—Morpheus, The Matrix
Gregorio Álvarez was born on November 28, 1889 in Ñorquín, a small and ancient mountainous spot in what is now the province of Neuquén, Argentina. A direct descendent of Spaniards and native peoples, Gregorio moved to Buenos Aires when he was still a child to attend grade school high school, and university. In 1910, he enrols in the Mariano Acosta Normal School, becoming the first Patagonian to receive a Master’s degree. Nine years later, he receives a medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires, becoming the first doctor born in Patagonia as well. He stands out as a researcher, garnering international attention for his studies of infantile dermatology and earning a place in numerous academic-scientific organizations.
Soon, his ethnological curiosities start to take over. They unearth a deficiency, an absence that moves in his soul, a loss that persists in him still. He traverses the geography of his province on horseback, compiling histories, legends, and ancient myths of the local tribes that still survive amidst the invasion of white civilization. As a historian, as a writer, as a poet and lecturer he founds, inaugurates, organizes, and invents a memory, a tradition, a culture, and an identity for Neuquén.
In 1953, he publishes his first book, Pehuen Mapu, a tragedy that chronicles, in three acts, the extinction of the Pehuenche people. In the final scene, Pehuenia—a young indigenous woman that, according to the author, “personifies the race in all of its spiritual expression, as much in her romantic face as in her courage, her indomitability, and her capacity for resignation when faced with inevitable evils”—returns to her native land after a long stay in the regions of the rising sun and celebrates the disappearance of her people on the alter of the Organization of the Argentine National State.
I inherited a copy of the first edition of that book from my grandfather. I was revisiting those pages as we started to get lunch ready. The television was turned on, the screen projecting a classic Argentine lunch program. At one moment or another, without any introduction, the host proposed a toast to her guests: to celebrate the American democracy, the same democracy that organized the School of the Americas, and at of whose bosom surged Plan Condor.
At that moment, the telephone rang. It was my father telling us that the inauguration of Barack Obama was happening on television—“you have to watch it.” Outside, the tough summer sun caused the temperature to rise to 97 degrees Farenheit by midday.