Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Remembering Mev Porter, 1942–2022

On Friday, June 3rd, at 1:15 p.m., in a hospital in Washington, DC, Mev Porter passed away: my ex-wife, my friend, and, most importantly, the mother of my only child.

The first time I saw her was on the outskirts of UP-9, a prison in La Plata, in the province of Buenos Aires.

Mev had arrived in Argentina a few days earlier and was accompanying my mother, Dora, on that Argentine winter morning in 1979, when they unexpectedly learned that this would be the day that the military dictatorship would finally free me after four years of political imprisonment.

After hugs and tears, my mother turned to this woman with short hair, sweet eyes and a big smile and said: “Aren’t you going to say hello to your cousin?”

She wasn’t my cousin, of course, but the dangerous times we lived in made it necessary to hide that it was none other than Mev. The same Mev who was a member of Amnesty International and who led the group in Austin, Texas, who had been working for my release since I had been adopted as a prisoner of conscience in 1977. The same Mev with whom during the previous two years I had kept in contact through clandestine letters that were sent to my sister Sandra, and with whom I had developed a beautiful friendship.

Standing in front of the walls of the UP-9, they asked me what was the first thing I wanted to do and I told them it was something simple: I wanted to eat a milanesa. And the three of us went to Buenos Aires where, in a restaurant in the very porteño downtown, I had my first decent meal in years.

That same afternoon, after a smile and words of encouragement, we held hands and began a relationship that determined a new destiny in my life. A destiny far from the torture of the Department of Information D-2 of Córdoba; the executions in the UP-1; and the endless years in the political prisons of Sierra Chica and La Plata.

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The trip to Argentina for Mary Evelyn Porter, or Mev to her friends, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin and an active member of Amnesty International, was extremely risky. In 1979, a time of state terrorism, kidnappings, clandestine detention camps and torture still continued.

It was especially risky because, as declassified documents would confirm years later, Amnesty International was considered an organization that, with its work in defense of human rights, facilitated the political strategy of those who the military government characterized as subversive.

Inside the US embassy in Buenos Aires there was a sector that shared the principles of the “national security doctrine” that the military used to explain the neutralization of the extra-institutional political opposition. Ambassador Raúl Castro himself was part of that faction.

But within the same embassy there were other officials who supported the efforts of the Jimmy Carter Administration that promoted the global defense of human rights. His Undersecretary of State, Patricia Derian, harshly criticized the government of General Rafael Videla and, at some point, the U.S. decided not to support the loan requests that Argentina desperately needed. And, in a moral blow to the dictatorship, military assistance was reduced.

One of these US diplomats who was horrified by the kidnappings and disappearances was Tex Harris who for some time had been developing contacts with the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.

During her stay in Argentina, Mev received the support and protection of Harris. He maintained contacts with relatives of disappeared people and political prisoners, as well as with some political leaders and members of human rights organizations such as Remy Vensentini and Pipo Westerkamp.

In August 1979, Djanita, which was the name she used at that time of needed secrecy, left the country. And to avoid the strict control at airports, she traveled as a simple tourist to Paso de los Libres. There she crossed the border with Brazil carrying documents about the disappeared and testimonies of the atrocities that the task forces of the Argentine terrorist state had been perpetrating. A week later, she would personally go to London to deliver the documentation to Pat Feeney, at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International.

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Despite the risks, Djanita returned to Argentina in December of that same year to continue her work, and to give me the moral support that I needed so much. Although I had been released, I was not allowed to leave the country. I was under a probation system that the military had introduced for political prisoners, and that only authorized me to reside and move within the limits of a city. In my case, Buenos Aires.

In April 1980, after the signing of a presidential decree, I was allowed to leave the country. Mev was waiting at the Toronto International airport with that smile and that sweetness that made anyone forget the pain of leaving the homeland behind and entering an unknown world.

Thus began a new chapter of our lives that, before we parted ways, would take us to Toronto, Tottenham, Bradford, and San Diego. A decade-long story in which Mev dedicated herself to education, had a child, and continued her work in human rights which, in those years, led to her being elected to the Board of Directors of Amnesty International Canada.

Her work at Amnesty would be recognized, years later, in a video that was commissioned by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, which sent Fabio Basone to film it in Washington, DC, in 2019. “Life, Love, and Liberty” is a tribute to the brave Amnesty volunteer, to the woman who brought hope to an Argentina immersed in terror.

Jonathan Fantini-Porter Mev Porter Nestor Fantini
Jonathan Fantini-Porter (left), Mary Evelyn Porter, and Nestor Fantini. Photo: NF

She will later focus on the plight of the Roma diaspora with Chad Evans Wyatt, write three books, but probably her most cherished passion was related to education. An area in which she stood out for the constant support she provided to all her students, but especially to those from less privileged backgrounds, and which led many to achieve their professional dreams.

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Among the countless accolades, one of her former students, Rubén VP, wrote: “She was a tireless defender of human rights, defending political prisoners in Argentina, marginalized communities in Central Europe and along the border between the United States and Mexico… She changed the lives of countless people, including my own. She taught me the full meaning of loving others, and to fight for justice, righteousness and love, even in the most difficult circumstances.”

That is the same sentiment I share. Everything that I am, to a great extent, was thanks to Mev, my dear Djanita.

When memories of the horror of the years of state terrorism overwhelmed me, she gave me the reassurance I desperately needed. When it came to planning for the future, she supported me in completing my studies. And most importantly, when everything didn’t make much sense, she gave me a son, who became the reason for our lives.

That same son who, when Mev sweetly fell asleep for the last time, was at her side holding her hand.

My dear friend, hermana de la luna llena, sister of John, daughter of Eric and Elizabeth, companion of Chad, mother of your beloved Jonathan, brave woman, good woman, until victory always!

Co-editor of HISPANIC LA, and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at Rio Hondo College, Whittier, CA.

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