand, they test your commitment with your party and your loyalty with your friends, comrades. Whenever I think about it all I find difficult to believe that I was there, in that Hell. But I find even harder to comprehend that there are people capable of putting other human beings on the “Parrilla” and not feel anything about it.
I was named after a friend of my mum’s who disappeared around that time. After some months we were expelled from the country. The next time daddy saw me I was 1 year old. While in exile both my parents were totally committed to the solidarity work for Chile ,working for the ones that were left behind. All those years in exile meant constant changes, different countries, different languages, people, life styles, eventually I stopped making friends because I knew I had to move on…All this because mum wanted to get closer to Chile. I understand my parents because they never wanted to leave Chile, they were in theirs twenties and had lots of plans that never materialized. It is almost as if they put themselves on halt. And that halt lasted for 15 years. They thought that once back in Chile everything would change. But once in Chile they realized that life had gone on while they had put themselves on halt. When they were allowed back in the country and we were finally together as a family it didn’t workout. They did try, but they split up.
I didn’t like Chile very much. I don’t feel Chilean or anything. We the children in exile lived in countries sympathetic to our cause, but weren’t always accepted. We suffered racism, discrimination and persecution.
Learning to live in Chile has been a hard process. At the beginning I didn’t care about Pinochet, and politics. As time went by I became aware of the power enforced by the dictatorship. A classmate told me that she would gladly parade in front of Pinochet and that she would kneel down in front of him. I became so enraged that I told her how could she do that after all the pain that he had cause to so many people. There are too many people who only notice when colonel get kidnapped but turn a blind eye to the bodies of ordinary civilians that are constantly appearing murdered and burnt. Unfortunately there are too many people who pretend not to see anything. And that really upsets me …I don’t spend all my time thinking about what happened, but I was born in jail, my mother was arrested while pregnant, she was tortured and for the first few months of my life I lived in a concentration camp, it happened, I lived it as well as other children and mothers. We didn’t make it up… We are the living proof that it did happened and that it will continue to happen as long as people choose not to see. The very fact that I am telling you my story is the confirmation that we are not going to forget nor will we fall into oblivion.