When Carmen is eleven years old her mother announces that the family is moving from Canada to Bolivia to be part of the Chilean resistance. Carmen’s family fled Chile after Pinochet’s coup and her left-wing parents are on a black list. Carmen and her younger sister Ale hear stories of torture and terror from the exiled Chilean community in Vancouver but the change in lifestyle still comes as a shock to Carmen.
“I hadn’t realized we were in the resistance. I’d just thought we were in solidarity with the resistance. But I felt too embarrassed to say that.”
Reunited with their step-father Bob, the family poses as members of the bourgeoisie in La Paz while the parents carry out their revolutionary activities. Their home becomes a safe house for members of the resistance. Aguirre’s writes about her life in La Paz in vivid detail. Her La Paz classmates who work as housemaids and shoeshine boys are well observed. She captures life under dictatorship, being caught in a military crackdown and the explosive atmosphere as presidents are overthrown. At the same time this part of the book is also a coming of age story complete with first kisses and Judy Blume.
The fear and menace of the family’s lifestyle is a constant undercurrent. Pinochet’s Operation Condor to capture revolutionaries in neighbouring countries was active and foreigners often disappeared. The sisters did not know what their parents were doing or often where they were. They had instructions involving invisible ink and secret phone numbers if their Mami and Bob did not return within 24 hours. The girls travel to Chile to see their grandparents providing cover for a blacklisted revolutionary. It seems a tremendous burden to put on children but Aguirre betrays remarkably little resentment towards her mother for bringing her into this life, leaving her sister to voice that:
“Here’s a revolutionary thought: provide for your children and pay attention to them.”
After years in Bolivia and Argentina the family is at breaking point and returns to Canada. Despite having become dangerously underweight and developing mental problems in her final years in Argentina, Carmen chooses to become a revolutionary herself. At 18 she returns to Argentina with her boyfriend to continue the struggle.
Aguirre manages to weave the story of being a daughter of the resistance, a coming of age account and a history of South American dictatorship into a fascinating and well-observed memoir. She captures the different experiences of a teenager and an adult well and writes with humour and passion.
Any Cop?: A fascinating insight into 1980s South America and completely compelling.