Ortiz was granted a year-long sabbatical last year when she studied 20th century autocracy in Latin America and how women writers were able to speak about the state of their countries through poems, memoirs and autobiographies. She presented her findings on Thursday, April 11 in the presentation, “Overwriting the Dictator: Latin American Women’s Autobiographical Literature,” for the semester’s final installment of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences- sponsored politics forum.
Nicaragua’s Somoza dynasty, Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo, Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, Argentina’s Juan Peron and Cuba’s Fidel Castro were the five autocratic dictators discussed in the forum.
Ortiz then presented five women writers who wrote about their experiences under the rule of these men.
According to Ortiz, these five women were not just simply writing, they were “negotiating the circumstances of their lives.”
Poet Rosario Murillo wrote about her experience as a Nicaraguan woman. In her poem, “In all this, what woman?,” Murillo names the three women who are not supposed to exist in Nicaragua under the Somoza dynasty: a faceless woman, a woman who knows her presence in the world and a woman who writes it.
A second writer Ortiz studied was the daughter of Trujillo, Angelita Trujillo, who wrote about her life in “La Hija Mimada” (“The Spoiled Daughter”). She wrote that her father was misunderstood and that he was “the last of a dying breed of men on horseback.”
“She’s not really writing her memories,” Ortiz said. “(Trujillo) collects others’ ideas, complies them and narrates in and around them for proof that no dictatorship existed.”
Trujillo does this because she wants the nation to remember her father as a gentleman, according to Ortiz. However, this might be hard considering that he owned a house in the country where hundreds of virgins were brought to him.
Ortiz is currently researching the writings of Chilean Isabel Allende. At 16, Allende said, “I discovered that parting my knees was much more interesting than keeping them closed.” In her piece, “Aphrodite,” Allende writes erotic tales and is open with her sexuality, in a country where women were required to stay at home to breastfeed, the piece can be considered the anti-manual or anti-womanhood, according to Ortiz.
The next woman writer mentioned, Eva Peron, the Dictress of Argentina, is considered the voice of Argentina, according to Ortiz. In her book, Peron wrote, “I am only the shadow of (Juan Peron’s) superior presence.” She even began her autobiography with, “Let’s not talk about me,” and wrote about her husband. Ortiz said that Peron considers her life a Cinderella Story, thanks to her husband.
Poet and novelist Zoe Valdes was the fifth woman writer that Ortiz highlighted. Valdes was named a public enemy after exposing Castro in her writings.
Valdes was born while Castro was announcing his new revolution and said that the labor her mother endured was excruciating and that she can even remember the pain. She attributes that pain to the start of Castro’s dictatorship. Valdes wrote, “The pain was like the pain of death. Life was beginning, but it felt instead like life was ending.”
According to Ortiz, Valdes was exiled from Cuba and said that she is terribly disgusted that she can no longer write about her life in her own country. Without writing, she feels as though she lost her voice.
But some women can never read or write because they are illiterate. However, according to Ortiz, their voice is still heard and their experiences are still told through alternate ways, including weaving tapestries.
Ortiz said that some of these five women’s writings had no impact because they were not discovered until after the dictator was gone. But these outliers’ writing live on today to remind people of the life that Latin American women had to live in the 20th century under these five autocratic dictators.