The Hidden World Of Elena Fonseca
A year ago March we were in Uruguay. In a big gathering of people someone brought us over to the most gorgeous woman in the room. Her name was Elena Fonseca and people thought we should meet because Elena produces a daily women’s radio show in Monte Video. Elena is 81 and has led an intriguing, powerful life. Once she began to tell her story we knew we had to interview her for the Hidden World of Girls.
Davia Nelson: I wonder if we could begin by you telling me what you had for breakfast?
Elena Fonseca: I had coffee, toast, butter and some jam some; and of course, fresh orange juice. In Uruguay 80% of people drink Mate, a sort of tea, an infusion, you put some dried herbs in a sort of Calabaza. People drink Mate first thing in the morning, then they have breakfast.
My name is Elena Fonseca. I’m Uruguayan, I was born in Montevideo and I now live now in Montevideo too. I am the host of ‘Never On A Sunday’, a women’s radio programme, which is one hour long, every day from Monday to Friday. Six o’ clock in the afternoon to seven.
My husband was a Diplomat so we travelled a lot; we stay in different countries; Spain, Canada, Switzerland. So my children, I have six children, were brought up in different places.
When we left, Uruguay was one of the most peculiar places in Latin American, because we had a tradition of very stable democracy. In 1910-1920, we had several Presidents who established a sort of welfare state in Uruguay. We were called Latin America’s Switzerland. We had a sort of equality, there were not many rich people, not poor people. When we went to Spain as diplomats, we left a country which was this way.
Life Under A Dictatorship
When we came back for good, we had a dictatorship. Civil and Military. Our dictatorship started in ’73 and ended in ’85. Chile, Argentina and Uruguay had dictatorships at the same time, Brazil had it ten years before.
What happened with women? Women were involved in Tupamaros and the Guerrilla. They wore weapons and had the same responsibilities as men, and the same way of fighting. If we compare the three dictatorships; Chile, they shoot them; Argentina, they disappear them and in Urugauy they went into jail. Communists, Socialists, Tupamaros they were persecuted the same way. Our President now, Juan José Mujica was in jail for fourteen years in very bad conditions. One moment they say Uruguay was the country with more political prisoners, in percentage of our population.
Military thought that men should spend bad time being alone, in separated cells; and in women were all together, twelve, for teen in the same cell that they would fight. Why? Because women always fight, they cry, have a scene and so on. Nothing happened that way. They had a sort of statement among women in jail; the enemy was outside, not inside. They were not going to fight.
Maintaining Spirits Through Adversity
There were very cultivated women who were in jail. They thought well, lets go and make a Theatre. Of course, everything was not permitted, they had to make it when they [prison guards] didn’t look at them. Theatre was really important for them, to be out of themselves and to create things and to make sceneries with nothing. They created that way of surviving, and of course they help women who were not as strong as others. Some of them gave classes; English classes, French classes, etcetera. There was a sort of University in a way. One of my friends learnt Latin and German in jail!
Very few people went crazy. Although, there was physcologists who really wanted to poison their lives, to poison their minds. To say, “yes I know, you’re missing your children, but they are not in the country” , which was not true. Their Grandmothers and Grandfathers were taking care of them. In ’85 they were all freed because there was an amnesty. Some of them went to jail at eighteen and said ” okay, I won’t be able to have children if I go at forty or fifty”. That idea was in their minds. Most of them had children when went out, they were still able to procreate.
The End Of An Era
When the dictatorship ended, the dictator was so involved in itself, they had no relation with people because they don’t want people to talk, and they didn’t know what people thought about. So, they call for a referendum. Yes or no, if they want us to say or not. They were sure that everybody would say yes, because of course dictatorships are always surrounded by those people who say yes and yes and yes.
I remember the day of the votation. We had enormous anxiety because no one knew what the other person in the line thought. No one dared to speak; you could go to jail because of speaking. At seven o’clock, the news started, the General put his gun on the table, and he said,” we have to recognise that we lost, the no won”.
We weren’t able to applaud or something else. That time began a way of expressing ourselves which was not identified by person. We opened the windows and started to put all the stuff of the kitchen, pros and pans. Make a sound! By night, nobody saw you, nobody identified you, and all the neighbourhoods we full of that. This was a sort of knowing that you were which many people more. That time was beautiful.
My group is called Cotidiano Mujer. We started wanting to make a women’s magazine, a feminist’s magazine. At that time, when women were in jail and women were outside, we had no way to connect with feminism. We called ourselves feminists, it was not a good word in Uruguay at that time. We found ourselves a lot of twenty women who came from exile, from the prisons, from here inside, but we thought more or less the same.
Sometimes they ask us, “Why did you close yourselves to just women?”. We needed to think between us, just by us, to name everything. What is prostitution? Women who go on prostitution or men who are the clients, who should be blamed. What it maternity? To have a child like us, or to care for a baby? We went in touch with other Latin American people and European and North American people and thus we started broaden our ideas and our targets.
Never On A Sunday
Then came the radio programme. I have a group behind me. We are in touch every day. Everybody comes, ” Do you know what happened that place? Do you know what she went through?”, so I’m very rich in that kind. And of course I spend three or four hours with the news of all the world. We try not to have the classical information of the agencies, to have different information.
Our programme is called ‘Never On A Sunday’. Not because we don’t have a programme on Sunday. At the beginning a very well known person, Melina Mercuri, died. We loved her so much, we said “okay, fine, let’s put our program Never On A Sunday”, because of her, because of her film. The music of the programme is the music of the film, in which she works as a prostitute, in Greece, in Athens, in porto elpidio. She said “Fine, I work everyday, [but] never on a Sunday”. And on Sunday she went with her friends.