When I was a young woman I was very cross with my parents. Whilst my friends had their birth certificates, first baby shoes and other heirlooms, I had pretty much nothing. While I saw it as a sign of neglect or perhaps a careless disregard for the past, as I entered the adult world, that of bureaucracy, the lack of a paper identity became a handicap.
No birth certificate, no passport, no paper trail. Sometimes it felt as though I didn’t really exist.
Now, of course, I have come to understand the reasons for the lack of paper and file keeping. During the military coup my family was more concerned with self preservation than tucking away bits of paper for posterity. So we moved around from safe-house to safe-house with the bare minimum. And then once in the UK, we moved around so much that there was little thought or room for the accumulation of keepsakes.
The lack of paper evidence has made the task of piecing together Santiago’s past, pretty challenging. The internet hasn’t really thrown much up, hardly surprising as much of the story has not been digested and rewritten. To my dismay there was no trace of Santiago’s spell as a government official or his time in captivity, save a few anecdotal references.
Without much hope I took myself to the Cambridge Library in pursuit of an unknown ‘something’. After hours of trawling through the archives I struck gold! My paperless past now had an anchor. The stories had started their journey of validation. Much as it pained me to read the articles and see the silent horror in my grandfathers eyes, I felt comforted that finally here was the confirmation that all of this stuff was not just a figment of the collective family imagination.