Oral history with Margarita Montealegre, 02/22/2019


JLB: My name is José Luis Benavides, we are with Pilar De Haro and Margarita Montealegre. Today is February 22nd 2019 and it is about mid day. We are at California State University Northridge. Margarita, can you tell us your full name and your date of birth and where were you born?

MM: Ok, My name is Margarita Isabelle Montealegre Morales. I was born in Managua, Nicaragua, February 21st of 1956. The dates are very important because February 21st was the day that they killed Sandino, and 1956 was the day they killed Anastasio Somoza Garcia.

JLB: It has significance. It has political significance.

MM: Political significance in the country of Nicaragua.

JLB: Can you tell us the name of your parents?

MM: Yes! Of course. My parents names are Jorge Isaac Montealegre Montealegre and my mothers is Ethel Morales Villarreal.

JLB: : Can you give us any idea of what your parents did? Like what they did for a living? What kind of families they were coming from.

MM: Okay my father comes from, between a middle and high class family background. My grandfather used to have farms, but also he was a doctor that studied here in the States. And well my grandmother well she didnt study. She just got out school and married my grandfather. And they were first cousins.

JLB: Oh, they were first cousins?

MM: Yes. So that is why my

JLB: That is why it is Montealegre Montealegre

MM: Yes.

JLB: So they married against the wishes of the family?

MM: Yes, yes. And my father studied law in Leon. Which at that time that university was very prestigious. But, he didn’t like to practice the law and as someone who had graduated from law school and then he decided to work on farms on my grandparents farms, but also then he also, he had decided to have a store where they used to make uniforms or and were like a tailor. You know? And where they did suits for a graduation so it was a huge store. And he had that store for many many years.

JLB: What was the name of the store?

MM: Montealegre.

JLB: Montealegre?

MM: Mhmm. And well until the earthquake that destroyed the store. And then my mother, which studied in ugh. My mother was sent to the States to finish high school to finish. Because she lost her mother when she was very young. And my grandfather who was married to this Mexican woman decided to send her you know very young like I think in 13 or 14 years old to private schools. And my grandfather on my mother’s side also had a store that was for suits and things like that. So both of them, my grandfather and my father, had the same kind of store. And then my mother studied in different Catholic schools in the United States. Until she came, I think for vacation or something like that, and uh she met my father. And they fell in love madly. My father was I think seven or eight years older than my mother. And then she had to go back to the States. And then she got married before; or well I don’t know if she graduated, but she got married with my father very very young. And then um, my father when they married well um lived in a very old neighborhood that was is Managua called Sajonia and that’s where my grandparents also had their house. And that was the neighborhood I was born also. Well, I think I am the first one that was born in a hospital. The rest well I think they were born in houses.

JLB: Your siblings?

MM: Yes. Yes.

JLB: How many siblings do you have?

MM: I have a brother that is ten years older than me. I think he is seventy three right now. And his name is Jorge. Lilly, which is ten years older than me or no less, eight. And then I have another sister, Lucia, that is like six years older than me or seven years older than me. So I am the youngest one.

JLB: You were the youngest one with a lot of difference.

MM: Yes.

JLB: That is a lot of difference.

MM: Yes. A lot of difference. I think I am a little bit of an accident.

[both laugh]

MM: They weren’t expecting me. But, ops.

[both laugh]

MM: So, but also we were, at that time Managua was a very small town. And the neighborhoods and the barrios were linked and we didn’t have a huge difference in terms of classes. There was a mixture of culture of cultures, of classes. Like, people could have their a huge house and next to it somebody that didn’t have too much money. And there was also this sense of all cities that you could walk and that was the. We remember you know? As well, people that we went to school, that we could walk ten, twenty blocks with a bunch of students. And it was safe in Managua. So when, there were a lot of things like churches, we would get together. A lot of different people you know and I was brought up with the Catholic church. So we used to go to mass every Sunday and I did go to private school. It was Catholic also. To two different private schools. One called la Asunción and La Pureza and my father continued to have his store and then my mother reinvented herself. And, that she decided to put together a concept about an academy that was called Academia de la mujer moderna. And it was classes for middle class girls that would have come on Saturday and learn how to read novels or good literature. To know how to do papier-mâché or doing things with your hands and with paper. And also we used to have yoga classes. So it was a mixture of a lot of things; even cooking. There was a German teacher that would come, a chef lady, that would teach us how to cook and so there were a lot of people. One of the good things that I remember also about that is that there were a lot of good painters and my mother gathered them and then they would teach us how to paint, but they were incredibly known painters. So we were little kids that just wanted to go and hang out and just have fun, but there was a lot of discipline in terms of how to paint and the norms and rules that we had to follow from the teacher. So that was what my mother did. And it became a success because it was a different concept and nobody had anything like that at the time. So there are a lot of my friends that I know and I see them now so many years afterwards, that the Academia is still a reference because through reading we had to analyze things and because of the teachers she was so, how do you say exigente?

JLB: Demanding.

MM: She was very demanding in terms of interpreting the writer and saying what is the message. That my friends will tell me “ We remember when she asked us those you know”

JLB: All those questions. But for you it was probably a very interesting way of learning also to have a visual education right? Because of all the painters.

MM: Oh yes! And the painter, well you know because he taught us basic stuff I could start you know with even if it was a flower or a table or something I would start with the drawing. And you know the squares and all that that you can do. So and also I did some modeling because my mother also designed clothes. So we had to model her clothes, clothing for little kids or even my sister. All her students in the Academia were also part of the modeling of her designs. And amongst those people there was a friend of my mother that was much younger than her that were studying French, and she became an incredible model. And that model is Bianca Jagger.

JLB: Oh, my God.

MM: Bianca Jagger now, but her name was Blanca Perez Macias.

JLB: Blanca Perez Macias.

MM: Yes. And we have pictures of her you know that she’s modeling because my mother said to her: “Would you like to model for me because I have my designs and there is going to be a modeling event in different cities in Nicaragua.” And then she said yes. And she still calls my mother  Dona Ethel. So that is how she met Bianca and the story is that when Bianca was going to  France, she told my mother: “I am going to live there and have a scholarship and I’m going to study at this Institute of Political Science.” So that’s part of what I’m talking about of all this time is before the earthquake.

JLB: This is in the sixties?

MM: Yes.

JLB: More or less right?

MM:Well until 72.

JLB:  Correct. Tell me a little bit more about your, well because you were close to your mom, but how about your school experience? How was your early education like, elementary school? What are your memories?

MM: Well elementary school was for me was very important in terms of both of the nuns at those different private school was very, como se dice exigente?

JLB: Demanding.

MM: Demanding again okay. And then they were because they want us to learn different languages and to have good grades. And also the way we have to dress in order to go to school we have the uniforms. We couldn’t use you know something that they were good and were going to have to show the knees you know. It had to be…

JLB: Below the knees.

MM: Yes below the knees. And it was demanding in terms of like a language. Because we had in the basic English classes you could choose like a regular Colegio la Asunción either language either you wanted to learn French or English. I chose in English and that’s what I started with you know. The first steps or the first time that I started to learn how to speak English. A little bit. And then we had, there were the sports also there was also a challenge and demanding in the world. But also the sense of like what we were very much influenced by the Catholic church and it was saying you know also the school would ask us a lot of things that we had to do in order to besides the the private school that we had to do in the community.  So, just to give you an example, every single year we had like the summer vacation and we used to go to the seashore for at least a month. And I remember very young with the literacy campaign. And in the sea shore it is called Casa Aires that a lot of people used to go there. We also had shows; well also I was a dancing lady since I was a little girl because the dancing classes of ballet, Cha Cha Cha, and things like that were across the street from my house. So I would go there almost every single day. So in Casa Aires we would do all the different skills that we thought we had. Boys and girls in order to get money and it would get crowded and we would gather money in order to give it to the community or to the school or things like that ever since we were little. And my mother was also very much involved her friends were part of it. I think my childhood went like that.  Along from the neighborhood getting together it was pretty normal to celebrate birthdays not like they do now, it was more simple with only like 7 or 10 people in the gardens, and just like the cake. And then, the first communion and things that would go on and on also. But also the life of the neighborhood. The neighborhood for us it was that, it meant for us, no longer were we representing the school. We had barriers in terms of school, because our friends belong to different schools, and we would get together and do things together. And it was a mixture of cultures and that time there weren’t too many religions like we have right now in Nicaragua. But it was very important, and we had, at least from what I remember we had much more respect for the elderly at that time. For me my grandfather was somebody, because my grandmother died very young, my mother’s parents died many many years ago before I was born.

JLB: So you only knew your grandfather? From your mothers side?

MM: Yes, my grandfather just for a yew years. I think until I was like four or five years old. And then my grandfather was the person who told me stories about his familys background, him being the doctor studying in France and things like that. And I will remember from my grandfather is like Saturday he was no longer a doctor that was having his clinic, but on Saturdays at six oclock in the morning he would open his office for free. And people from farms and place would come to the neighborhood.

JLB: Thats pretty nice.

MM: Yes. And he was a person a person who liked a lot languages. So he spoke French and English, but also he had a sense of humor because my father on the opposite was very strict and he wasn’t a strict at all because of the way he was brought up and because of the profession he had chosen it made a different type of person. One that wasn’t as strict as my father was. So that lasted until 1972. After that, everything changed for me and for us. Because on the 23rd of December of 1972 a huge earthquake hit Managua and my parents had sent me to the States so that I could learn how to speak english. So it was an exchange program and I was sent to a very small town called Salamanca, New York. It was very close to the Niagara Falls and it was very cold.

JLB: When did they send you? Did they send you in the fall? Like months before?

MM: No. They sent me in December.

JLB: In December? The same month?

MM: In the beginning I think or in the end of November. And what happened is that my life changed in terms of everything. My history, my school, because the earthquake hit Managua. And it changed the lives of many people from Managua. Because I was in this little town and I didn’t know about what was going on in Nicaragua every single day. So I decided to go to this place where they would sell the newspapers and I would read the newspapers for free and I would put it back. In order to see the New York Times, because I was in this little town. So the guy knew I was from Nicaragua. And I went to school on a normal day and I see this guy trying to reach me the day after the earthquake, very early in the morning to tell me there is something happening in your country, in Managua. So that’s how I found out about the earthquake.

JLB: Wow. You were sixteen at the time.

MM: Yes. So instead of staying in this town for a month or a month and a half I ended up having to stay I think like 7 or 8 months there. And instead of just taking classes and just listening I had to have grades in order to finish my high school. What happened you know and then, what’s incredible is the story of how my sister managed to say something. It was like an exchange, somebody a journalist would contact me and call me and tell me that they were ok. Because he was hitchhiking to the airport and my sister said you know I’m going to give you a ride. There is one condition. There is no gas, but there is one condition. You call my sister at this number and you tell her that she can not come back and we are all ok. The houses are totally destroyed. We don’t know what we are going to do, but just tell her everybody is okay. Nothing happened to anyone in the family. None of the members of the family and that she has to stay there.

JLB: This is how many days after the earthquake?

MM: That was the 24th.

JLB: Ok. So you didn’t know for a long time? For several days.

MM: No no. Because the 23rd was that night.

JLB: So you only went one day without knowing.

MM: Yes, without knowing. And when they knew about the earthquake, this family, that had ten kids, I was number eleven.

JLB: Do you remember the name, what was the name of the family?

MM: Yes! Lansbury. Mr. and Mrs. Lansbury. Rodney was and Murn, I think something like that the lady. Both of them, she was a nurse and I think he was a sociologist or something like that. And they had these ten kids and everything went perfectly and every was so organized. I knew everyday what I had to do like my chores and everybody had to change every single day. And we knew. And the people were incredible with me when they found out the family. They said, they thought my parents had died or something when we knew all the news. And they said don’t worry you can stay here. Can you imagine, 11 kids?

[all laugh]

PDH: Somehow they made it work.

MM: And then I said, and then I started crying because I felt desperate. I didn’t know about my friends. Well, I knew that my family was okay, but it was something like being in a limbo. But the people were incredible in terms of solidarity. The town and then the school also because then I wasn’t just learning how to talk in English a little bit because I had to have grades in order to finish my high school. So that is what I did, I was no longer “Oh, this is really nice,” and getting together with friends.

JLB: You had to go to school and take all the subjects.

MM: Well I was in school but I wasn’t taking it very seriously because I was just, you know, for me I was just going to stay for two months or a month and a half, and practice English and learn. Because there was only one person in that town that spoke Spanish. That was the Spanish teacher.

JLB: And the school didn’t have any ESL instruction

MM: No, no no no.

JLB: So you had to jump in to all your classes in English with a somewhat limited English. You knew some , but it was not, it’s like the experience of some of our students, because some of them are in that situation. Was that a public school?

MM: Yes

JLB: Okay.

MM: And some of the pictures, two of the pictures that I am going to show tomorrow are from the yearbook. So I finished my high school and I came back to Nicaragua. And my parents didn’t have any house, any property. They had lost everything. My father lost his store.

JLB: So your father’s store was also destroyed by the earthquake?

MM: Oh yes! Because that was in the center.

JLB: And your home.

MM: And also where my mother had the Academia also. Which was another building.

JLB: So both businesses of your family were destroyed. Your home was destroyed. What did your family do?

MM: Well, they had relatives and family. And there was this uncle that he had money and had different houses. And he had a house near the port of Corinto which was a major ports for boats. It was huge. So his house was to come on vacation with his family near the seashore. So he said you could stay until you settle down and then we shall see. So my father worked on the farm more. Besides, he was a lawyer but he didn’t want to practice so he started to produce, to sell the milk and things like that.  And that’s when I decided to do something with a friend who had also lost everything, her family. And we got together and we started painting, and doing little things that we could sell. And we would go to little towns and we had little paintings in oil that we would sell in little towns. And this friend of mine, which is a cousin, convinced my father that I should leave the country. And that I should go to a place that was inexpensive to pay. The university was I think like $200 a year for foreigners. Especially coming from Nicaragua, so I went to Belgium.

JLB: And that was in ’73?

MM: No. I went to Belgium in ’74.

JLB: Oh in 74. So you were 18. You were an adult.

MM: Yes. So when I went to Belgium I started taking classes. Learning how to speak French, another language that had nothing to do with english.

JLB: And did you choose French in the school?

MM: No I never would have chosen French. I didn’t know anything about French. I had to learn and in order to that I would move to a very humble neighborhood that I was full of students that spoke French. So I felt that I had to speak French or learn the first thing. So people were very patient with me and they taught me the first things. And I went to French classes and then I went to the university, but it was terrible because the students they look at me differently because I would ask every single thing. And I would really get upset like what does that mean. And that’s how I learned French. And then I decided I wanted to go work. So I cleaned houses and then I got together with, that was the time after the coup of Pinochet. And then I met a lot of people from Chile and I met a Venezuelan guy, Carlos Enriquez. That he was in Paris and we became friends because he knew Nicaragua and so we made a connection. So he was the person to influence me in terms of teaching me the basic skills about photography.

JLB: Okay.

MM: And that’s how I decided to work a lot and buy my new camera. And start taking pictures. And I had a 28 millimeter.

JLB: How did he interest you in photography? Was he taking photos?

MM: Oh he had taken pictures of Nicaragua. That is how I met him, “I want to show you some pictures of Nicaragua after the earthquake and Granada and all these people that had moved from Managua to Granada.” And he was responsible from the Venezuelan government to give all the aid that he was in charge of. But the only condition that he had, that’s what he said, is that the aid that the Venezuelan government at that time was giving to him and the plane and all the things that he had, would not go directly to Somoza or to the Somozas army in order to distribute that. That was a no no. Because he said when he arrived with all the help and all the aid he said well you’re not going to stay, I would like to stay in Managua and distribute this and then they said no you are not going to distribute that because you should give it to us. And then he said no. So like they punished him and then they sent him to a city about 2 hrs, well an hour and half, away from Managua. And that’s where a lot of the people were. And that’s where he got to know Nicaragua and start taking pictures of what happened during the earthquake and things like that and that’s when he showed me, well the link or the attraction for me was to know what was going on with the people after the earthquake. And with images that opened my mind. So he was coming from the school of journalism in Venezuela and then I decided I should try to be a photographer, but there wasn’t a school of photography that I could access in Belgium. But I started taking pictures. That’s when I started taking my first pictures.

JLB: How much older than you was Carlos?

MM: Oh many many years.

JLB: Because he was already finished with his degree right in Venezuela?

MM: Yes.

JLB: So you bought your camera, you start taking photos, and?

MM: And then, besides that there were a group of students from Nicaragua that were at the university of Louvain. And we started a small group studying the political situation especially after the earthquake and the dictatorship in Somoza. So we start reading about history and discussing. I got very much involved in demonstrations against Pinochet and some other countries even from Africa. And the Nicaragua became the main issue for the Nicaraguans trying to see because there was a lot of repression after the earthquake. Two years after I was in Belgium I decided to come back to Nicaragua and start the university and get involved in politics.

JLB: That was in ’76 when you came back?

MM: Yes.

JLB: So you came back to Nicaragua, your family was living in Managua?

MM: My family was yes, they were able to go back to Managua. My father was able to buy a house, and my mother reopened her place but not the Academia. She went to, she made a loan and she went to France to learn how to do facials and she opened a place at the house where she could do facials, and she worked there. And then my father had his farm and my sisters had left, my sister Lucia was married to an American after the earthquake because she went to the American school. And then my other sister was also married for a few years and so I was alone because my brother had been married for a few years, but I got very much involved. A lot of my generation got involved into trying to overthrow Samosa. Be part of the.

JLB: And that’s through the university?

PDH: And what did your parents think of that when you started getting involved?

MM: My mother said go ahead. She said if I had your age I would be involved. Just be careful, but she was very open. But she was scared when she heard all the stories afterwards. And then my father was against that, but then I was and then I decided when I came back to Nicaragua to take a class of photography with a guy. And can you imagine we went to this class and a lot of people went to those classes. We were very much involved into politics into different groups of people who didn’t like Somoza. We were against Somoza. And the guy that was teaching us, who was very open, he lived in Venezuela, he knew a lot about black and white and about lenses and things like that. He was part of the system of the security of the political security of Somoza. To get informations. And I didn’t know until afterwards. Because I was in those classes, one of the guys that knew him said that guy is part of the security of Somoza and he is getting a lot of information from all of you. So that gave me a lesson, you cannot talk to anyone and also you cannot trust anybody at that time. So but that for me, well the classes were good, he knew, we were obliged to develop and do a lot of things, and mistakes. So there were a lot of discussions about the pictures and but then there were also another opportunity to work in another place. That had to do not the agrarian reform, but progress for peasants or workers.

JLB: Was that a government entity or was it a non-profit?

MM: No no it was the French government and some other organizations. Even the American organizations, to teach some of the peasants the best way to work with the earth and, como se llaman los cultivos?

JLB: Well we can translate that later because I don’t remember. The crops!

MM: The crops. It was an incredible group of young people. We were all without knowing involved in groups of people that we were working in this perfectly normal place, but also we were involved in the groups that tried to overthrow Somoza.

JLB: Could you tell us a little bit about those groups and how you were able to get involved, how were you able to get in?

MM: When I came back from Belgium I found out most of my friends were already involved, most of my best friends since childhood. And for them it was first: “Do me a favor. Go to Costa Rica, we want to send some letters and things like that and be careful” and I would started. And then “Go to this neighborhood.” I did very crazy things in very scary things without knowing the risks. Like one of my best friends was a guy that got killed afterwards; and he convinced me, “Margarita you have to go do a, come se dice encuesta?

JLB: A survey.

MM: A survey to a very poor neighborhood.” And I said really? Yes and it was like four pages of questions and I would go house by house and I knew the numbers that’s what he told me he had and I would go to these neighborhoods and started knocking. And people were very open and so the last house I knocked at, this guy was very skeptical and said “Cmon get in.” And I go and the guy started asking the questions. And the last question was “How much do you earn?” The question was for example from 500 to 2000. And he would go “No more more.” And I thought this was strange. For this neighbor to be earning so much money. So when I went to the highest salary, 5000 he said to me “You know you are going to go to jail because you are part of a communist group and you are trying to get information.” My heart started beating. I wasn’t even involved. And I said “No, no,” because I didn’t even know the purpose of the whole thing. So I started running in the neighborhood and my friend was waiting a few blocks away and I said “Never again.” Because this guy belonged to the national security, was part of the Somoza national security. He was the person in that neighborhood trying to gather information, trying to capture people. That was my first experience. And after I had finished with that class that was very controversial with this guy, I started to think, well we used to get together and started to talk and I tried to help people whose lives were at risk or who had already been fighting against Somoza. And suddenly somebody said “Well you should try to get to La Prensa and try to do some practice there.” So I went to La Prensa, I knocked on the door, and I said “I just want to practice.” And they said “You can stay for a month to practice and we’ll see how it goes.” But everything went so fast in terms of politically and things that changed in Nicaragua like the opposition against Somoza. After the month they said “Well, you can stay.”

JLB: Do you remember the year?

MM: Yes ’77.

JLB: Do you remember who you talked to?

MM: I talked to Pedro Joaquín. Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. And Danielo Aguirre who was the editor. And at the beginning the reaction of La Prensa, all the guys, they had never had a woman photographer. And for them it was challenging in terms of saying “No she can not cope with this,” because it is too dangerous. The traditional things, women are so fragile. They don’t know how to deal with danger situations, they don’t know how to deal with a dictator because we had to go to the national guardianship, to their conferences and all that. So because I was practicing for the first month it was one point in advantage for me because the assistant of their intelligence didn’t know who I was and they knew that it was just the male photographers carrying the cameras. So I would sneak into places that the La Prensa wasn’t allowed to. Then I would take pictures, but I was found very quickly. Because I would sign the pictures and then suddenly they would say we are going to find out who is this woman. At the press conferences they started asking and so they knew. That Margarita Montealegre was taking pictures in places.

PDH: What type of places were these?

MM: Like well the national headquarters and the public relation office of the army. And then they had, everything went so fast that every single day they had a press conference saying “We killed this many people,” and I would get there and get the picture and go to see what proof they had. And also I had my allies. The rest of the papers, the newsrooms, the photographers, the radio journalists wouldn’t say a thing. But afterwards they knew.

JLB: Did you sign MM because you don’t want them to know your name?

MM: Yes. Oh no, the paper said,

JLB: Oh because they didn’t want it to show a woman taking the photos.

MM: No no no. It was because they wanted, because I didn’t know if I was going to stay. So they didn’t want to put my full name because it was an advantage of sneaking and getting into places. But the first stories that I did cover was one of the most dangerous one. Because there was, I was at the paper during one of the first few days at the paper, it was almost three oclock in the afternoon. And before they would close you know the edition and everything like by noon and by 2:30 the paper would be out you know.

JLB: So they had like an afternoon edition?

MM: No,

JLB: At that time they closed? And then the next day,

MM: Yes. So in the afternoon it would be in the rotativa, how do you say rotativa?

JLB: Printing press.

MM: Yes, printing press. So were like the editors and one of the journalist and I was reading things you know we had developing and suddenly there’s a call from a lady and the lady said “I have proof how they kill my son. And you have to come to this city,” which is called Condega, which is up in the north “and you have to come and I would like to tell the story how my son got killed with this person. I want you to come.” And we knew that it was risky because also the phone was intervened. So we went there and she started telling all the details about how they killed her son, who was somebody who lived in Condega and had farms and produced a lot, but he was against the dictatorship. And that’s how, that story, the next day was on the first page, with even the person, the doctor who saw the body and saw how many bullets. And she had been hiding the, it was like, como un microbus? Como se dice microbus?

JLB: Like a microbus?

PDH: Is it like the instrument?

MM: No it is a car, it is not a car

JLB: It is like a bus, a small bus

MM: Small bus, but very small one. And what happened is that when I took pictures of the whole thing, you could see the bullets and she was tells the whole story. And her daughters were there, and the national guard never forgot about that story, because it was something to tell, you know, “Everything you said, was a lie.” So it’s incredible that it was on the first page and everything. It was so sad to listen to the mother also. You know what they did? Afterwards, they came back many months afterwards and killed every single person that was in the house. Little kids, not the mother because the mother wasn’t there, but they never forgot that was part of the proof.

JLB: That they were killing people.

MM: Because they had the courage to tell the story. Their own story, their own truth.

JLB: And you were there not as a reporter writing the story but to take photos.

MM: Yeah, photographs.

JLB: So which photos did you take of that story?

MM: All the photos, the pictures of the mother talking,

JLB: You took pictures of the mother? You took pictures of the bus?

MM: The microbus with the bullet, and also the two daughters or three daughters that were there. And that’s what they did. So for me it was something like mixed feelings with the reporter also, because, well, we did the story, but then the repercussions were terrible in terms of what happened. But every single day it was something like that. Because also part of my training, if I could cope with that, is that there was a reporter that would go every single day to the national police in Managua to see common things, but also political things that were happening in prison, with the head of the police. So, but we had informants, people from the police who would say “What he said is false. So don’t even put it, they are political prisoners, and people that have been killed, and patrols during the night they come and they patrol the city and they start killing young kids.” But also it was the whole thing too that I was a woman, an a photographer they didn’t know, but I was able to sneak also because the other guy, we say in Spanish, in Nicaragua, he was  was burned, very well known, so while he was trying to talk to the police I would go and ask some other things.

JLB: He served as a distraction.

MM: So that’s how I started to be a photographer, and a photojournalist. It was also the challenge that all the photographers were older than me and were male. And the message for me as a woman was “You can’t cope with this. You’re too blonde, you are too white. No, I don’t see you in this profession.” And I said: “OK, thank you.” But I had to play like a tough person in terms of surviving those type of things. It wasn’t easy. And also it wasn’t easy for us, as women because there was another woman journalist also.

JLB: I was going to ask you, the newsroom, did they have other women?

MM: Just one.

JLB: One besides you.

MM: Yes.

JLB: Was she a writer?

MM: Yes.

JLB: What was her name?

MM: Ángelita Savallos.

JLB: OK. And she was more senior than you or she was as young as you?

MM: Oh yes she was like 10 years older.

JLB: OK, so she had already a career established at La Prensa.

MM: At La Prensa, yes. But all the time the commentaries were about how us women were never going to be as good as them. And also it was normal for them to tell you things like “I like you,” or to touch you.

JLB: So harassment right ?

MM: Yes.

JLB: Sexual harassment basically.

MM: Not all of them, but you know, well one day that I got fed up and I talked to the director. And he talked directly to one of the guys who was an elderly guy and some other guy. But it’s funny because they always forget that there was a woman among the photographers. And remember the old dark rooms?

JLB: Dark rooms? Yes.

MM: They had this doors, and you could not see enough, everyone was developing, printing and whatever. They start talking about how they felt women, their sexual lives all while I would be

JLB: And you would listen to all that conversation.

MM: And then I would turn on the lights and it was like whoops. And they would say “Next time Margarita just tell us when you’re here,” and I would say “Why? If that’s the way you talk about things.” So, but we protected each other you know other than those things. It became a relationship of respect. And people, what I like about that group of photographers is that none of them studied photography. And they were great photographers, and one to the other would teach. And say, “I know this,” for example, to freeze a movement or something that is going on you have to put the speed very high. And everybody put the speed very high. And that is how they learned. They gave me the basic things even though I had studied a little bit, that would arrange my all thing in terms of taking pictures within an action scene.

JLB: Because it’s not the same thing. You cannot say, stop for the photo. So it took them a while but they accepted you, this group of men.

MM: Oh yes.

JLB: They ended up respecting you. How long do you think it took them to get to that point?

MM: Not that long I don’t think so because everything moved so fast in terms of what was happening in the country. For us it was, we must, we have to take good pictures. And I learned from all these people that didn’t have any school. For example to go to the National Assembly, where the deputies are, “Pretend that you don’t even have a camera, just walk, and then start taking pictures.” At beginning all the people would try to touch me, who are you? What are you doing here? Or the senators, because there were two chambers, and they would say :We would like a picture of this and of this, because they know us. You should get there and try.” So that is what I did. I was also king of afraid because I had the sing here that said La Prensa, because La Prensa was the opposition newspaper of Somoza. 

JLB: Correct. I was going to ask you about that, was there in the newsroom at the time a sense that everyone was working in an opposition newspaper?

MM: Oh yes!

JLB: Or was there people who was reluctant to what La Prensa was doing in the newsroom?

MM: No, everybody at La preens was, all the photographers, almost all the writers, even the ones that did sports became politically very much involved, and when they were commenting about the sports they would say something against Somoza. And also I had the advantage for some things that – May I have some water?

JLB: Yeah.

MM: Once was a journalist, I don’t remember, from Brazil, and he asked somebody that spoke English or that knew Somoza and then the editor said “She knows Somoza.” And I said: “Yes, I know him because his daughter was my friend, we went to school together.” And then what happened I went to his office and he gave a long interview to the guy and by the end he said “I know who you are, you’re Margarita and you live,” there, like saying, you know where you

JLB: I know exactly

MM: What you are doing and who you are.

PDH: That’s a threat.

MM: Nothing happened afterwards, there were so many things, I wasn’t the main target but my father said “Don’t ever go back there.”

JLB: But were you still doing political activity besides working for La Prensa?

MM: Every night!

JLB: So, tell me a little bit about what you were doing. And people knew in the newsroom, what you were doing?

MM: No. But everybody would be suspicious about every single one because almost all of us besides working, we were doing political work, in terms of trying to help people, we had to help doing transportation, taking people away from dangerous zones where their lives would be at risk.

JLB: In danger.

MM: Yeah, in danger. And we have to move them to different places or different houses. And I also was in charge of international press already. And so for example there were public comunicados, I would go to the Intercontinental Hotel and they knew

JLB: That you were the person doing that?

MM: Yes

JLB: How did you ended up being the international press representative?

MM: Well, in Managua. Frente Interno.

JLB: But how did they select you for that? Who selected you?

MM: Well at that time, because I was, because I spoke English and I spoke French a little bit,  they decided that I should contact the press. But I wasn’t the only one, the good thing is that I was working for La Prensa and a lot of people started coming with the upraising and everything, all the demonstrations and the killing of the director of the newspaper. Even the reporters that they would send here they didn’t speak Spanish. So it is not that I translated them but that helped me a lot. So that’s how I got to meet Susan. Susan Meiselas came to the paper and she didn’t speak Spanish. Well, she talked to the director and then to the editor and Carlos Fernando. And at the beginning we would go cover some things with Susan and also I would translate sometimes for her and then she made her way you know in terms of trying to learn en la calle or with people that were with her that knew. And also Alma Guillermoprieto was among the

JLB: She worked at the Washington Post at the time, right?

MM: Hmm. But Alma spoke perfectly Spanish, you know.

JLB: She was Mexican. But also those people, the reporters, helped me a lot to save my life many times. For example once I went undercover with a bunch of foreign journalists but I was the only one Nicaraguan and I didn’t speak one word of Spanish, from Managua to Estelí. And what happened is that, well, they started taking pictures because the National Guard was very repressive because they thought everybody was foreign, were foreigners, so they didn’t care. And they started do that and I never spoke just in English among the photographers or journalists. And what happened is they saw the material, well the the rolls developed, and the editor said “Yeah, we are going to publish them.” And I said “Ops”, it was a huge thing because I think for Easter, which in well in Latin American countries is big deal.

JLB: Correct.

MM: And then this this is what’s happening in Estelí, all these people taken down from the buses. This is how the military behave with the people. So they were like that so the next day, they tried to, or the days after, to figure out until they catch me. They said, well, “This is the woman from La Prensa.” And the guy that was in charge of the public relations of the army, he said “Margarita we want to talk in front of all the journalists. You should be careful for your life.” And so I had to move from my house and I had to stay few days at the Intercontinental Hotel. And everything was going so fast. Nothing happened afterwards. It was, I think it was hard for them to keep tracking everything that was going on, and there are too many journalists at that time. But there was always a foreign journalist trying to see that we were together and the coverage of all of that. But he did say publicly “I cannot tell what is going to happen to you.”

JLB: He threatened you, publicly. And at the time did you live on your own, did you live alone?

MM: No no, I lived with my parents.

JLB: Still with your parents?

MM: Yes. My mother and father, yes. My mother said she didn’t care. She didn’t care that I had made that option. My father was more skeptical and scared. But my mother said follow your steps, follow your dreams whatever you feel it is right for you. And she was very proud at that time that I was the first woman photographer, photojournalist. Because she said “You are going to hear, don’t get angry,” and I said “No, forget about it, the comments from these guys?” And I said “I have to fight back.” And she said “No.” And I said “You are the traditional way but I’ll deal with it”.

JLB: So you’re doing both things, you were doing photojournalism, you were doing also, you were a fixer, a PR representative for the Sandinistas for the foreign correspondents. And you were doing also political work.

MM: Yes, and transportation during the night, for people that were hiding from Somoza’s, from the Somoza’s regime. I had my car, and because I was at La Prensa I was able to have a loan and buy my car. And then the friends they said, “Oh yes, we can use it during the night.” So sometimes I had to drive three hours and come back to the paper like nothing.

JLB: Correct, you were out probably most of the night, and then you came back to the paper to work.

MM: Yeah, but it was nothing, everybody was like that, it was like Speedy Gonzales all the time all the people. Because you feel that you are not alone in one cause, I mean when you see the paper, all the publications there was repression every single day. Like families, it was very tough for us, well for them as journalists and for me as a photographer, to cover things and to see whole family that was killed. Because even dogs, little kids, 3 years old, 4 years old, just because their father was an opposition person. Not somebody that they knew, it was just their intelligence would tell “Oh these people do this,” or they do the papers for the Frente Sandinista. So cases like that were lots of cases. There was a certain space and place in the sense that it was out of control for them in order to repress everybody. There was a lot of repression, and a lot of killing. One of the things that I forgot to tell you, one of my first works, jobs that I did at La Prensa was going to the morgue every single day, with a reporter. But for him, the reporter, it was something normal.

JLB: Correct.

MM: The guy that was in charge of the morgue, he would say “Well, we have two, three dead bodies, new ones.” And

JLB: You had to take the photos.

MM: I was the photographer, yes. And I am very short, so I had to find a chair and look, and open the drawer, try to take pictures of all the people that nobody had asked for them.

JLB: That nobody had claimed.

MM: Claimed, yes. Because there was a section that would say “Do you know him? Do you know this person?” At that time they would publish photos of dead people. Well, they had a social message also. To tell the relatives. There are these

JLB: This person was killed.

MM: Yes, and nobody has identified or asked for him, or her. Ans it has been in the morgue for few days.

JLB: Was that a regular section of the paper?

MM: Yes.

JLB: What was the name of that?

MM: Sucesos.

JLB: Sucesos. And it was a way also of showing how many people were being killed.

MM: Hm hm.

JLB: As well, right?

MM: Yes.

JLB: Because in many cases the family probably didn’t ever claim them because they were afraid.

MM: Hm hm.

JLB: They could be charged with something else, right?

MM: Yes.

JLB: So it was kind of a social work.

MM: It was very very strong because for us, it was, and me, well because it’s very complex. There is a mix of feelings but also something that you have to go beyond, saying, well this is, he works for the government, he gives me information, he becomes like your informant but you cannot say that.

JLB: Correct.

MM: So what I remember is once we went to the morgue and he said “Get in.” He was cleaning a guy that got killed and was a tenant from the National Guard and he was killed in Monimbo, and he was really, there were wounds everywhere. I had never seen somebody that’s dead being cleaned and the person that is in the morgue who is does that. And I had to climb even, you know, the table where they were cleaning him in order to take pictures. And also, well, that’s one thing, I took those pictures, thanks God the director, the editor said “No we are not going to publish that.” And I said “Well I took the pictures”, “No, no, that’s OK, no problem but we are not going to publish that.” But the other thing is that he would give me information, to me and the other journalists, in a certain point, that would talk to him and bring fruits, or talk, and even joke with him, and then the journalist would say “Well tell me, honestly, how many people from the National Guard have died, or the police.” “No, no.” “Cmon”. And then he had another notebook, and then he would say you know “She has to count how many, but quickly,” I would go t-t-t-t-t. So there would be like, come se dice una, no se, una

JLB: Like an exchange of information?

MM: Si.

JLB: An informal agreement?

MM: An informal agreement but es como the day una information, I going to give you information, but you have to do it quickly. I think he knew at a certain point things were so bad that he needed to give more information than the ones he officially had to

JLB: Correct. Which was good for you guys, right?

MM: Oh, that was perfect. His name was Gonzalo I never forget that.

JLB: So when things started are becoming more, at some point do you, either become more dangerous or  became more intense in terms of how the Sandinista movement was about

MM: Everything went so fast. We worked, all of us, not just the people in the press. I cannot say 24 hours but a lot of hours in terms of like your official work and what you had to do afterwards you know. But, well, a turning point for me was the death of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, who was the director of the newspaper. And after that, things moved so quickly in terms of like, they couldn’t stop the demonstrations. And then, people that were forbidden to come to Nicaragua. There was a group of 12. It became a whole incredible demonstration. And when Pedro Joaquín Chamorro died it was a shock for us. We never thought that they were gonna, I mean do something like that in the morning or kill him the way that they did. But I think that made the crew or the people the we worked at La Prensa very close to each other and try to protect us. But also follow what the editor had to say you know. The good thing that I remember of them is that Pedro Joaquín used to get together every single day with all the journalists and the photographers and see what we were gonna cover. So that tradition in terms of the job we did it. Every single day we knew what we were gonna cover. And sometimes if something we saw we would cover it immediately. But there was a sense of protection among us. If we saw that it was very very dangerous the journalist would say “Let’s go, let’s move quickly because something is gonna happen.” But, I don’t know, nothing ever happened to the photographers or the journalists. After, besides the killing of Pedro Joaquín, some of the journalists they were in jail for a few moments or something like that but nothing. And also the radio was playing a very important role and there was also a, come se dice sindicato?

JLB: A union.

MM: A union of journalists that was very strong. For example, just to give you, there was censorship, they used to send the National Guards in order to see what was gonna be published. And the censor would say “No, this doesn’t go, no no no.” And then a certain time there were a lot of people that were censored and they decided “Well, we are going to go in the streets,” because they weren’t saying anything. And churches open their places nationally. The journalists would go and read what was happening after the massacres.

JLB: The censored stories?

MM: Yes. And that’s called  – excuse me – periodismo de catacumba.

JLB: Was that happening at La Prensa as well, were you guys censored?

MM: Yes.

JLB: So you had to go out also to the churches?

MM: Yes the whole story would get, you see, at that time they had that kind of paper, that you can put just some glue and stick, and it was everything ready you know, to publish, I mean to be en la en la rotativa, come se llama?

JLB: Yeah, the printing press

MM: HmHm. And then suddenly the censor would go there and huge x. X, x, and so that’s when the periodismo de catacumba, because there was so much censorship, you know, on the radio and with the press. There was just two newspapers. The one of Somoza was called Novedades. And La Prensa. And so that was an incredible movement because churches opened their open their doors and after mass or in between the journalists would pick up the microphone and read the news. “This is what happened today.”

JLB: And this happened after the assassination of Pedro Joaquín?

MM: Yes, yes. 

JLB: How much longer were you able to stay at La Prensa?

MM: Until the end.

JLB: Until they bombed it?

MM: No, no no. A few days, because they told me, el Frente told me, “You have to, there is a war and the final insurrection is going on and there are gonna be different fronts and we need you with the press with the insurrection in Managua.” So like two days before that happened, I knew the final insurrection was.

JLB: So you remember more or less the date?

MM: Yes, it was like June 9th 1979.

JLB: Okay.

MM: And they would pick me up in a car, we were full like that, that’s when the barricades and everything, parts of the neighborhoods of Managua. And we started very close and then the National Guard with tanks, so we went to a certain point of Barrio called El Dorado Colorado and if there was barricaded the journalists would stay and ask for me. They called me Marta during the war.

JLB: It was your, was your nom de guerre? Marta?

MM: Marta.

JLB: Marta Lafoto, what did you say?

MM: Marta Foto. Yes.

JLB: To distinguish you from other Martas?

MM: Yes. So they would come and I would get them and say where are gonna, what would you like to cover? There had been things going on in this church and places. There has been bombing there, people that have been killed here. All of them would say “No. we want an interview with estado mayor,” and okay we would go to the interviews, “We wanna see this barrio,” we went to see,  people are getting together where people have taking care of them, you know, doctors, nurses, because they had been bombing. So they would ask, and if I could do it, you know, and I would ask if I could.

JLB: You served as the guide for

MM: Yes.

JLB: For these reporters. At that point were you carrying a gun?

MM: No.

JLB: No?

MM: No, no. At the beginning, no.

JLB: Okay.

MM: No, afterwards yes I had to because

JLB: So in early June you start essentially going full time with the Frente

MM: Yes.

JLB: Right? And you were not taking anymore photos for the newspapers?

MM: No. Not at all.

JLB: And when did they bomb the paper? La Prensa?

MM: I don’t know. I think it was in June.

JLB: It was in June as well? It was, it was probably a few days after that you

MM: Well because I remember we had to move from Managua because the National Guard had surrounded and deliberated the son of, it was controlled by the Frente Sandinista, that was united at that time. And I had to leave that part of Managua, and I changed everything. I was scared that I was find in a house. With long sleeve. Because the first thing they would do is check your elbows, if you had scratches, you had to como se dice arrastrarse?

JLB: Oh, you had to bel, like, crawling, in the ground, right?

PDH: So that was like, an indication?

MM: Yes, and my knees. So I put, I was a Mennonita, you know, very long, a long skirt and I passed with a family. There was a family going there, trying to escape from the war. What happened is that the family had like a little pig and a little chicken and I had asked him if I could have the little pig, in order that nobody would recognize me. That’s what I thought in my mind. And there was a police watching La Prensa, trying to see, and then he said, because I covered la policia, he said, “So Margarita Montealegre, can see what’s left of your job?” You know, of La Prensa? And I thought he, and he had a gun. So I continued walking with the family and didn’t even, and I walked many many many blocks until I went to my house. And then I asked my sister to move me to another house, and then went to the war to Masaya.

JLB: So from Managua they took you to Masaya.

MM:  Yes. I went with a guy that worked for the, or collaborated with the Red Cross and he asked me “What do you have as an I.D. from the Red Cross?” And I said “I’m a donor.” And then, “I have just this, that says my type of blood.” “Let’s go.” So kind of like an ambulance, and I went back to work in Masaya. Because what happened is called repliegue, people that left Managua, walking, to Masaya. But for me they told me to leave in a legal way. I don’t know why they did that, that’s OK. And I decided no, I need to go back, and I went to Masaya through that way. The guy had left me there and he went back. It worked perfectly with the National Guard.

JLB: They just assumed you were a donor.

MM: Yes.

JLB: With your donor I.D.

JLB: And in Masaya you were still doing work?

MM: Yes.

JLB: As a liaison for foreign correspondents?

MM: Yes.

JLB: Were you taking photos at that time?

MM: For the radio, the radio. I was in charge of the radio with some other people, the news, because

JLB: For the rebel radio station?

MM: Yes. So we had to do like every single day like an hour or something of the news of the day. We had few reporters that would volunteer and say this happened in the neighborhood or this happened in this part of Masaya. And there is food. Because Masaya was one of the most organized places. In in, I’m talking in the sense of distribution of food, they knew how much food they had in their comedores. And that was for free. So but because Masaya produced a lot of yucca, we ate yucca almost every single day,

JLB: Every time and every single meal.

MM: So we stay a few days, and then we moved to another city. And that was liberated afterwards and that was Diriamba. And then Jinotepe, and then Granada. But the resistance of Masaya is one of the most well known, before the final insurrection, that’s when Monimbo, all the indigenous people kept the resistant for day during the Somoza, even when Somoza was in power. And that’s when a lot of the pictures of the Foreign Press took you know, that the one of them woman carrying the body, you know, and, but he was like, like, an example of a city is Masaya, Estelí. So, I was in five different cities Managua, Masaya, Jinotepe, Diriamba, and Granada.

JLB: And Granada.

MM: Granada was less.

JLB: And in all of them you were sort of guiding.

MM: Yes.

JLB: Foreign correspondents. Do you have sort of a, can you give us an idea who were these foreign correspondents? And and what was the reaction to what was happening at the time?

MM: I think the majority of foreign correspondents were pro change in Nicaragua, to, and were more sympathetic with the FSLN because of the dictator, the type of dictatorship and then, the type of commentaries that Somoza even said about the Foreign Press, and also about the killings like nothing’s happening. I’m not saying all of them, you know, so but hum. And also the persons that I remember is, for example, Alan Riding, Alma Guillermoprieto, Koen Wessing, who was a photographer. Then, there were Brazilian journalists really good Brazilian journalists and, and then photographers. And therewere people from the AP that I don’t remember their names, but there were a whole crew of people and the France Press, but the AP crew was, I mean, a lot of people they sent here to cover the war. And well, Susan Meiselas, Susan and then there was that John Hoagland. And there was some other journalists, Silio Boccanera. I have the names in our room, but none here. And there were a lot of people from Costa Rica, journalists from Costa Rica, because Costa Rica was, there was much solidarity. So they knew and they send lots lots of journalists here. And people from Panama, also and all French reporters. And English reporters.

JLB: From all over the world basically, right?

MM: Yes, there were a lot of journalists. The Intercontinental Hotel was controlled by the journalists.

JLB: And that’s how you met Richard Cross.

MM: Yes. I met Richard. Yes.

JLB: In that trajectory or?

MM: No, because I think he was in Leon. I think I met him afterward. Later. Yeah.

JLB: So you met him later, in Nicaragua.

MM: You know when he came to Nicaragua?

JLB: I’m not sure exactly at what point he came, he went to Nicaragua I think is, I just have the vague timeframe that says summer, but I don’t know when in the summer he was in Nicaragua so I don’t know exactly when, but he’s got to be around this time.

MM: There were incredible journalists, I mean, very more into doing an investigation about every single things people said, and try to follow up, you know, to say, when which is true, which isn’t true. So, but I remember meeting, Richard, but I don’t, I don’t have the dates.

JLB: Correct.

MM: Yes. But I think if you contact Carlos Rincón, he will give you more information.

JLB: Let me ask you this, in this road from Masaya to Granada right, that’s where that’s the geography that you’re talking about, what kinds of things you did with the foreign correspondents? How did you help them?

MM: In Masaya, they were, the correspondents would ask, you know, oh, for example, there was a huge school, a Catholic School for boys. And that’s where the first militia got together, you know, and they were trained and everything in order to defend around Masaya, and so they took pictures of that, they took pictures and, well, they did an interviews of people. Because like I told you Masaya for me was an example of a city on resistance but also city very well organized, in terms of trying to give equally the food, the distribution if there wasn’t any water, they would say, en barata, yo no se como se dice en barata, you know, los megafonos, que son camionetas. Sabes? Que dicen, buen, en lo pays nuestro, “Es muerto el”

JLB: Oh, they were doing like announcements?

MM: Well not not about that. I’m saying that the baratas would say, there’s a distribution in the comedor numero cinco, the meals are ready for the people.

JLB: So people went and they were announcing.

MM: Or the Red Cross, for example, has a certain types of things that they keep, you can cure all the blasts. And there’s this type of medicines, or things like that. They would say things. And there was like a radio, I was in charged also of the radio, you know, with some other guy. And so we did different things, is just not with the journals, journalists.

JLB: Did you take photos at the time?

MM: Yes. Almost all my pictures got lost. Because the system was that I would give the films to correo, correo that was, that was part of Frente. And those films would be developed in Costa Rica, or in the States, in San Francisco, or I don’t know. And they, they used them, but I never saw them back. You know, the

JLB: So you just took the photos and then somebody else was in charge of transporting them.

MM: So I got back some of the photographs because a guy told me “I think some of the pictures that you took are here. So you have to recognize them and tell them, tell me honestly, which was”

JLB: Which was yours.

MM: So I have some of those pictures. They’re survivors for the book. And and the ones are in my mind and in my heart.

JLB: All the others just probably are public domain.

MM: I know for sure until I die that I’m not scare but I don’t have the pictures.

JLB: Were you in danger at the time? Did you see some battles?

MM: Of course.

JLB: Yes?

MM: Yes.

JLB: Tell me a little bit about that. And what would what kind of experience you had.

MM: Well, for example, one of the most dangerous things for us was the bombings through airplanes because you never knew where they were going explode. In Managua was very heavy. So you see the photographs of the kids, it was a refugee place, a house, and on on the ceiling was written “refugee for little kids,” and that’s where they bombed, they bombed many houses, and those little kids were taken to this place that was a school. And they had a huge auditorium. And that was one of the worst cases because I saw a lot of kids die, and even their mothers.

JLB: So when they bombed, they knew there were kids.

MM: Yes. And, well, we had many situations, but the most risky ones were the ones in Managua, because the National Guard started trying to surround the areas that were liberated by the Frente Sandinista. And so there were a lot of repression. And also, what they did is they infiltrated people and young, young young soldiers 15, 14 years old, and they put those guys on the top of trees during the night. And so they had, they were snipers.

JLB: Oh.

MM: So during the day would kill. So you knew, like in a certain place, that you had to go running zigzagging.

PDH: Oh, wow.

JLB: So they couldn’t kill you?

MM: Yes

JLB: Because they were shooting.

MM: And the journalists knew about that. I said, “You cannot walk like nothing’s happening.” Because you don’t know which street.

JLB: You would find a sniper there.

MM: So there were many situations. But, Masaya was, there were lots of killings, but not as in Managua, but there were bombings also in Masaya. Because Somoza couldn’t, I think he couldn’t forgive that the insurrection before, Monimbo, was of resistance that took them days to get back the city, you know. And there was the indigenous people that kept the you know, the como la llama viva.

JLB: Keep it alive, right? Did you ever have to fight? Did you ever have to be involved in battle?

MM: In that final insurrection? No. I had my gun afterwards. You know, like I think in Masaya or

JLB: So in Masaya is when you get a gun.

MM: I think but I don’t remember.

JLB: Did you know how to shoot before that?

MM: Oh, yeah, we had training before, I had training. Yes.

JLB: So you had training about how to use arms? And how to.

MM: Yes.

JLB: How to

PDH: Training,

MM: Yeah, but I didn’t have to fire any until, until afterwards. It was in the 80s.

PDH: I was gonna say training in the newspaper, or where?

MM: No, no training by the FSLN. In different spots, you know, like farms, or in the mountains near the volcanoes, places that the National Guard wouldn’t be there, or check. But we had very, very much tough training. And even in the war, in Managua, we had training while the war was going on, in order that people would be prepared, you know. Like, for example, in Managua, the people, one of the guys that was in charge of the whole control of Manawa, he said, “Well, you have to leave Managua.” Whenever, when they move to Masaya. “You have to leave Managua and because you’re not somebody that is in danger, you know, so not too many people know that you’re involved with us.”

JLB: Correct.

MM: So that’s why I had to leave, you know, and when I went back, and it was very risky. But then, my problem, my problem was that my knees and my elbows had, you know, bruises and everything. So I went to a house, an abandoned house, okay, this is the story. What I did. I went to an abandoned house and I looked for a long sleeve shirt. And that skirt that I told you like menonita. Okay, and then I said I can not leave with   my camera, I have to hide my camera. Because if they see me with my camera, they’re gonna recognize me directly and say, you know, so what can I do? What I did is I put everything in a black, como se dice bolsa

JLB: A bag. All the films, my cameras, and I put it in an abandoned patio for house, wood stones and everything like it put. And then I left without nothing, you know, just nothing, nothing, nothing. And I felt, you know, well, I’m gonna lose everything. So I started walking, walking, and I went to my house and the day afterwards, I, I, well, during that day, or the day after there’s a neighbor, an old lady. And she said, “Margarita, is this true that you were near this neighborhood?” And I said, “Yes,” “I’m going to go there. Do you need something? You left things?” And I said “Yes.” “I can try to see if I can, what, what kind of things?” And she didn’t know it my cameras and my film.

JLB: Mm hmm.

PDH: Right.

MM: So the old lady went to the neighborhood and pull all the stones and the whole with a black bag. And he brought my cameras and my films.

PDH: Oh wow.

JLB: Wow.

MM: And that’s when I decided, yes, I’m going back to, I’m gonna go to Masaya with my cameras. And one of the conditions that I forgot to tell you, that that every journalist or photographer had to give me film, because I didn’t have film.

JLB: So that was a way for them to pay you for.

MM: Well, pay me no.

JLB: Reward you for your services. For being their guide. Do you remember the camera that when you were using the the time?

MM: Nikon.

JLB: Okay.

MM: And Nikkormat, at that time.

JLB: So you were using two cameras”

MM: Yes.

JLB: Hm hm.

MM: I still have them.

PDH: So when you were involved with the FSLN, can you talk about the women in the in the cause? What, kind of, like, what they did? How many were involved?

MM: Oh, there were a lot of women.

PDH: What kind of, like, I guess, what the type of work they did?

MM: There were, many of them, you know, that participated and had the same training or better even training than some of the men, but always the boss was the men. And just in one or few cases, very few cases, women were in charge of operations that they would get a whole city, to control the whole city. There was this case of Granada, Granada there was this case of Monica Baltodano that she took a group of combatientes, and then then she said “Well we’re going head to the headquarters of the National Guard.” So we went there, we were very few, and there were like houses, OK, like, you see like there’s a neighborhood, but all the houses would communicate from one to another. Very small houses. And so, we started walking, like the houses had small patios that communicated from one to another. And we started looking at uniforms of the National Guard, that were part, and then we would see people coming with civilian clothes, very young kids. And so, we did the

JLB: They were National Guards.

MM: Yes these are part of the National Guards. You know, they want to pretend that they’re civilians or want to disguise as civilians and leaving all their their uniforms there. So that was by the end of the war, you know, and that suddenly we went to a house and we start listening, you know, como se dice como, con el megafono?

JLB: With the, how do you call that stuff that you use for megaphone?

PDH: Megaphone thank you. See? So easy.

MM: And she opened the window, you know of that, and started listening to this guy, that is the chief of the National Guard in charge of Granada, and saying that he wants to surrender himself with his troop. And he said el Quartier Général, and then he says “I want to surrender myself.” And then she said, “Well, I’m here. I’m the, the commander in chief. And I’m with my troops here.” And then he started saying, “No, I want to surrender. But with a comandante

JLB: Oh, man.

MM: So that’s a huge battle you know, of words and things like that. So we part of that, and then suddenly, he kept saying the same thing, that he wanted to surrender himself to a comandante. And then, finally the comandante came to a place, but the person that received him, and you’re going to see the picture, did you see it?

JLB: No, I didn’t it, is it in the book? In the presentation?

MM: In the presentation.

JLB: I don’t remember.

MM: Ok, we have to look at it.

JLB: Hm hm.

MM: He surrenders to her. And then he goes and walks with his nephew and a niece something to the house where the comandantes are waiting with the the machos the you know, the, I’m saying machos, but they were comandantes. And that was the first time I think, when the all the surrenders, really, a woman controlled. And then, but also there was a huge battle in in Granada. And, but he had a lot of meaning about the machismo, you know, for him, a woman was not right.

JBL: Correct.

PDH: He didn’t want to surrender to a woman. So can you talk a little bit about Dora too? I know you spoke about her when we were doing metadata but, her position in the insurrection in Leon?

JLB: Dora Téllez.

MM: But I don’t know too much about Dora María. I know she was the one that was in charge. And, su Estado Major, como se llama? Como se dice?

PDH: Like, level, ranking?

MM: No, no. Estado Major is like, the guys in terms of ranking are, have such power.

JLB: They are below her but they are.

MM: There were a lot of women. And that was different from other citites, you know, not too many women were in the Estado Major. What I remember of of, well, first of all, this is the second largest city of of Nicaragua. And it was under control since they the first day you know, there never was like, Managua like it was in danger and it was a lot bigger. And and and there was also a lot of organizations. Oh, and also disorganization, you know, can you imagine everybody wanted to be boss and say, you know, “I have the power.” But in terms of her, I think she’s a very intelligent woman, that was able to, and and also had the experience to being in control in different situations before, like the the ones of the asalto al palacio, the 24th, the 22nd of August of 1978. And she’s the one that was in control of like, talking to Somoza, and dealing with him, and negotiating with him. And so, for her, and well, you could see different stuff that happened in different cities, but there was a control, and they knew how to, which parts or places to attack first and afterwards, in order to be liberating you know? Yes. I think for us, the Nicaraguans, she’s one of the smartest woman, as a warrior, as a soldier, but also somebody that politically can take decisions, you know? And what is really sad is that, the history doesn’t show that.

JLB: Correct.

MM: In terms of women, you know, that’s how I feel at least.

JLB: You have more questions:

PDH: Not now.

JLB: Not now?

PDH: Maybe it will come to me.

JLB: Don’t doubt it, just jump in.


JLB: We are back. Second part of Margarita Montealegre’s oral history.

PDH: So where we left off, I was asking you about the women’s participation in FSLN. So you can take it from where we left?

MM: Well, I think it’s important, you know, that question, at least for me as a woman. And, because lots of women that were part or they were the chief of the insurrection, the final insurrection in different cities, they’re hardly mentioned. They’re talking about the military, and they talk about men, but the ones that were in charge of the military and the civil organizations within the cities, they don’t talk about them, you know, their referrals are always male. And that continue to be that way. You know, it’s, for example, will I think I gave you the, the example over there were nine main members of the National directory, you know, Dirección Nacional, so none of them was a woman. And they never included one, until they lost the election, you know. So how can you feel that you’re included, you know, being from the other sex and you have so much struggle that you have gone through, in order to get your rights when the, all these males, they will always have, you know, their way of thinking, you know, a person with power or a person that has been recognized since history, you know, their grandfathers their fathers, and, and that’s how they inherited everything, you know, it’s just like, so, um, and even small rights. Like, for example, abortion was a big issue. And they didn’t allow it, you know, for many years. Or what else, well.

JLB: Equal pay.

MM: Equal pay, or, for, it was more acceptable to have another mate, that is from the same sex, that is a man, but if it was the case of a woman that was condemned, you know, during the revolution, not to go to jail, but it was something that would make fun of it, you know. So there were lots of things you know, about, and so I think, for us, and many of the women, and also the, the right of the land, for example, it’s acceptable for men to be the owner, but to, for a woman, they don’t see why a woman can handle and can manage the whole thing, how to deal with money and how to deal you know, with the harvest and whatever, you know. Because it’s not a women’s issue, you know, it’s hard for them to accept you know. And, well, I think little by little, especially the young generations have learned how to, to get those causes and made them theirs, you know. A lot of women now feel that, more and more they’re being represented by them. But before it was the man that were talking about women and what were their rights, you know. So that has changed a lot. And I think, well, just to give you an example also, besides being a journalist and part of the union of journalists that participates in catacumbas, I also was a member of an organization called the Association de Mujeres Nicaraguense Luisa Amanda Espinoza, AMNLAE, and before it was AMPRONAC. Association, before before the the revolution it was Asociación de Mujeres ante la Problemática Nacional. And that association was among women decided to do a whole thing against the the dicatorship, and against Somoza and to support the struggle of women toward the land, because the the dictators and dictatorship and his, come se dice aliados? Allies.

JLB: Allies.

MM: Were trying to get take away the land from her. So what. you know, things that usually woman, they’re not supposed to do, they took United Nations office in order to get the attention what was happening, you know, in the, so, Somoza sent the elites army from guided by his son to repress that park. But it was like an international issue because it’s an international organization. So I think, women, for us, at least I’m talking about my experience, it took me a lot of time to swallow, that we are in the right to decide whatever we want, that we don’t have, you know, like, how do you say a formula that if I get married, I’m going to be happy, or I should get married, otherwise, you’re not going to be successful. And if that if you study and you don’t have kids, also, you have a handicap, you know what I mean? Because they don’t tell the men that you know. So and the other thing I wanted to tell you is that many of the women that were in charge of the final insurrection like Dora María, Flor de María Monterrey, Dharma Lila Carrasquilla, women that were in charge, and you don’t listen too much about these women. Just when you see the people in the streets and say “Oh, this woman, she really has courage,” but when they say that the courage is compared to a man, you know,

PDH: Yeah. That’s true. So, and if you’re talking about history, there were many women that were very brave, but you see them after ’79 they were like the head of police, but they repeat what the national directory had to say about what they had to do. You know, it was it wasn’t the case of Dora María Téllez because she was the Minister of Health for many years. In the case of Flor de María Monterrey, because she was the head of of, she was in the National Assembly, but also then they put her in the history department that gathers all the documents and everything you know, after the revolution, in order to write about history and to do research and everything. So, and and you can see, well and then you compare to the young people that had participation and were women, there were hardly mentioned in history. So when you read books, you read the books about Nicaragua, they’re talking about commanders, you know?

PDH: Yeah.

MM: So, at least that’s the way I see. And it was a sin to say in Nicaragua for many “Well, I’m not willing to, to fall in love with somebody or get married because everybody wants to,” you know, I’m gonna do it. So it was something that is established, and if you don’t do it, that’s not right, you know. So you’re against the current. So I think that has changed. And I think Nicaragua is, not as much as we would like to, but Nicaragua is one of the countries in Central America that that’s headed. And it’s very advanced in terms of saying, you know, where we have so many killings, of feminicides, you know, in this country, and the womens are the ones that do the research, the women are the ones that show the cases and look for support and made those cases up to the public. And the public will know what amount of violence when men can live and can cope with it.

JLB: Let me let me put you back to the revolution time. Once the revolution succeeds, then what happened to you?

MM: Tic toc tic toc. Oh, well, the first thing that they, I was at the at the army, you know, when the, well I have to tell you some stories about the day of the revolution.


MM: I’m going to tell to the students, but you know, due to, because I was photojournalist I knew the bunker where Somoza lived or and I knew his massage,  masajista come se dice?

JLB: Masseuse.

MM: Masseuse. Yes. His masseuse used to be my mother’s masseuse at the clinic she had for facials.

JLB: That’s amazing.

MM: And Somoza’s lover used to be my mother’s client, you know? And she found this masseuse, so she convinced her to be Somoza’s official masseuse. So it was an incredible lady, she’s still alive. And this woman, we loved her, you know, was very honest woman, very humble. So what what happened? It’s, I’m just going to tell you a story about this woman. She, Alan Reininger, you remember that I told you?

PDH: Yes.

MM: I think it was him that took a picture of, they allowed, Somoza allowed him to come to his bunker while they’re doing, they were doing his massage. And well, it became publicly you know, that everybody’s saw that picture of this woman giving massage to Somoza. So, the first thing they do when the revolution won, you know, when it was over you know the Somoza regime, is look for the woman. Okay, forget about Somoza, because Somoza had left the country and capture her because, what was her sin? Being Somoza’s masseuse. So, I had to intercede you know, with people, and say “This woman has, that was her job.” And it was recently that she got into that, you know. So, so little stories like that, so, but also about the bunker, because I had gone to some interviews, you know, with Somoza, that they asked me to take pictures, and, with the allowance of La Prensa of course, you know, I went with the Brazilian journalist. And, well, I got to know very well  the bunker you know, where Somoza’s office was. And then Somoza, when the revolution happened, you know, and the first thing the first thing we went is, was to his office and so they didn’t know how to get there. Because it was a way, the the office or the walls were cover with leather, the same leather, is like the bunker, you know when explodes, you know what a bunker is?

PDH: Yeah.

MM: Okay. And so, como se dice la manilletta? It was like hide.

JLB: The handle?

MM: Yes, the handle was hide among those, all that leather, you know, that was brown. So there were a lot of people and we open and I said “This is the way to get in.” And then, and then, what’s incredible to get into the bunker, it was that there was a radio going, and they could hear very loud the National Guard asking for help from different parts of Nicaragua and they said “General, can you respond? General Can you respond?” And then the guy, one of the guys said, “Well, the general is gone. And this is the Frente Sandinista,” you know. So, and then the other thing, the tale of the bunker is that there were so many pictures, they were ripped apart before he left, in order that they want, they didn’t want ,you know, like, we say in Spanish to burn faces, it means to, to show who their allies were, you know, or the people that were very close. But they didn’t finish that. So all these pictures were around his desk. And then a lot of, what was incredible a lot of persons start getting to the, you know, to this desk. Because those were the persons that were guerrilleros.

PDH: Mm hmm.

MM: So, for me it was an incredible experience, you know, to see, when they changed power. But among all these people, you didn’t see any woman.

JLB: Really

MM: Just me while taking pictures. And the journalists you know, but I mean, because a lot of women were in charge of like, I can tell you a bunch of them, you know? And what’s incredible about the women before the revolution, this Association of Women is they were able to gather people that had worked in offices, people that were peasants, people that were workers, and they all were were women. And the main slogan that had is “Donde estan nostros hermanos campesinos?” Because a lot of the peasants had disappeared. And that was like the cry, como se dice el llanto, el grido?

JLB: The cry? What you said.

MM: Yes, of the mothers and the women looking for their kids, their husbands. And that became something afterwards even when they kill Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, they had a big banner, saying, you know, where are nostros hermanos campesinos? Well, for, for us, well, as Nicaraguans, it was very important, even though she was, she was a woman, but she wasn’t somebody that would be, you know, in order to change a lot of the things that we think they should be to have changed, to have a woman that is a mother. And it was a present when Violeta Chamorro became to power you know, and I think things change little by little, in a way, because of, there were more participation of women in the ministers of health. But even during the revolution, you know, so I think that’s very important, but you know, it’s not due to revolution, that the woman were power, you know, because they the ones that were in power and taking the decisions were man. And you can tell by the time that had passed, that is not the same thing. You know, if you have been brought up that you are always right, and the man is the one that has the power, and takes the decision.

PDH: Right.

MM: And nobody, you know, would really even discuss or say something that might be controversial, doesn’t want to have any contradictions that can. So, I think that’s a little better, that it is changing. But right now, I think it’s very important, for example, like the movement, no more killings no more femicides. And that has become a group of women and associations that went to make public what’s going on in terms of violence against women, against children, because there are consequences of all that violence that children are witnessing. So I think, also, that women are, are changing little by little, they preconception about how we are supposed to be, like in a role model, you know. And that’s why the big challenge is, has to do with to study more, to specialize and to speak out.

PDH: Absolutely.

JLB: And then what happened with Margarita, after the revolution?

MM: Oh, during the revolution, I started. Well, I was at the bunker, you know,

PDH: Right.

MM: And I decided, you know, I’m going to stay at the bunker, nearby, with the army, the new army, and I’m going to stay there. And then suddenly, somebody told me, “I heard you at the radio, they they call you on the radio” “On the radio?” “That you need to go to the newspaper,” it was called Barricada. “And you have to go there.” And I said, “I didn’t hear that. I don’t think so.” “No Margaritas, swear to God, you have to go.” And I said, “Nooo.” I felt you know, like the revolution was over. So I had to rest you know, in my mind. So, and then, the next day, I had to go to Barricada, which before was the newspaper of Somoza,, Novedades. And that’s when I show up to, talked to Carlos  Fernando Chamorro, who was my friend, and we worked at La Prensa together. So I told him, you know, “Well they said, you’re calling me to, to be here.” And he said, in Spanish, “Fresca, I’ve been calling you.” And I said, “Oh, my God,” you know, so that’s when I went with my camera. They gave us film, and I start taking pictures again for the paper. And a huge thing for me in terms of discovery is that I was at the paper trying to clean up and get rid of a lot of stuff with another bunch of workers, but I mean, we’re talking two or three days after the revolution. And suddenly, I see lots of boxes, empty boxes, and say, let’s get rid of this, and then start with like, the third box, you know, it was heavy. And then we open it, and it was full of negatives from Novedades. And they they didn’t even use, you know, like, envelopes to put the negative. They just put like masking tape around here. Masking tape and saying, for example, March April 1979. Okay.

PDH: So what kind of images did you did you guys find?

MM: Oh, lots of important images. Because remember, you don’t have to forget, La Prensa was bombed.

PDH: Mm hmm.

MM: So there were no images or record of images besides this other newspaper.

PDH: Yeah.

MM: So for example, Asalto al Palacio with Dora María and Hugo Torres. They had their own point of view, but that’s the point of view of them, of a fact that happened. And nobody else was gonna give us to us, you know, give us those kind of images and also a lot of pictures of the dictator and his life, regular life, which is important. But at that time, nobody saw it like that. So I took the boxes to my house and start cleaning each one of them and cutting, and try to recognize with Novedades what is going on, besides my job. And Carlos was with me and he said “Do it because.” And now they’re, those are in some archives, at the Universidad Centroamericana.

JLB: Centroamericana, mm hmm.

MM: But that’s important because, a lot of things that we never thought would be in those types of archives, you know. But what was incredible everything was going to be, I mean, dumped away because we thought, you know, were empty boxes.

JLB: You saved the visual memory of the country.

MM: Of that part of it. For me was very important, it was like, I mean, this is a goldmine, you know, it’s just. Because there were lots of things about them, you know, that was very interesting. And they had those images, I don’t know if they preserve all of them because nobody, there was an institution that was very serious in terms of not touching because the natural director or somebody would say, “I need something,” they wouldn’t return the negatives

JLB: Oh, they would take the negatives and not return them.

MM: So after the revolution, I worked I think three years for Barricada, three or four years, and then I work on and off with them you know, the when they ever they needed, but also with different organizations, especially Dirección Nacional, I was their main photographer. So I traveled within the country, very official. And then and then I I went to this international, to Institute of History, and I worked with them all negatives and things that they had, in order to recognize specially before the revolution, recognize the archives that they had, or people had donated a lot of, people started donating a lot of images and things like that. And then I work for the Department of Propaganda of Frente.

JLB: She is going pretty fast, you realize that?

MM: Mm?JLB: You’re going pretty fast, so what what happened in Barricada?

MM: In Barricada, well, we

PDH: I meant like her voice too fast.


MM: Ah, in Barricada

JLB: She is gonna come now.

MM: Well in Barricada, we had to cover every single day was news because new ministers, new institutions, and for example, that picture, of the currency.

PDH: Oh, yes.

MM: Yes. That picture was in March of 1980. And that picture, it was because a friend of mine was in Carazo, Jinotepe. And she said, we were visiting and we’re doing a coverage of Jinotepe or something else. And then she said “There’s place, you know, that they were going to take some land, that has been abandoned. And these peasants want to put, you know, like little sticks with their name.” So that’s how they picture, and then we went in a truck, back in a truck, looking for the peasants. And they were putting, like the little sticks with their names, and then they did the march. And I was in the camioneta, back of the truck, taking pictures of that. And the signs says “No somos aves – we are not birds to live from the earth. We are not

JLB: Fish,

MM: Fish to live from water, the water. We’re meant to live from the the land.” It’s kind of controversial at the time because fish and even birds, you know, it’s something but it was on a una frase como se dice? Phrase?

JLB: A phrase, mm hmm.

MM: A phrase that a peasant that got killed said. And so that became like, an icon in terms of, like a photograph, you know, because people feel that they were represented in order to get a piece of land, to have their own, and well, the story behind the story, like I told you, is that if you see the whole picture, you’re gonna see on this left side, a little kid,

JLB: A little boy, mm hmm

MM: Yeah, a little boy, like eight years old or nine. And the boy in the, in the, on the on the bill is wiped out. So they erased him, you know?

PDH: Yeah, who would?

MM: Because, I don’t know, maybe they didn’t didn’t think he had the merits, you know, because he was young, in order to get the land. I don’t know, what’s the decision but you know, but

PDH: Yeah,

MM: The original picture has this kid. And then, and then also, searching those pictures, in that picture with the enlarger, there’s one or two women, but behind?

PDH: Did he put them behind? No, I don’t I don’t remember that.


MM: But you know, but they’re, well, the number of women didn’t represent the population,

PDH: Of course

JLB: Of the women in the countryside, yes.

MM: Because mainly, the women are the head of the production, in many parts of Nicaragua, especially in the countryside. So after that, I worked for the, the Institute of History. And then after that, but while, I had the same job of covering for the National Director, you know, that would they, wherever they wanted to me to go, so I had to travel sometimes, but also I had to, I had to work with them, this Institute of History, and then they Institute for History decided that I should be the, I would should work in the Department of, of Propaganda. So I worked also taking pictures of you know, the production, mines and things like that, that they thought was important in terms of coverage. And then after that, I worked as the Director of the Museum of the Revolution, which was an incredible experience, you know, to get objects, little things that represented part of the history of the revolution. And that people donated, that museum disappeared after the revolution, because nobody knows where things went, you know, I didn’t, I wasn’t there anymore, but that’s what they say. So,

PDH: For how long was the museum open?

MM: All the 10 years. The revolution. Yeah. But like, I had to leave the country because I got married, had my kid and my my ex husband was doing a master’s degree. And then when I came back, I continue to be being a photographer. No, when I came back, I was in the States when they lost the revolution, you know, the the elections. And there was a huge change in terms of like Violeta Chamorro. But besides that, I was mobilize, mobilizada se dice?

JLB: Mm hmm

MM: Three times in the war in different. So in 82, 84, 83, with soldiers. The first one, where I was like the only, two, we were just two other women there. And the other one, I was the only one. And the other mobilization for three months. So we, when you listen about the war, you never hear too many stories of how women dealt with it.

JLB: And those mobilizations.

MM: But all the time I had my camera. So, some of the pictures of the book that have survived, because I don’t have the negatives, it’s because of people had scanned them, or had given to me, you know.

JLB: So, what was the purpose of the mobilizations? Was that for defending the country?

MM: Yes, well basically

JLB: To contrast the Contras in the north?

MM: But, and then then the training was very tough. And, like for us in Managua, they would say you know, there were there weren’t too many Contras. And since ’82 in the book you’re gonna see some of the Contras that were captured. But because they, they attacked the place where we were that is Jalapa very close to Honduras. And yes, well, that’s when the, I think the, there were starting with huge aid. Not big, big, big from the States toward the Contras. The Contras were small groups that didn’t agree about, of course with their land taken off them

JLB: Correct.

MM: Yes. Then I had another mobilization that was in coffee plantation, and then another one. And well, what they said is, they did you should be mobilized at that time, because you didn’t participate in the work, but that wasn’t my case

JLB: Correct you participated in the war.

MM: Yeah. So not not everything was like that, you know, very equally. But I don’t regret, I don’t regret. I mean, I I regret that the policy wasn’t equal for everybody.

JLB: Correct.

MM: But I think that shaped my my life, you know, in terms of seeing things that wouldn’t have seen the way I saw it, because I lived them, you know, and I coped with it. And I, and nobody told me.

JLB: Did you did you see battle?

MM: Yes.

JLB: So you actually you were in combat?

MM: Yes. There. Yes.

JLB: Could you give us an example of

MM: Okay.

JLB: One combat situation?

MM: Well, the one of ’82, we were in Neyapa, which was a land that was next to huge river, you know. And it was just a small house. And then another house that was like, this American guy that used to live there, and he didn’t live there anymore. He abandoned that. He had like another place, where he had his kitchen, that was it. And well all these troops came there. And we, one day, by two, three o’clock in the morning, we start listen to fire. And they were attacking. That was the first, that was in’82, an attack of people that were Contras. And, or people that resent the revolution, but they were organized by the Contras, and they attacked. The guy that was, you know, like como se dice haciendo guardia?

JLB: Oh, he was

PDH: Guarding?

JLB: He was guarding, but he was, all the other people sleep, right, all the other people were sleeping?

MM: Yes, like watching,

JLB: Watching, watchmen or watch?

PDH: Something like that, yeah.

MM: So this guy, he was with me, at 2am when we started listening to the fire, he got killed.

JLB: Wow.

MM: And then, there was, an exchange of fire, incredibly. And then, I remember by 7am, you know, the helicopter, trying to save the, all the people that were wounded. And, and the people that were, that they captured. But but also there was messages for the women when we were in war. That, for example, in my case, I’m talking personally about, because you’re fat, you’re not you cannot get up to the hill. Or because you’re a woman, you’re too weak, you know? So and, so for us first was a plus effort in order to say “Yes, I can do this.” So, so that’s what happened. Well, and many of the women, like for the literacy campaign was incredible the amount of students, thousands and thousands of students went to places where they gave literacy and or they learn or they taught how to read and how to write to the peasants, or people that could not read or write, even in the cities. And there was one huge, huge organization, and the guy that was in charge of that was the priests Fernando Cardenal. And, and, and also well, during all that time I had to cover official programs, and also to be, well coverage of a, in the mountains, you know, things that had to do with production. Or attacks, you know, that were held in different parts of the country.

JLB: And you were, you said you were also in Central America and other countries, right?

MM: Yeah, I was in Salvador, that’s the only place in Central America.

JLB: Could you tell us a little bit why?

MM: Because Barricada sent me.

JLB: they sent you for a good number of weeks, months, or just days?

MM: No, a number of times. Bueno, well, when Salvador started uprising, you know. And, and the last time we were is, well, after, we were the last time I think, well, one or three or four – I don’t know how many times we went to El Salvador. And, the last time it was when they killed Monsignor

JLB: Monsignor Romero

MM: So, because I know him, I had known him. I had been asking ,and going to see you know, if they, he would have ,he would give us you know, an interview for  Barricada. And I kept insisting insisting until he said yes. So, um, and he gave the, he gave us the interview. He gave us the interview and that was two days before they kill him.

PDH: Wow.

MM: And we were there for the big mass. Okay, after they kill him, you know, and there was a lot of repression when they kill lots of people, you know,  I’m not, I don’t think journalists but a lot of people you know, and I was at the cathedral when a lot of people die because of asfixia, asfixia? Como se dice?

JLB: They were asphyxiated.

MM: Asphyxiated. And there is a famous picture of a photographer that I don’t recall the name, that when you see outside of the plaza, you see hundreds of shoes, like a small mountain of shoes.

MM: Correct, those were people that were running.

MM: Mm hmm. No, no, but it was like a mountain that they left the shoes. And a lot of people died.

JLB: Correct.

MM: Yes.

JLB: So but you were, you were at the cathedral when they killed Monsignor?

MM: No, I wasn’t in the cathedral.

JLB: Okay.

MM: I was in Salvador.

JLB: Okay.

MM: And then, we get out of the cathedral after that repression of the, when they, all bishops from different parts of Central America came for his burial. And what happened is that, well people try to save themselves and, and that’s where they get asphyxiated. Okay, but afterward, they were allowing us to go, one by one. And when we went out, the people from Nicaragua, and Barricada, we got a gun here. And saying “You’re going directly to the Nicaraguan embassy, and you’re going to leave the country right away.”

JLB: And how did they know that you were from Barricada?

MM: Or they knew. They knew because I went to the presidency of, I knew the president. And with the journalists, we had to make interviews and everything. So they, they really have an incredible system of security in terms of repression. They had at that time, I don’t know how to do this right now. But yes, and then for example, for me, being in El Salvador, the difference was huge compared to Nicaragua. Because the battles there were like you were in the middle of the war. Like, for example, you were in the middle of a demonstration, and suddenly you would see and airplane, an [incomprehensible]  These and, from the guerrilla side, and being part of the marchers or whatever, and then the, the army attacking. So you will get caught in the middle you know, as. So Salvador was one of the most dangerous place I have ever experienced.

JLB: In which areas of Salvador where you taking photos?

MM: Many many, one was Mejicanos, and some others. But like, when there was the massacre at the university also, we went there.

JLB: Mm hmm, so you did a lot of

MM: I knew, I knew Juan Chacon, I knew many of the people that got killed during that time. Until they told me, you know, you cannot go back for a while. So.

PDH: At this point, wait, what year is it?

MM: No me recuerdo cuando lo mataron el.

JLB: And now let me move you forward to, you said, you, you get married after you were director of the museum, right?

MM: Yes.

JLB: You get married. And then you left the country.

MM: I was married while I was the director,

JLB: While you were the director, and then you went you left the country, right?

MM: I left the country for a year.

JLB: Okay.

MM: And that’s when the revolution left, lost the the elections.

JLB: The election, that was 1990.

MM: Yes. 1989.

JLB: 1989. Yes, that’s true.

MM: 1989, because, I went there and then in 1990 was when they Violeta Chamorro

JLB: Won the election.

MM: Assumed the presidency.

JLB: The presidency.

MM: Si.

JLB: And when you came back then

MM: Okay, when I came back,

JLB: What happened?

MM: What do you think happened?

PDH: What do I think happened when you came back?

MM: Aha

PDH: You grabbed the camera?

MM: No, I always had my camera. I would never leave my camera. Not for a husband, not for anybody. He knew that. Well, when I came back, I decided that I had to redefine, I reinvent myself in something else in order to survive. And well, I had to help friends, you know, like saying, well, we’re gonna do, have some, kindergarten, you know, they’ve had studied education. And then they said, “Well, why don’t you take pictures of little kids?” You know, like, and I said, “No, I’m a war correspondent.” You know, a photojournalist. “No, Margarita, times have changed.” And I said, well, and that’s how I started doing my own business, you know. While taking pictures of little, little schools, and I bought my studio lights. And I started taking pictures. And I was getting money. And then I had people that known me for a long time and wanted me to take pictures of weddings. And I said “No way I’m gonna take pictures of weddings,” and then, then they they insisted so much, that they said, “Just for this case, Margarita, just for my daughter, do it.” And that’s how I started taking pictures. But I’m gonna say it in Spanish. I, I took pictures, and I was with a friend of mine, a camarografo, you know, como se dice camarogra? Cameraman. And, and then I asked him, you know, where are you working? No, no. Where are you working? And then he said, he asked me “Where were you working?” And I said, I’m doing, I’m doing weddings, weddings. And then he said, “No, you’re working for the BBC.” Bodas, bautizos y comuniones.


MM: And then, I used to tell my students, and then I started also teaching photography at the university. So, and the students would say “Margarita, profe, where are you working?” And I said “At the BBC” “What a good job. You must be getting lots of money.” And I said, “Of course, bodas, bautizos y comuniones.”

PDH: Because there is always bodas, bautizos y comuniones.

MM: And that’s how I survived that 90s you know, and then well

JLB: But you were teaching as well.

MM: Yeah, I was teaching, I was passionate about teaching because

JLB: Where you teaching at the Universidad?

MM: At de los Jesuitas.

JLB: De los Jesuitas de Nicaragua?

MM: Si, in the 90s yes. And then we didn’t have film, we had lots of problems but, we had to copy, make slides, it took, it a was a lot of money you know because of

JLB: It’s an expensive endeavor right? Photography? It used to be at least.

MM: It is, it is. Well, because we had to show slides and everything, all the books that I bought when I was at the ICP, and they were part of my collection. I had to show them you know. Okay, this is

JLB: Were you teaching photography or were you teaching photojournalism?

MM: No, photography.

JLB: Okay.

MM: But I taught a lot about photojournalist, photojournalism and photo documentary.

JLB: So those kids were getting a good education.

MM: I think so, they still call me profe. Otherwise. They didn’t call me BBC. I don’t know. I have many of my students, some of my students, that are photographers now.

JLB: For how long did you teach there?

MM: Oh, I think, on and off like 10 years. Yeah.

JLB: And you were doing the BBC on the side?

MM: Of course. Yes. Because I got divorced, I had more responsibilities in terms of well, my kids lived with me and, and things were equally in terms of economically, you know.

JLB: Were you able, during this decade, to create your own projects and try to work on something that he was not necessarily weddings or or First Communions?

MM: Not that much, but well,

JLB: Maybe with your students?

MM: With my students, well the project is to support and to try to push them to do projects about things that they would never think about. Prostitution. Mines, or contamination, or homeless people. Or even, well, they did one, one of the teachers, there was always como se dice enamorando?

PDH: Falling in love?

JLB: No, he was the opposite, doing the opposide, making people fall in love with them.

MM: Yeah. Like flirting with the students and one of my students followed him and took pictures of that, and put it in the exhibit. And he was so cinic, he looked at the pictures, “Oh, very interesting.”

JLB: Exposing all those professors that were.

MM: So, and then well, it was good, because even people that didn’t even have resources and lived, you know, their families very far away from Managua. They made stories, documentary stories about, the woman, the women, how they survive with the little stones that they have to crack into making to pieces. But what happens is their eyes get too much sun, that they can become blind.

JLB: Blind.

MM: So there were many stories, very interesting stories about them. They were looking at was something that wasn’t easy. And the university wanted to kill me because, you know, they they said, “Well, they’re going to where they dump, you know, the trash.” And I said, “That’s okay with me.”

JLB: Of course.

MM: “I’m gonna go with them.” So, but it was good. It was good because it was a challenge. And I was like, reinventing myself in something that I like, and I was more, with, with the help of the energy of the young, you know,

JLB: Correct.

MM: And new ideas, of how these people, and how, it was interesting for me also to see them, how they saw the people that were involved in, in the revolution, you know. And how they qualified us, you know, they say, “How could you be, how did you survive?”

MM: But they had to story and they, a lot of them had to read the Susan Sontag, On Photography.

JLB: On Photography. Yeah, mm-hmm.

MM: And a lot of them, you know, like, I had the books, I had to scan the books and show them pictures. Because at that time,

JLB: Correct.

MM: To show them you know, like, different masters you know, how they did their stories, you know? And, and then this in 2011 is that when I’m, 2010, when I went to Hampden Sydney. Because 2004 also, I went to 2004 to the Fulbright.

JLB: So 2004 Fulbright, you get a Fulbright.

MM: 2002 until 2004.

JLB: To go and do what? A master’s degree?

MM: A master’s degree, on photography.

JLB: Where did you go?

MM: What university?

JLB: Mm-hmm.

MM: Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond,

JLB: And why did you choose that university?

MM: I didn’t choose it. I had three options, and I put the three options, that’s the one that they say they can afford.

JLB: That’s the one that accepted you?

MM: No, they accepted me at the other ones but the one that they could afford,

JLB: That Fulbright could afford.

MM: And I said, “Okay, I don’t care I’m gonna go.”

JLB: You went with your kids?

MM: Yeah, no, I went with my daughter.

JLB: With your daughter only.MM: Yes.JLB: To do your to do your master’s degree. So, what, what did you learn there? And how did you focus your education? When you were

MM: Okay. Well, for me what was important once I got there, to go to the library and read more about foremost photography, which I was coming from the opposite way, from the practicing.

JLB: Correct, you were practitioner photographer before.

MM: Okay, and, and it was trying, it wasn’t easy because to, I had to open my mind in terms of seeing what studio photography, what it meant for them. And conceptual photography, contemporary photography, and whatever photography that I had no idea. All my, como se llama, companeros de clase,

JLB: Colleagues.

MM: My colleagues would choose erotism, exotism, whatever, you know, it’s just like, I went like this “Oh!”. And for them, the war was “Oh!””. So, I decided, once I got to Richmond, it took me a while to think that I, first I was looking for social photography. But then I said, I have to know what this city is all about. So I’m going to try to see if they allowed me, and to get in some people’s houses. And that’s how I began and do with the help of a friend that I I met through an email, email that she worked for the, I thought she worked for the major, but she was doing like a consulting thing. And she started answering me things about Richmond, I hadn’t even had to Richmond. 

PDH: Mm-hmm.

MM: And I said, “Well, I’m gonna go there.” And I want to know if you know, any neighborhood that I could write and ask if, permission if I could do a documentary of this neighbors. And then she said, “No, no, there’s no problem. We’re gonna do that once you get here.” So she talked, she sent a letter. So all this neighbors, her neighbors, and one of the neighbors said “Yes.” And the other one said, “Yes, you should say yes to her.” And then the other one said, “Yes, yes, open the door. There’s no problem.” And that’s I started taking pictures of the daily life of them. And they invited me to the event, their events with their kids and things like that. So we’re in Halloween and in, so these people also introduced me to some other people from other universities that had some other events. So it was more like trying not to do something that I was preconcebido.

JLB: Preconceived.

MM: It was something that I was like, surprised, this is what’s going on here. And then I saw the differences in terms of races also you know, because the African American lived in one side, the middle class. So I started exploring, and in my way exploring was walking on the city. And then because I got to know a lot of people, I talked to one of the priests that spoke Spanish perfectly, he was a Jesuit. And he lived in Honduras. And I started going mass, to mass with my daughter because she wanted to go, and then that’s how I met him. And he, this guy said, you know, what’s your name? And I said, my name is Margarita Montealegre. And he said, “That’s strange.” There’s a Mixteco woman, her name is like that. And I said “Mixteco? Woman? Her name is Margarita Montealegre?” “I’m going to introduce you to her.” And so she, he, he introduced me to her, which was a young woman, you know? And then I asked her, “Is your name Margarita Montealegre and it si Mixteco?” And then she said “Yes, because my father found that name. And he liked that.”

JLB: He liked that name!

MM: And so I started exploring the Mixteco lives of these people that live on trailers. Whenever they allowed me to do that, so they opened the doors. And I followed them a little bit, when whenever they said, you know, they went to buy things. And then, also what it really connected and connected me with the city was, there were a lot of cultural activities. So I did follow cultural activities. Well, I loved Halloween, for example, for me, because we don’t celebrate Halloween. And for me, I think it’s mixtures of cultures. And there’s a freedom of a lot of people to participate, most of the different races to be on the street and say, well, we can be on the richest neighborhood on to the other neighborhood. And it doesn’t matters. It’s like a freedom day that there are no boundaries, you know.

JLB: Correct.

MM: Mm-hmm. So for me, I really loved it, and because of the kids being involved in that gave them a lot of life.

JLB: What, how, how your photos were received in Richmond? Did you show them in Richmond?

MM: Oh, yes, very controversial.

JLB: Why?

MM: Because, for example, one of the pictures that I told you, I used to go to an African American fair. And walked there, I used to go with my daughter, you know, to different places. And I suddenly I said, I saw this studio, photo studio outside, you know, and this guy taking pictures, and then I see these three girls with their grandmother, and then they’re sitting there, and then then they said, “Grandma, we want to picture,” I said, “This is my opportunity to take a picture.” And the the background was, like two or three jaguars, with also the car. And then, so that I asked the grandmother, I had the whole sequence, you know. And I took pictures of the whole sequence, you know, and well, every month we had like a critique, you know. Okay. In the critique I come very innocent, you know, with my pictures of Halloween in black and white and these things in whatever you know, and the African American fair. And then, suddenly the the only African American guy that is there, get so upset and angry with me, because he said to me that I made it everything up, you know, from that picture with the background? And I said, “Are you sure?” “Yes, you did with Photoshop,” and I said, “Excuse me, I don’t even know Photoshop.” And these people are my witnesses, they know, I don’t know anything about Photoshop, and I’m not planning on learning right now. And and then he was really angry said, “No, you made, that’s a very racist photograph, you know, of these three girls.” And then I said, “Okay, wait a minute, hold it.” And I went to, como se dice mi armadio?

JLB: The closet.

MM: My closet. There was also where we had the critique. And I bring all thes prints that I had, you know. And I said, “Well, this is the photographer. This is the background, you can see the background? Okay. And these are the three girls that wanted a picture, and her grandmother paid for that. And I thought it was a great image of somebody that spontaneously. So I’m not thinking about the Jaguars word because they’re black. That’s on your mind. And I said, that’s on your mind. And so that’s the way you see things. But I’m gonna seeing things like that, at least, that wasn’t my intention.”

PDH: Mm-hmm.MM: “But I didn’t made it up, you know, the background, and I want to prove it with this.” So what did he say? Oh, it became very controversial, he was very angry at me. But people, well said “It is true, you know, what she does is she works on the streets, and she takes pictures, is always with her camera.” And that in Richmond, brought me to other places that I had to go or somebody would give me a ride, or I would take bus, you know, and take pictures to try and to get, you know, how, how the South it is, you know, it’s nothing that you can describe, you know. There is racism, it is truth. They don’t like Latino, they don’t like Latinos in Richmond, at that time, the Latinos would hide, you know, you could hear them at the university. They were painting. And I could hear that would, they would talk in Spanish, but not loud. It’s not what like Washington or some other places you know.

JLB: Mm-hmm.

MM: So, so that’s how I started and I made a lot a lot of contacts because I worked, I worked all the time.

JLB: Correct.

MM: And, and people would, I mean, I, I started to think, you know, “I cannot be all the time having like prejudices about how people are gonna think because I’m a Latina, because I come from Nicaragua, because I come from the word. People have to think, whatever they want. And I have to think whatever I want. But in order to do that, I don’t have to be all the time, you know, like, prejudging. Like, usually they prejudge me.

JLB: Correct. And this is the first time that you’re carrying out a project, or series of projects that are not assigned to you. And that you have to sort of come up with the with the idea. How did you develop them? Did you think about the project beforehand? Did you just decided I’m gonna do and be nosy into the houses or try to be intimate with, with the people. What was your thought process behind behind your projects?

MM: Well, the first project of the houses was to, to know something that was intimate and it was risky, also, because people feel a little bit uncomfortable. So I tried to talk to the people and see if the, they say “We don’t want you here.” That’s okay. But I think what helped me is what, like one neighbor would recommend me to the other neighbor. And the other neighbor said, “Well, I’m going to go to a national fair.” And sometimes you know, people say, “Well, Margarita, I don’t feel like you come today, but you can come another day.” So I tried to be opened you know, I didn’t feel like I resented that, you know, it is just like, well, this is a challenge for me, but it’s a way to break barriers and to get to know a place that I had people that tell me you know, you’re never going to be able to do that. And so also also I used my part of knowledge about photojournalism, for example. I wanted to cover the debuttants’s party or festivity that they have in the University of Richmond. And I had a friend that knew another friend and I said, “How can I get there?” And so, they told me, you know, all the people that I had to write until they said, “Yeah,” I kept insisting insisting, and I said, “Debutants? In this time!” You know, I couldn’t believe that, you know. But I went there. And they allowed me and they. What’s incredible, I’m going to tell you another story about. There’s a picture of a woman kissing her boyfriend. And the two guys here,

JLB: I saw that.

MM: Okay, that, that woman a, she was, I think, a Freshman at the university. And I asked her for her name and everything, you know, and then she called me because one of her friends was helping my daughter and she knew. And then I said, you know, “Lauren –  it was her name- I have a picture of you, and your boyfriend kissing each other, you know, and I would like to give it to you.” And is she said, “I cannot believe this. He just asked me to marry him today, you know?” And so I sent the picture. And well, there weren’t there wasn’t any was happening. Nothing. You know, I just sent the picture. And she was happy. You know, it’s just like. And, well I did that, and I, I tried to cover a little bit, you know, well, it wasn’t too risky. Because I was always alone.

JLB: Correct.

MM: So, but it was a good experience, because I talked to the people.

JLB: Where you’re the only international student that came from a developing country in the program?MM: Uh, huh.

JLB: Did you have, did you struggle with your point of view? I’m assuming at this point, you,

MM: Of course.

JLB: You have a clear point of view, because you are looking really, is the reverse colonialism? Right? Most of these photographers that went to Nicaragua or other places they can be as noisy as they want, they can be as intimate as they want. Right? And there’s some kind of aesthetic that goes with them. Did do you face some resistance to your point of view?

MM: Well, from the dean, I did.

JLB: Tell me a little bit about it.

MM: Oh, because, when I show him the critique, you know, all these pictures of the fairs and this and that, you know, and then, one of the comments he said to me is, you know, what surprises me about you, that you keep on taking pictures of stupid people. And I said, “Okay, you know what?” I said, “I have met so many people in my life, like presidents, Pope. And I think, for me, I rather be with stupid people. So that’s my choice, it is my project, is my time, is my scholarship.” And afterwards, he apologized because it became a scandal at the university.

JLB: Because other people listened to him telling you that. So he told you that in public.

MM: Oh, at the critique? Yeah.

PDH: Wow.MM: Yes, because, and then he said that I was, the letter, he wrote me a letter to recommend me that that was, I was one, no, that I was the best, I, it wasn’t true you know,  that I was the best in the program that he remembered. I want to show you the

JLB: Cause in a way you challenged him, right. You challenged his?

MM: And I feel okay. I say. So I feel okay taking pictures of stupid people.

JLB: Correct. But I was thinking in your project, about going into the houses of sort of average people, right?

MM: Mm-hmm, middle class, all kinds of people, you know.

JLB: Is something that you will see a lot of photographers that go to countries like Nicaragua, Mexico, right? They do that, and they sort of feel the right to do that kind of invasion of privacy, of space of folks who leave in there. How did you come up with that idea? Because I think to me, that’s the most interesting one.

MM: I don’t know how, you know, just, I just thought I had to, I couldn’t get any connection with the people of Richmond, which people tell me, all of them, that is very difficult, you know. And well, so many artists helped me, you know, all artists, people, photographers that were very old, or a people that had galleries, “You have to continue on that, documenting that.” And that’s, that’s how, well for me was, a way of saying, “Well, I didn’t do this in my country, because I was covering the war and things like that.”

JLB: Correct.

MM: And this is a way of knowing this a little bit, a glimpse of what’s going on in the city, and city of contrasts. And that’s what I did on, como se dice monografia?

JLB: Monography.

MM: I wrote about experience, how I felt.

JLB: So you had to do a thesis at the end of

MM: Yes.

JLB: The, and your thesis, what was the title of your thesis? You remember?

MM: I think it was, Mirando al Sur.

JLB: So you finish that degree in Richmond. And then what happened with Marguerita? Where did you go?

MM: Back to the BBC.

JLB: Back to BBC? The BBC in Nicaragua?

MM: Back to Nicaragua, and in 2004 I, uh, well, well, I have to tell you something about Richmond. Well, because I knew this friend of mine, that invited me to talk about photography. And she went to school at VCU, and I told her all the contradictions that I had with this dean.

JLB: This dean, yeah.

MM:  And well, she invited me to give a talk at Hampden Sydney, about the war photography. And I talked about, a little bit, you know, I was very shy with the guys because I, when I see all these tall guys, the young kids looking at me like this. So, I started talking and describing the, the war. They weren’t interested in, but some of them were. And that, I never thought that made a connection for her in terms of, like in 2010, before 2010, you know, asking me to go and do,

JLB: And do, be a visiting professor?

MM: Visiting Professor, yes. And do the whole thing of the presentation of Nicaragua, which I never thought, you know, university will be, like at college like that, interested in Nicaragua. And it was very important for me, you know, well, first of all to deal with men again, I think my life has been sealed dealing with men, and survive them.

JLB: Yeah, that’s basically it.

MM: So, and then for me it was a surprise when they invited me you know, I almost said no, because I was so scared. I said, you know, and then, but it was incredible because the there was another guy from, Dave Woody who won a National Gallery.

JLB: Correct.

MM: You know him?

JLB: Well, I know of him.

MM: Oh, yes, he’s well, he was the other one that was teaching. And it was a great experience to be with him, his wife, and the community of professors you know, even though you think about the university or the college, teachers are incredible, and they are, go deep into whatever they know, and the library, and the people were very open. So it’s, it was a lesson, lesson for me and, and a great experience, like a friendship. So, it was hard, because I wasn’t with my daughter. And then my son, and my son was with my father, and my daughter with an aunt. But I couldn’t have her you know, because the school weren’t around. I didn’t have a car. And, one practice that they had at that university that I loved is every Thursday, we would have lunch and talk about problems, or como se dice cuando, como, aciertos, cosa acertada que heche?

JLB: Things that you did right. 

MM: Yes.

JLB: Things that people did right.

MM: And nobody’s gonna burn, or you know, do something, it’s just, you talk and then people get, tell you advice, if it works, if it doesn’t work. And so it was really, I mean, one of the healthiest things I’ve ever experienced being a teacher, you know, because every Thursday you just talk and people tell each other, you know, their experience how they deal with the, the students. And the problems, and so also, that’s when I decided also to, you know, to volunteer, teaching Spanish, or trying to practice Spanish with the students, in order in order to know them, you know.

JLB: But but all this time that you’re doing all this, first your masters, and then you become a visiting professor, you’ve been doing projects, right?

MM: Yes.

JLB: Tell me a little bit about the projects that you have done, on your own that are not necessarily

MM: Okay. In 2008. For example, well, many projects, there is one that is, we did with, there was a huge intoxication, because there is one chemical that they use to make an alcohol, very pure in order that the people that are heavy drinkers, you know, and it’s very cheap. But they, these people that used to sell that, they swiped the content and they put something that’s like, was poisonous.

JLB: Oh, man.

MM: Yes, in order to get, well more money. And we did a project about all the people that die, you know, well, there were a lot of alcoholic people that dependent on very low price alcohol.

JLB: Alcohol.

MM: And because it was contaminated, you know. So we did a project and exhibit about that. And, and there were involved many, many photojournalists, and we showed it in different cities. And to show you know, well how many funerals they had and and how many people were and affected in Leon. And then in 2008, also, I talked to a friend of mine, we both talked about this organization that puts something in the paper that had to do with girls with cancer, girls and boys, and then they said well, they were gonna celebrate 15 years old. And then, so we visited the organization which is in the hospital where they treat the cancer, and we proposed them, you know, that we wanted to cover that for free and they said “No, no, we wouldn’t” and then we said “No, we can do that. We can give the each one of the girls, you know, disk so they can take it back home.” And that’s when we started, you know, and but that started to other project because also we had to cover many of the girls when they died, and the treatment and so we did, I’m still doing that, and when Steven left the country to move to an old post in a in Chile, and now we’re not just two photographers, we are like eight photographers and all of them they give me the pictures, and we edit and a friend of mine helps me to edit, and we give all the, every year, the disk to the quinceañeras. So I’ve done other projects you know, of girls or there’s also a project that they have is like before they die the little kids, but I didn’t want to put those pictures there. They have like a dream. A dream is to have, for example tyrannosaurus, and they love that. And so, the organization brings lot of presence, and they know that they’re going to die. And he gets really happy, he gets with his mother and everything. And the people that had treatment, the nurses are next to him. Or, for example, we go to different cities, and they asked me, can we “Can you come with us, we’re going to go to Estelí, we’re going to visit.” And it’s hard, it’s really hard, because they’re with all the pain and you know, the treatment. They’re six years old, seven years old, even 15, that you think they dance and everything. And then they they died, you know, a month afterwards. So it’s, it’s pretty hard. There’s some of the photographers that I had asked, you know, and they said, “I don’t have the heart to do that. And I have to be honest, you know, I cannot cope with that.” And I said, “That’s okay. You know, just, you have to know your limits since and I’m not prejudging or judging you, you know.”

JLB: Correct. And the project, the most recent project that you’ve done is with the, oh my God,

MM: Femicide?

JLB: The femicides, yes, the femicides.

MM: Okay, the femicides has to do with, well, this organization that is very persevering in terms of following up all the women have been killed due to violence, and femicides. They used to have the numbers, and sometimes pictures the way that they were killed, but but also details of, talking to the person that is in charge of her of the organization, I, I said, “Why don’t we give a face of the woman while they were leaving,” you know, and to know what they did? To tell a story, we look for a good writer that can tell this story, who was this woman? What was the story about her, you know? And what machismo has led into the killing of this woman, you know, and probably, the majority of the cases are their husbands, or their companeros,

JLB: Correct, somebody close to them.

MM: And to tell, you know, well, there are three kids and that, and sometimes there is no reason, is just because she was a woman. And she said, “Hello.” And he thought, you know, it was something aggressive, toward a guy, and they would kill because of that. So that became a small project, then became an exhibit,

JLB: An exhibition.

MM: And the exhibit really was in many, many parts of Nicaragua. And also, you know, there was like, they invited a lot of people in order to talk about something that’s happening in Nicaragua and in other countries, but in Nicaragua, and that that’s just not numbers. I mean, it’s affecting families, lives, psychologically, in different terms. So I did that since 2014.

JLB: But you essentially, you conceived that project, right?

MM: No, with her, with her.

JLB: With the person who was in charge of the exhibition,

MM:  Martha Magaly Quintana . Yes, yes. Because she’s the one that has been doing the work.

JLB: Correct. And she, she knows the issue, right?

MM: Well, and she follows up immediately. She has the, the person that investigates and the woman, and how they can get to some neighborhoods, that you would never know. That is so dangerous. And well, she said yes. And the good thing is, for example, the last exhibit, one of the last exhibit was for year a la universidad, in the campus, so people could,

JLB: People were able to.

MM: And they had the stories, and at night, they would light it up and, people that study at night, would read the stories.

JLB: That’s a wonderful project.

MM: Yes.

JLB: So what do you see, see doing yourself in in the future?

MM: I don’t know. I don’t know, I have to. I have to work, keep on working with girls. I have to survive, in terms of economically, you know.

JLB: Correct.

MM: So I still do studio pictures and I like that.

JLB: You do the BBC?

MM: Yeah. No, no, BBC no more.

JLB: BBC no more?

MM: Because of my knee.

JLB: Okay.

MM: Yes, but I do studio pictures or I go sometimes. And when people tell me, you know, to do like a small story for them, for their organization, or it’s things that I that I can allow myself, you know, and I think I’m going work on other stories, but I’m going to continue doing the, the girls with cancer. And well, I told you about the girls from, with cancer, that it was a small thing, and one came next to the other, you know. I, I decided to look for this guy that was the chief of all of the cadets. And, and talk to him. And I said, well, in my dreams, in my soap operas that I used to watch when I was a little kid,

JLB: The Mexicans soap operas?

MM: I used to see you, you know, they quinceañeras, you know, and then and all this guys armed, you know, with staples I think,

JLB: With their swords?

MM: And then, and I said, well, because I didn’t have that, I think these girls aren’t going to enjoy it. And then they can dance with them. And then he said, well, the good thing is, this guy said, “You don’t have to convince me because I had struggled with cancer. My daughter had many years, and she has survived. Just just tell me at what time you need the soldiers, and you’ll have them.”

PDH: Wow.

MM:That started in 2008. And it was a hit. I mean, these girls go crazy because of those guys.

JLB: Correct, because of all the cadets in uniform.

MM: Yeah, well, I think I have to think I’m some other project that has to do with women.

JLB: Correct.

MM: Because I think we’re the most affected in this society in terms of discrimination and lots of things. And, but also kids, little kids, you know, how they start working very, since they are very small.

JLB: Very young.

PDH: Mm-hmm.

JLB: Well, thanks, Margarita. Do you have any other questions?

PDH: I don’t think so.

JLB: We tired her a lot. She’s totally exhausted.

PDH: Yeah.

JLB: Is there anything else you want to say? That didn’t?

MM: Well, that  want to conclude to say that to be a woman still hard in any kind of society.

JLB: Mm, that’s true.

MM: And that it’s a struggle, but we can survive.

JLB: Thanks Margarita.

PDH: Thank you.