CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In Framingham, a father and son reunited this week after 30 years are getting to know each other.
In the 1980s, the Guatemalan military massacred tens of thousands of their own people. In 1982, they wiped out the entire village of Dos Erres. Tranquilino Castaneda survived because he was out of town the day the soldiers showed up. Until recently, he believed his pregnant wife and their nine children were all killed in the massacre. But his son, Oscar Ramirez, was saved.
Three decades later, Oscar led his father, Tranquilino, down the stairs at the Kennedy School of Government Wednesday night. Until last year, neither knew the other existed. Wednesday’s conference at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy brought together father and son and some of the people who, over the years, were instrumental in bringing them back together.
One of those people is human rights worker Aura Elena Farfan. She spoke of a boy they had found who had survived the massacre who brought up another boy.
“And he talked about Oscar, who had been adopted by one of the people who had raided Dos Erres,” Farfan said.
After the massacre, Tranquilino assumed all the members of his family had been thrown down the village well, like so many other victims.
When Guatemalan prosecutors tracked down Oscar in the United States, forensic anthropologist Fredy Peccerelli, who grew up in New York after his father fled Guatemala, traveled to Massachusetts to gather a DNA sample.
“So we drove up this little town called Framingham, which I’d never heard of before, and I have to admit, it wasn’t easy,” Peccerelli said. “I’m a Yankees fan. You know, my initial thoughts were, ‘I can’t believe I’m in Massachusetts, about to take a sample from a survivor, a possible survivor from a massacre in Dos Erres.’ ”
Later, in Guatemala City, Peccerelli met with Tranquilino. He gave him the news that they had found his son.
“Now, remember, he thought his nine kids and his wife were killed,” Peccerelli said. “He had no idea that the news we were about to give him was that one of his kids was still alive. And we told him, and the first thing he said was: ‘Ah, they only killed eight.’ I mean, that’s, it’s huge, if you really think about it.”
Oscar is an undocumented immigrant. Now that he knows that he is the survivor of a massacre, he has applied for political asylum. His father, Tranquilino, was granted a U.S. visa on condition that he give talks like the one at Harvard Wednesday night. But he’d been in the U.S. only two days and when it came time for father and son to speak, they couldn’t find the words.
“Do you want to say a few words?” Oscar asked his father. “Don’t you want to say?”
“I don’t want to. No, you go,” Tranquilino said.
“Well, the only thing I have to say is that right now, we’re very happy to be together once again,” Oscar said.
Moments later, the father wanted a cigarette so the two slipped away from the conference in their honor. Overwhelmed, they did not come back.