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Father And Son Reunited 30 Years After Massacre In Guatemala

Survivor of the Dos Erres massacre Oscar Ramirez, left, speaks with his father Tranquilino Castaneda, center, as human right activist Elena Farfan, right, looks on during during a panel discussion on the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in Guatemala at Harvard University, Wednesday, May 30. (AP)

Survivor of the Dos Erres massacre Oscar Ramirez, left, speaks with his father Tranquilino Castaneda, center, as human right activist Elena Farfan, right, looks on during a panel discussion on the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in Guatemala at Harvard University, Wednesday, May 30. (AP)

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.

Oscar Ramirez, left, and his father Tranquilino Castaneda, right, arrive at the Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy in Cambridge, May 30. (AP)

Oscar Ramirez, left, and his father Tranquilino Castaneda, right, arrive at the Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy in Cambridge, May 30. (AP)

“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.

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  • J__o__h__n

    I enjoyed this follow-up to the great story told on This American Life.  Please pronounce Spanish names a bit less authentically as it makes it hard for English listening ears to discern what was being said.  Follow Ira’s advice for how he no longer pronounces Nicaragua. 

    • http://www.wbur.org/people/fthys Fred Thys

      There is a difference between pronouncing place names, which often have an English pronunciation, and pronouncing someone’s name, which only has one correct pronunciation, that which that person uses. 

  • Ndouglas

    As a social worker who spoke with the father and son last evening, I must note that Don Tranquilino Castañeda left the conference room after enduring chest pain and other distress associated with reliving the brutally violent deaths of his pregnant wife and eight murdered young children – not simply to have a cigarette. May he, his devoted son Oscar and other family members be granted privacy and patience, as needed, as they grapple with events and feelings beyond the realm of most of our own experience or imagination.

    • http://www.wbur.org/people/fthys Fred Thys

      Tranquilino Castaneda’s attorney said after the conference that Castaneda left the room to have a cigarette. 

  • Al Dorman26

    Thanks Reagan for that massacre.

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