- In BarbielandThe triumph of wardrobes
There she is—Evita Perón. Greeting a crowd from the balcony in the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s presidential palace. Her suit is tailored to accentuate her waist and give the merest hint of hips. Her thinness is otherworldly. Why is her figure dangerously slipping away from this earth? Why is it ceasing to be perfect, to become ghostly? She is making a great effort; the crowd can tell even before she, Evita herself, finds out that she is ill and soon will die.
She works tirelessly, an Eva consumed with a passion for her country that grows exponentially as she is weakened by disease. She loves her husband, General Perón; hates the oligarquía; and has a kinship with the workers. She uses the plural nosotros when referring to herself and the people, el pueblo: we are all together, everybody united. Viva Perón!
How harmonious they seem, Eva and her pueblo. People, her people, crane to hear her better. Yes, we owe it all to him, and together we shall face our enemies with the energy we draw from him, Juan Domingo Perón, and from one another.
But the crowd wants more. What Evita says, what she gives, is not enough.
She, in the tailored suit, has to be vice president. She must run in the next election alongside her husband, for she guarantees that the romance with el pueblo, con la Argentina, will endure.
People plead with her to accept the offer. No, they don’t plead; they implore. No scene could be more gripping. But she has something else in mind. Evita doesn’t want power; she owes it all to her husband, and so do the descamisados. Let them all relinquish their independence to Perón. After all, isn’t he the true expression of their needs? Isn’t he the one to open doors and change history? Let us all give ourselves to him. But no. “I cannot be vice president,” Evita says in a public speech fascinating for its daring and ultimate submission.
Why does she do it? Why does she say no? Would it be otherwise if she were not terminally ill?
Argentina loves to ponder these historical enigmas. Its citizens have traditionally been generous with those who give up power and glory without completely explaining why. The moment Eva, Eva Perón, Evita announces her decision not to run for the vice presidency [End Page 60] , they will hear what every schoolchild has already heard about other national heroes: generosity, selflessness, abnegation. It is the same pattern followed by José de San Martín, the protagonist of Argentina’s wars of independence from Spain, who gave up the leadership of the continental campaign to his counterpart, Simón Bolívar. Evita’s withdrawal resounds with echoes of San Martín: no stardom for me, she announces, and automatically she becomes a star, with far more mass appeal. In fact, an iconography is already at the door. Her love for Perón is a pedagogical show: learn from me, for this is devotion! she seems to say. [End Page 61]
Yes, the marriage between Perón and Evita is childless, but only in appearance. For in the final analysis, Evita is the mother, saint, and sister of all the needy. Her altruism is there to be imitated. We’re all one, and that’s how we shall emerge—together, a family, the general’s wife and children.
Argentina is young, sentimental, and bent on going back to the roots.
Arms outstretched, ready to shower gifts on pleading workers, she falters but then regains her strength and keeps the family together. A mighty energy comes from her body, a contagious love of country and el pueblo.
Exit Eva, enter Rigoberta. Two drastically different women. And what makes them so different?
Rigoberta comes on the scene in a world of chain stores, shopping malls, and ready-made wear, at a time when Latin America exports itself under the label of magical realism and the promise of a free market economy. Glamour becomes authenticity for Rigoberta Menchú, the leader of los desposeídos, the...