More than one path leads to the Academic Centre for the Memory of Nuestra América(CAMeNA), based on the Del Valle campus of the Autonomous University of Mexico City (UACM). One has to cross a quad, usually busy with students, and can then walk past the building, make one's way past what seems to be constant, never finished construction work, and enter the current premises of the CAMeNA.
The CAMeNA was built up around the personal archive and the ethics of the journalist and writer Gregorio Selser, who was born in 1922 in Buenos Aires to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrant parents, and passed away in 1991 in Mexico City. Selser had left Argentina in 1974 and came to Mexico in 1976, where he, his partner Marta Ventura and their children reunited in 1976. As a person and as a journalist and writer Selser took on the political challenges of his historical moment, and control of his own knowledge and education: at age 12 the voracious young reader decided to not continue to secondary education because he felt that school interfered with his reading. By the age of 15, he had read the complete works of Stefan Zweig, Thomas Mann, Emil Ludwig and Leonhard Frank, plus many other classics like Germinal and Les Misérables, his best friend he said later, was a dictionary. Six years later, now with the experience of an adolescent working life and the knowledge and discipline gained through his continued self-education, he returned to adult education. He became a journalist. His active support for the exiles who had struggled against fascism in Spain eventually made him a potential target of repression, and he went into exile to Uruguay in 1944. After his return to Argentina he continued his work on the past and present of the struggles for life and dignity in Latin America. In 1955 he published his first book, on the Nicaraguan freedom fighter Augusto Sandino. Many more were to follow, among them the monumental Chronology of Foreign Interventions in Latin America, which covers the time period from 1776 until 1992 in four volumes. In 2005, the UACM had the foresight and good judgement to acquire the general archive kept and cherished by himself and Marta Ventura. In 2007, the university added their personal archive. Both archives were to be made publicly accessible, without charges to the users. This was the seed of the CAMeNA.
How does one care for and grow the seed of committed knowledge and lucid analysis that people like Selser had grown and planted? Those who eventually became members of the Advisory Board and staff at the CAMeNA answered this question by creating around Selser's legacy an academic centre where archival material is cared for and made accessible, where people come together in events organized around a project of committed, autonomous knowledge and analysis, and from where radio programmes (eventually available online as podcasts), the digitalization of the archives and a lively social media presence reach out to people beyond the physical premises of the CAMeNA. 'Academic' stands for a personally disinterested, analytically rigorous, ethically committed, politically autonomous (as distinct to, not neutral), solidary (read: non-competitive, non-protagonistic) approach to analytical, academic and politically experiential knowledges. It also stands for an unrelenting commitment to the public, expressed through the refusal to privatize these knowledges or access to them in any way. The implication is that without these conditions and commitments, knowledge and analysis would lose their intellectual rigor and their ethical integrity. The term 'Nuestra América', 'Our América', indicates that 'América' is conceived of in the tradition of the Cuban poet and freedom fighter José Martí: as intellectually and culturally autonomous, and as striving towards independence and decolonization. Keeping the archives collected by the CAMeNA in Latin America (often, Latin American archives are bought by North American or European universities) is part of that strive towards autonomy and independence.
The staff see themselves as the caretakers of a project which preserves and brings to life the memory of those who never acquiesced to the status quo and instead, found, imagined and built a multitude of alternatives. Thus, the CAMeNA honours them by practicing analytical sharpness, political commitment, intellectual autonomy, personal helpfulness and affective warmth. Those attitudes and the emerging atmosphere set a counterpoint to the harrowing content of some of the collections, and are part of the everyday practice of an affective resistance to repression and terror by not letting those take possession of the behavior and the dispositions of those who deal on a day-to-day basis with the memory of what most hurts.
Since 2004, individuals and collectives who – like Gregorio Selser – have taken on their historical moment with integrity, commitment and lucidity, have entrusted the CAMeNA with their own archival collections. Many of those materials document dedicated anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles for a continent where people live in dignity and peace, and they also document the cruel, terrorist, violent responses by states, governments and élites in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States. Among them are – to give just a few examples – collections on state crimes in Latin America from 1962-2012, on Mexican grassroots movements in solidarity with Argentine resistance against the 1976-1983 dictatorship, on the struggle for LGBT rights in Mexico, the complete documentation collected by writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II for his biography on Ernesto 'el Che' Guevara, selected material on Operation Condor from the Archive of Terror in Paraguay (1960-1989), and the documentation of the court martial and civil proceedings against General José Francisco Gallardo Rodríguez, who blew the whistle on Human Rights violations in the Mexican armed forces. Over the next few months, this blog will introduce these different archival collections and the activities of the CAMeNA in a series of blog posts. In the next post we will introduce the life and the work of Gregorio Selser, and the general and personal archival collections by himself and Marta Ventura.
Centro Académico de la Memoria de Nuestra América, <https://selser.uacm.edu.mx/> [accessed 05/09/2018]
Rodríguez Mora, Tania, 'La universidad y la memoria: El Archivo Gregorio y Marta Selser en la UACM', in Selser, Gregorio, Me hubiera gustado ser poeta o director de orquesta (Mexico City: UACM, 2014), pp. 9-14.
Selser, Gregorio, Me hubiera gustado ser poeta o director de orquesta (Mexico City: UACM, 2014)
Cornelia Gräbner is currently a Leverhulme Research Fellow and would like to acknowledge The Leverhulme Trust’s support.