Evita (1919-1953) Requiescant in Pace
If it had not been for the Broadway Musical, would we know Evita today? She was 33 years old when she died of cervical cancer. She was 28 old when she became first lady of Argentina, her husband 26 years her senior. Called the mother of Argentina but also ‘esa mujer’ (that woman), she was (and is) loved and hated still today. Some even want to call her a Saint. She certainly was a powerful speaker, a committed reformer for the socially disadvantaged. The claim that Perónism ruined Argentina is debated politically worldwide still today.
The museum we visited was set up in a former villa that Evita converted to a home for single mothers. Seeing the many displays, videos, artifacts and personal belongings, I could not help but ask myself if I, at the age of 28, could have done what she did. The answer is a definite ‘NO’.
I was too self-centered at age 28, too immature, even too small minded and certainly did not have a ‘world’ vision. So how come Evita had this kind of vision? Did she? Or did she play house or ‘first lady’? From her speeches, that still ring in the ears of many people in Argentina, I must admit she outshone me like a light bulb outshines a lightning bug. But her life was different too.
Eva’s father died while she was quite young
leaving her mother and siblings to struggle to keep the family together and put food on the table. Eva’s determination to help the poor came from her early years and from her life in the poorly paid theatre world. Her mother’s strong will and determination provided a role model that Eva followed throughout her life.
I am impressed by her. I cannot tell if she ruined Argentina by installing all the social programs and giving away the farm or if she truly towed Argentina into the 21st Century through her many reforms.
Not one person alone can change the lives of nearly 40 million people, yet she certainly was a good catalyst. Controversial to be for sure, misguided even in her bleeding heart campaigns, but I do not believe selfish. It might have been her youth that gave way to the ideology of helping the masses. Even today, traces of her doings are in the minds of the people. Health care reform, old age pensions, youth programs and total social restructuring were her guiding principles. She pushed for the equalization of women and their voting rights, for changes that ultimately every modern society in the world today needs. Was it sound? Economically, in the short run, it turned into a financial disaster for Argentina. This undoing of the old thinking, of the male oriented thinking of Argentina, of the dismantling of the hierarchical establishments is what made her so reviled by the establishment. Even today!
Evita was a very controversial woman, a very bright woman and a very sad woman in a way too.
Her illness in the last months before her death was so severe, a frontal lobotomy was performed to ease her pain.
Early procedures of radiation treatments were tried on her. When her husband, after a coup in 1955, was exiled to Spain, her embalmed body was stolen by the military and hidden. She was buried secretly under a false name someplace in Milan, Italy, her body even mutilated in death (broken nose, missing toes, bashed in head). People were forbidden to even speak her name during the Junta regime. Sixteen years later, she was finally returned to the Recoleta Cemetery right here in BA for the rest she deserves.
Evita was a complicated person in a complicated period in Argentina. Yet, as she said herself: “mi vida, mi mission, me dstino!”
The song still sounds in my ears: ”Don’t cry for me, Argentina!”
She did what she did, lived the life she was destined to live.
In a way her life was too short, too painful, too disturbing, I am glad I am who I am, after all.