April, 2012 (???)
The Italian restaurant was very good. The wine was perfect and my ravioli delicious. The restaurant was Located in a bad end street near downtown, where Chicago looks very much the “Bixiga” neighborhood in São Paulo. While I was having dinner, I had a good conversation with two ladies from the U.S about my stay in Chicago, but a question really took me by surprise.
I was saying that I would come back to Brazil on May 1, and added that this day was a holiday in Brazil. Expressing her surprise, one of them asked me: “Holiday, because of the Russian celebration? Do you think Brazilians celebrate this date because of the communist influence?” I remained in silence for a while. I didn’t know what and how to answer such question, especially because we were in Chicago, not that far from where “THE” May 1sthad happened more than a hundred years ago, before the Russian Revolution, and, I suppose, even before any Brazilian would dream about speaking the word communist.
This part of the history is very well known; or I supposed it was… For year the event was named Chicago Martyrs Day, even during the Soviet time, and in Soviet Union. It was renamed the Workers Day, a half century later the event. So how could Americans, that were the first to celebrate this event, and the ones who spread the celebration around the world, how could they Americans forgot their on working-class struggle for a better life? Before dinner, I was informed that Americans use to celebrate the Labor Day in September. The name of the celebration is also strange; Labor Day definitely goes not has the same meaning as Workers Day.
Funny! I have been studying memories and memoir issues since the very beginning of my life as a historian, but something things we just can simply realize in daily-life. Because of that dinner, I was able to realize how the Cold War speech and the anti-Russian and anticommunist feeling had manipulated and entered so deeply in people’s minds, in such a way that it was possible not just change the date itself, but, most importantly, to make people forget something that had happened in their own hometown. In this sense, it´s shown me how memories are not just about what people remember, but also about what is forgotten, or should be forgotten. Erasing parts of the collective memories is the most powerful action to control feelings, identities and political perspectives. The power-holders do not work to make people remind some facts, they especially work for forgetfulness. Thus, social memories are a constantly struggle between remembrances and forgetfulness.
From Chicago to Buenos Aires, my imagination took me to the streets in Argentina´s capital. There, relatives and friends of the ones who were killed by the dictators use to paint the street signaling the last point where someone was seen for the last time, or the place where they were kidnapped. It´s astonishing, but I had never realized the importance of this single action. Signalizing a place it is not allowing forgetfulness. In Chicago there are no monuments for the martyrs. Fortunately, in the other parts of the world, they (…) are still being remembered at least once a year.
* * *
I´ve just learned that, in fact, there is a monument the Martyrs that was built on a street in Chicago in 1992, after the Soviet Union collapse. The monument is so expressive/noticeable that it went completely unnoticed by me in the many times I walked down said street.