This essay has a total of 2824 words and 16 pages.
The Making of Evita1
As I sit here at my computer, I am at a standstill trying to decide where to start. How do you condense a person into ten short pages, and still enable the reader to ‘get to know’ them. I have decided that the task is nearly impossible, even in the telling of a life that was tragically so short.
Evita, as the people affectionately knew her, entered into this world with nothing and left with everything. From a poor peasant girl growing up in the pampas, to a popular media personality, to the First Lady of Argentina. In her short period on this earth she definitely made her mark. To this day, she is still a controversial figure in her native Argentina. She was beloved by the working classes and shunned by the aristocracy.
When Eva Perón died in 1952 of cancer, a group of anti-Perónist tried to erase all physical evidence relating to Evita. Her personal notes, diaries, and photos were burned in public demonstrations. Her monuments were torn down and destroyed. Eva’s body disappeared for sixteen years, in hopes that without the physical body, Eva would be soon forgotten.
A group sprang up soon after and flourished in Argentina, the ‘Saint Evita’ cult. Posters of Evita were on every street corner, in all the villages, and in the people’s hearts. The president, who took office after Juan Perón was overthrown, was kidnapped and murdered by Saint Evita followers who wanted him to reveal where her body had been hidden. Finally, in 1976, Eva Duarte-Perón was interred in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentine. For the first time since her death, she had come home again.
Who is this woman, who even in death can incite such devotion? Just as mysteries surrounded Eva in death, so did they shadow her life. The Evita of the Argentine people is straightforward, and there are very few secrets. It is Eva’s life before Perón that is obscured and shadowy. It is this part of Eva’s life that I find the most intriguing. This is the time of Eva’s life that helped define who she was. These are the events that made her ‘Evita’.
There are many small villages breaking up the plains of the Argentine pampa. If you went to sleep in one village and woke up in another, it is doubtful you would notice right away. An Argentine writer, Ezequiel Martínez Estrada, made this observation:
“It is not so much that the houses are small, as the fact that they are dwarfed by the immensity of their surroundings. The smallness is an optical illusion; it is the pampa that makes them seem so.
These villages are like meteorites…fallen to earth in the countryside. One can enter one of them and believe one is entering the village one has just left…. There is no real distinction between the village and the countryside; the village just depends on the latter and that is all. It is there but it could be to the right or to the left, indeed, it could even not be there at all…”
The unsurfaced streets of Los Toldos were hot and dusty in the dry season and impossible to navigate during the rains. Surrounding the plaza of Los Toldos was the church and two stores. The village stopped about four blocks, in all directions, from the plaza. The houses tended to all look alike and were made from brick. They were boxes all laid out in a perfect grid pattern. Outside the village boundaries, cattle grazed on the fertile grasses of the pampa.
Juana Ibarguren had lived in this village all of her life, her mother had been born here too. On 7 May 1919, her youngest daughter, Eva made her appearance in Los Toldos.
Juana met Juan Duarte when she was fifteen years old, and fell madly in love. It did not matter to Juana that Duarte had a wife and children in another town. Together Duarte and Juana had five children, Eva being the youngest. To this day, no records of Eva’s birth or baptism can be located. It is believed they were destroyed prior to her marriage to Juan Perón to cover up the fact that Eva was illegitimate.
When Eva was less than a year old, her father left her mother to return to his legal family in Chivilcoy. His departure left his ‘other’ family impoverished. In order to feed her children, Juana began sewing clothes for people in the village. Rumors and innuendo about Eva’s mother and her ‘kept’ status were a continuing shadow to Juana.
When Eva was six years old her father Juan Duarte was killed in an automobile accident. Packing up all of the children, Doña Juana headed off to Chivilcoy to attend the funeral. After arriving at the door of the ‘legal’ widow of Duarte, she was summarily dismissed and sent on her way. Doña Juana went to the wife’s brother and pleaded with him to let her children view their father. In the end the children were allowed to enter the house and pay their respects. During the funeral procession they were given permission to walk at the rear, behind all of the other mourners. This event probably opened Eva eyes to her own illegitimacy. It is said that neither her, nor any of her sisters, was able to accept that they were illegitimate. In 1972 one of the sisters wrote that her mother and father were married and together at the time of his death. She even went so far as to say he was there to kiss them goodnight the evening before his accident.
Although Eva was too young to understand everything that was happening during this time, she would probably never forget what it was like to view her family through the eyes of others. I think that this event influenced Eva for the rest of her life. Eva became determined to be somebody different than what other people expected her to become. A bastard child of a dead man wasn’t going to go anywhere in the world, so Eva reinvented her history in order to shatter her perceived destiny.
When Eva was ten years old, her mother found a new ‘protector’ and moved the family to the provincial town of Junin. Junin was a city compared to Los Toldos with its paved streets, shops, and cinema. When the local children were not in school, they would run down to the railway station to watch the Buenos Aires locomotive arrive or go to the cinema.
Even in Junin, the children of Juan Duarte could not escape their past. Eva did find one kindred soul in her best friend Elsa. Elsa was an orphan who was raised by her two aunts. In speaking about Eva in later years, Elsa said that Eva was ‘sweet, very loving’ but the other girls were told not to speak to Eva because of ‘what her mother was’. Like most children of twelve, this rejection was hard on Eva, and helped fire her determination later to wipe out all vestiges of her past humiliations.
On Tuesdays the local cinemas would run special discounted rates. Many times Eva saved her money to spend it on a matinee. The imports from Europe and America were the favorites. They always seemed so glamorous, and depicted stories that appealed to the young ladies. The films were full of elegant clothing and beautiful people. It was a world any young girl would want to be a part of. Eva was not immune to the lure of the silver screen.
Eva’s first break into the acting scene happened at the tender age of thirteen. She was cast in a small part in the local school production of Arriba Estudiantes (Student Arise). From that time on, her only goal was to leave Junin and become a great film actress.
There were several film magazines for Eva to read and study. A popular tabloid of the time was the Sintonía. Eva and her friends would cut the pictures out and trade them. One of Eva’s favorite movie stars at the time was Norma Shearer, a poor Canadian who made it big in Hollywood.
In later years Eva would be quoted saying:
In the place where I spent my childhood, there were more poor people than rich, but I made myself believe that there were other places in my country and in the world where things could happen in some other way…I imagined, for instance, that large cities were marvelous places where only
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