Ignacio, Estela’s Grandson
By Alicia Vergili
Translated by Drew Reed
“I’ve always thought of myself as a cheerful kind of person. I grew up in the country, and as a teenager I hung out with my friends while studying at a technical school. After that, I traveled to Buenos Aires to study music. The events of my life have come to pass just the way I dreamed they would. And by the time I had reached a comfortable place in my life, I found out that I am really the son of a family who was ‘disappeared’ during Argentina’s last military dictatorship, and that my grandmother is Estela de Carlotto,” Ignacio Montoya Carlotto calmly recounts.
Women Across Frontiers met with Ignacio on March 24 in Olavarría, the small town where he was raised by his adoptive family. On that date 39 years ago, a military coup ushered in a dictatorship responsible for the disappearance of as many as 30,000 people and the illegal seizure and adoption of an estimated 500 children. Every year on March 24, hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets across Argentina to proclaim “Nunca Más”: never again. Musical performances are held to raise awareness and provide information about the search for those still missing. A pianist and composer, Ignacio participated in these events, without any idea of their connection with his own past. “I think that there must have been a reason I always wanted to be there on those days, but above all I was committed to the search that the Abuelas were conducting. It’s so amazing that as I was working to discover more about the grandchildren, I myself was one of them.”
Women Across Frontiers: When did you approach the Abuelas?
Ignacio: I sent them an email last June, since I suspected that I might be the child of a disappeared family. On June 2, my birthday, a person from my city confirmed that I was adopted, which prompted me to begin investigating. Though I was uncertain of my own background, nothing changed overnight. I remember that when I was an adolescent, I was already a bit curious about whether or not I had been adopted.
WAF: And when did you find out that you were the child of a disappeared family?
Ignacio: On August 5, 2014, I got a call. The person on the line told me I was the grandson of Estela. I felt like my heart had stopped beating.…They cross-checked my blood with the samples at the National Genetic Data Bank and proved that my parents were Laura Carlotto and Walmir Oscar Montoya.
WAF: In what way did your life change on that day?
Ignacio: In many ways. I still haven’t had time to process them all. For example, now it makes sense to me where my passion for music came from, since supposedly my upbringing destined me for other things. I come from two families, and both love music. I inherited much of this from my biological father. He was the drummer for a band led by Cañadón Seco, in the province of Santa Cruz. My father’s father was a saxophonist in the band for YPF [Argentina’s state petroleum company], and my maternal grandfather was an avid music lover. In the Carlotto family, everyone played an instrument. Kibo Carlotto, my uncle, is a guitarist. I also inherited a lot from Laura and Walmir, my biological parents, since being an artist is, in and of itself, a political activity.
WAF: You’re also an avid reader?
Ignacio: Yes. I always read a lot because in the countryside where I lived until I was 15, there was no television, and the only way to find things out was by reading. Luckily, our town had a big library, and I spent much of my time reading. I built much of my own universe around books. And I’m still in the habit of reading. Now I understand that with two grandmothers who were teachers, it was impossible for me not to become a reader.
WAF: What is your life like today?
Ignacio: I still live in Olavarría. I have a girlfriend, Celeste, and I’m a huge fan of River [a soccer team in Argentina]. I’m still playing with my jazz band, and we’ve released a number of albums. However, in certain ways, my life has changed significantly. I gained a level of notoriety that really has nothing to do with who I am. Many people know me now from being the grandson of Estela. Now people call to give me gigs. Before this happened, I couldn’t make a living with my music.
WAF: Do you compose music differently now?
Ignacio: Yes, of course. Even though I had already crafted the aesthetic style of what I was doing, I feel that now I’m able to contextualize new ideas much better. The music became more concrete, concise, and more charged with emotion. Whereas my style used to be more descriptive, depicting landscapes, now it’s more human. My music has gained emotional depth, especially in my lyrics. Lately I’ve written a lot, created a new repertoire.
WAF: To what extent has art served you in this stage of your life?
Ignacio: Music was always pushing me to a place of truth. It pushed me to March 24th, to [participate in the event] Music for Identity. Music helped me to create myself as a person and to discover my true identity.
WAF: Do you have any grievances against your adoptive parents?
Ignacio: My relationship with them is excellent [he gives a genuine smile]. I grew up in the country, a place that hides big secrets. I was part of one of those secrets. My adoption was an act of deception against my adoptive parents, who come from humble origins. You have to meet them to have an idea of who they are. The rulers of this country have always imposed their will on the rural poor.
WAF: You seem happy, with no ill will.
Ignacio: My case is unusual. I’m not resentful with a chip on my shoulder. I’m aware that there are other, more complicated cases. But in my case, everyone has moved on. The people who suffered were the families who had to search. I ended up with some of the better ones. Now I have two families, the Carlottos and the Montoyas, who are phenomenal. And what’s more, I get along with them very well since we studied the same arts. How could I have a problem with that?
WAF: What do you dream of?
Ignacio: To keep playing music, to have children, to keep meeting members of my families, and for the grandmothers to live a long time. In Caleta Oliva, in the southernmost part of Argentina, I have my grandmother Hortensia, who is incredibly kind. A while ago, I met Cristina Kirchner [the president of Argentina], who said, “You might be fascinated with the Carlotto side of your family, but when you meet your family in the south, you’re going to realize what a family with Argentinian history is.” I didn’t pay attention to her comment, until I met them and realized that the Montoya family are part of the history of the south of the country. My grandmother’s father, Ceferino Ardura, was one of the founders of Caleta Olivia. In fact, he had the first estancia [large farm] in the province.
WAF: How do you go about creating a new history with your new families?
Ignacio: Luckily, there are photos, stories, and books that tell part of our lives. But I know that these are new relationships. We call each other and try to get together as much as possible, and we’re trying to build on the biological ties between us. We get together for barbecues, to drink mate [a traditional Argentinian tea], to drink wine.
WAF: And how is your relationship with Estela?
Ignacio: My relationship with Estela is wonderful. She makes everything easier. At the same time, I don’t think of her as “Estela,” I think of her as my grandmother.