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Local events

Las Madres de la Plaza, An Original Opera

By Meaghan Morin

The performance of Las Madres de la Plaza, an opera created by Elizabethtown College professor of English, John Rohrkemper, and Music professor, James Haines, is based on a series of historical events and was performed as part of the college’s Women and Gender Studies program of events on the topic of “Women, Men and War.”

Background

The opera is based on the events that occurred during the 1970s and 80s in Argentina. In order to understand the basis of the opera, a brief history lesson is necessary.

Juan Peron came to power in Argentina in 1946 and brought radical change to the country. Peron was removed from power in 1955 only to return from exile in 1973. After his death in 1974, his third wife, Isabel Peron, took over presidential responsibilities only to be removed by a military coup in 1976. The military, under General Jorge Rafael Videla, ruled Argentina until 1983.

The Opera

It is during the military rule that this opera takes place. The performance revolves around the stories of several young individuals, who because of their occupations, education, or activism involvement, were kidnapped, tortured and often murdered. These individuals became known as Los Desaparecidos, or the disappeared.

The title of the opera, Las Madres de la Plaza, earns its name from the group of mothers from all social classes, who took the central plaza in Buenos Aires wearing white scarves, demanding answers and justice for their disappeared children. These mothers marched the Plaza de Mayo on a daily basis and to this day, still march around the plaza once a week to remember the disappeared children.

Rohrkemper was first moved by these mothers in the 1970s after seeing the efforts of the mothers on TV and in newspapers. In 2005, he was reminded of the mothers once again, and was inspired to begin writing the play. Haines and Rohrkemper collaborated to write a musical plan for the play, eventually turning it into an opera.

The principle cast and members of the Disappeared Chorus were comprised of Elizabethtown College students, faculty, and professionals from outside the college.

Review

As the opera begins, the audience is introduced to each character as they tell their story, in song, of how they were kidnapped. Their stories are emotional and you feel as though you are there with them as these events are taking place. Scenery and props in the opera are minimal, but it works because it is the stories of the characters and the emotion that you are supposed to focus.

The opera was a success in many ways, particularly in that audience members were able to emotionally connect and sympathize with the characters. As each character told their story of being kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, and with some, murdered, you can’t help but having an overwhelming sense of sorrow for each of them.

What makes the emotional appeal even greater is that these are not just actors playing a part in a fictional story. These horrendous acts actually took place and each one of the individuals portrayed in the opera is a son, daughter, mother or father, each with a family concerned with their whereabouts and well-being.

The realistic aspect of the opera can also be found within the songs themselves. The sung texts of the General and Cleric are direct translations of public announcements made by the Argentinean military and church officials.

Las Madres de la Plaza, was made possible by a Collaborative Interdisciplinary Scholarship Program (CISP) grant given by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Elizabethtown College which offers financial support for interdisciplinary scholarship projects undertaken at Elizabethtown College.

Women and the Military; A discussion by Dr. Cynthia Enloe

By Meaghan Morin

Dr. Cynthia Enloe, a professor at Clark University and an internationally recognized expert on women and the military, visited Elizabethtown College in March as part of the celebration of Women’s History Month. The night’s discussion focused on the topic of “Women, the Iraq War, and the Militarization of American Culture.”

Pressure on Military Wives

In her discussion, Dr. Enloe talked about the pressures put on civilians, particularly women who have husbands serving in the military. One woman’s story that Enloe focused on in particular was Kim Gorski, the wife a man serving in Iraq.

“Kim was seen as having the same rank as her husband, so while he was gone, the Defense Department called on her to take on a leadership role,” Enloe said. “The U.S. Government keeps track of military wives, and puts tremendous pressure on them to suppress their feelings on the war and remain supporters of the troops and U.S. policy.”

Because of her husband’s leadership position, the government expected Gorski to continue his role by acting as a mentor, guide, morale booster, and problem solver to the wives and girlfriends of the men currently serving under her husband.

Due to the overwhelming responsibility required of her and the time consuming job of emotionally supporting the other women, Gorski quit her job as a realtor, and became a full-time unpaid employee of the government.

According to Enloe, military planners are nervous of military wives like Gorski. “These women vote and have a big stake in government foreign policy and stand to lose a lot. They’re not bound by the same codes of censorship as their husbands and can talk about their opinions openly in the media.”

However, enormous pressure is put on Gorski, and other military wives, by the government and their families, to speak only positively on the war and governmental policies. Any comments not in support of the war that are made public could negatively affect their husband’s military careers. Therefore many military wives learn to be strong and suppress negative feelings in support of their families.

“It’s hard for these women to be full citizens. Full citizens have the ability to think for themselves and express themselves publicly, but for these women it’s extremely difficult to do so,” said Enloe.

About Dr. Enloe

At the discussion, Enloe also spoke about how she first became focused on women’s issues and the military. “Many of my friends were becoming feminists. They talked about Adrienne Rich, a well known feminist, and I imagined that my first book would come out and Adrienne would find it and see that women weren’t discussed.”

It turns out that Enloe unknowingly did discuss women in her book about ethnic and racial politics in the military throughout the world. Although Enloe currently teaches at Clark University and is involved in women and gender issues, it wasn’t until students at the university, gathered all of the women faculty members together in the 1970s and insisted that they start holding women and gender study courses.

Enloe’s presentation was sponsored by the Women and Gender Studies program at Elizabethtown College and was made possible by support from the Center for Global Citizenship, the Leffler Fund, the Department of Political Science, and Pi Sigma Alpha, the Political Science Honorary Society.

The Launch Event

The launch event for the citizen journalism web site, we-town.com, was held at Conewago Coffee on Market Street in Etown on Friday, April 11, 2008 at 6 p.m.

Several students showed up for the event. They were given cards promoting the we-town site to give to other students they knew. Cards were also handed out to many community members. They were told about the site and encouraged to register and post stories.

Citizen journalism is a form of community storytelling, it has been defined in academic circles, by Bowman and Willis, as ordinary citizens who don’t have any formal journalism training posting stories to sites.

Launching a CJ site is a grassroots effort…so spread the word!

Launch Event

If you have stumbled onto this site by accident…or are visiting it because you’ve heard about it via word of mouth, we invite you to our we-town.com launch party tonight (Friday, April 11) at Conewago Coffee in Elizabethtown. Here’s a link to their site http://www.cygnetstudios.com/ConewagoCoffee/index.htm

We’ll get you registered on the site and show you how to post your stories.

We are very excited about this project, and hope to see you there!