I always pictured it as a huge, malevolent grasshopper gnawing at my grandpa’s ankles. That was the only way my five year old brain could make sense of the outlandish stories adults were telling me. How else could the deep marks still visible around grandpa’s legs have been caused by “grillos“?!

Nobody stopped to explain to me that, in Spanish, grillos is a homonym meaning both grasshoppers and leg shackles. There was no way my tiny little world could incorporate the idea that all the way back in 1928 a generation of young people —just high school students some of— had risen up against the Gómez dictatorship, or that my grandpa was just one of many who had ended up in jail for their courage, shackled to a wall with irons so heavy they’d left a permanent mark imprinted on his body, that the marks I was noticing six decades later, just above his slippers, were this distant echo of a battle he’d fought and won for all of us.

No, that realization dawned later, much later, as I first began to grasp the immense sacrifices that had been made for the democracy I took for granted.

As a teenager I began to tune into the stories about the underground struggle for democracy in 1940s and 50s, about the AD and PCV activists who’d risked everything to live underground, enconchaos, shifting from one safe house to another every few nights as they organized the resistance to the military dictatorship.

 
Tonight, dozens of activists immersed in our generation’s struggle for democracy are sleeping on strange beds and sofas, enconchaos, reliving in their own skin the fear we thought had been consigned to the history books.

Even then, the stories felt distant: exotic tales from a different era of struggles our generation —the beneficiaries of their sacrifice— would obviously never have to face.

The goddamn hubris.

Tonight, dozens of activists immersed in our generation’s struggle for democracy are sleeping on strange beds and sofas, enconchaos, reliving in their own skin the fear we thought had been consigned to the history books.

Tonight, Yon Goicoechea sits alone in a cell in the Helicoide at the mercy of a ruthless military elite happy to go along as evidence is fabricated against him. Tonight, dozens of political prisoners of longer standing come to grips with what it means to face down a dictatorship.

I was naïve; this generation was not spared. The freedom they’re forging comes at the cost of sacrifices most of us can scarcely imagine. I’m in awe of these people, even now.

Personally, I’m going to make sure my kids grow up hearing the stories of their bravery. You should too.

It’s easy to lose sight of it in the heat of the moment, and given the pervasive cynicism of the zeitgeist. But the fight against this military dictatorship is just as suffused with heroism as the last.

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