Toree Hempstead’s “Cultures of Spain” class sent her on unexpected journey.
She recalls her Spanish professor, Cathy Nelson, teaching about transitional justice and how countries confront human rights abuses when they transition to democracy. While studying Argentine history, she learned about the Dirty War.
Hempstead, a Columbus, Neb. native, consumed the facts of one of Latin America’s darkest periods from 1976 to 1983 when a brutal military ruled Argentina, leading to the illegal killing anddisappearance of some 30,000 people. Human rights abuses were rampant.
Many of the disappeared were abducted by agents of the Argentine military; they were often tortured and killed before their bodies were disposed of in rural areas or unmarked graves.
The assassination left an estimated 500 children orphaned and placed into the homes of military sympathizers. In response,a group of women who were mothers of the disappeared called “Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo” arose, wearing signs with photos and names of their children who had vanished. They marched around the Plaza de Mayo, an area located outside the Casa Rosada, a government building. They protested the disappearances of their children and grandchildren. With only about 100 of these 500 children having been reunited with their families, the grandmothers still march today.
What became of these children? Hempstead was about to find out.
Hempstead spent the fall of her junior year studying abroad in Argentina. One of her goals in coming to Nebraska Wesleyan was to become proficient in a foreign language. Going to Argentina helped fulfill one of the requirements for her modern language major.
During her study abroad trip, her Argentine literature professor gave Hempstead a book called Who I Am: Stories of Identity, Grandchildren, and Reunification. The book, combined with her experience in Argentina, intensified her interest in the Dirty War, as well as her desire to learn more about transitional justice.
Nelson and Hempstead returned to Argentina over spring break to dive deep into their translation on Argentina’s Dirty War and its orphaned children — a project made possible through the university’s Student Faculty Collaborative Research Grant.
Theirproject, “Who We Are: Translating the Search for Identity and Meaning 30 Years after Argentina’s Dirty War,” examines the adopted children. Many of the children later discovered were sought out by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and a team of forensic geneticists dedicated to reuniting families. This research is a translation project over the book Who I Am: Stories of Identity, Grandchildren, and Reunification (Quien Soy: relatos sobre la identidad, nietos y reencuentros). The book narrates the stories of four Argentinians’ connections with the Dirty War and their subsequent search for identity and reunification with their biological families.
Despite the enduring effects of the Dirty War, many English speakers have little knowledge about the events and rely on translations to learn about them, said Hempstead. She and Nelson are seeking to raise awareness and help English speakers better understand the inhumane acts that were committed in Argentina.
Hempstead spoke highly of Nelson for helping her explore this opportunity.
“Dr. Nelson played a huge part in supporting me academically and setting me up to do this,” said Hempstead. “She was able to guide me and help me when I needed it and see my strengths and abilities and what I’m passionate about.”
The project is also a personal one for Hempstead.
“I work with foster kids and growing up my best friend was adopted,” she said.
It's also personal because for Hempstead because of the connections she made in Argentina and people she met who personally had disappeared family members. Hempstead is interested in working with victims of human rights violations. She wants to work with victims of traumatic backgrounds, particularly those who have suffered childhood trauma.
For Nelson, it’s another opportunity to help her students prepare for graduate school and impact their career and life choices. Nelson has previously conducted collaborative research with NWU students that has taken them to Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Spain.
“Being able to use their language and intercultural understanding in a professional setting in their field empowers students as they advance toward their academic and career goals,” she said.
Hempstead will graduate in May with majors in political science, Spanish and secondary education. She realizes her opportunities are endless as she awaits word on a Fulbright Scholarship, a teaching position in Spain, and a Spanish literacy position in the Dominican Republic. She’s considering careers in law, teaching, and public policy.
Story by Kelsea Porter, public relations intern