On Friday, April 27th at 4:30pm, a crowd of approximately 60 gathered in the historic Gerlinger lounge to remember Ben Linder, a mechanical engineer from Portland who worked in Nicaragua to build a hydroelectric dam. Linder was killed 25 years ago by the Contras, a rebel group supported by the United States government. The presentation was sponsored by Romance Languages, Oregon Humanities Center, Office of the President, Latin American Studies, Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies, Center for the Study of Women in Society, and the Latin America Solidarity Committee.
Bryan Moore, a senior instructor of Spanish in the romance languages department at the university, began the presentation. He said Linder made a “miracle of transforming water into light.” He personally knew Linder.
Moore finished with a song, “….It could have been me, Ben, but instead it was you…Freedom! Freedom! Freedom…..If we can sing for freedom, you can too.” Many audience members sang along unapologetically.
Analisa Taylor, an associate professor of Spanish and Director of Graduate Studies at the university, introduced Margaret Randall as “A feminist poet, writer, photographer and social activist.” Among her accomplishments, Randall published more than 80 books, co-edited and co-founded a bilingual literary journal in the ‘60s which survived eight years that “Published some of the most dynamic and meaningful writing of an era” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, Randall was deported when she returned to the U.S. in 1984 as the government thought opinions in some of her books to be “Against the good order and happiness of the United States.” She won her case five years later.
Randall, 76, stepped up to the podium and said, “Thank you Bryan…for moving us to tears.” She then took a moment to look at the magnetic audience and said, “I think I know about a third of you.” An entire row of women went with Randall to Cuba in 1996 to a delegation. It felt like an emotional reunion with old friends.
Elizabeth Linder, Ben’s mother, was in the audience. Randall said she and her late husband continued, with success, to do Bens’ work.
Randall said the Contras “…Deliberately shot him as he was quietly writing in his notebook.” The “U.S. government was bringing death to Nicaragua and Ben Linder was bringing life…He wasn’t seeking to become a martyr, but knew it might be his fate” she said.
Randall then read poems in celebration of his life.
The first poem is titled, “Our Job Was to Move Their Bodies.” A woman in the audience rested her head on her left hand, looking down at the floor and blinking heavily as if not to cry in front of her fellow comrades. As she finished, many deep sighs were heard along with a distant “Wow.”
Randall commented on the current state of affairs in many Latin American countries. She considers Uruguay and Bolivia really revolutionary in terms of their government, as they arose to power in a democratic process. She said in 2016, Uruguay will have 60% sustainable energy.
Randall believes that what they did in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s paved the way for what is happening now in Latin America.
“Our children and grandchildren will be part of a better one (world) I hope” Randall said.
Julia Cunningham, a Latin American studies and Spanish major, and LASC intern said of supporting this presentation: “We are really interested in supporting those that are working firsthand with those in Latin America. Therefore, we admire highly Ben Linder and his work…We felt that Margaret Randall is also someone who is very deeply and personally involved with the peoples of Latin America…”
Cunningham felt inspired by Randall’s “Dedication to understanding the role of women” in Latin America. She commented on Randall’s first poem and said it “…Really touched everyone in the room, as we all understood that violence is often much closer than we realize.”
Dan Goldrich, a retired professor emeritus of political science at Oregon reacted to Randall’s talk. “Her response to it was so marvelously expansive…it put us all in a great space…it just felt very rich to me.” He also said there were some “Emotionally powerful moments.”
Following the talk, the crowd paraded to the Ben Linder room at the EMU for food, drinks, jugglers and a live cumbia band for entertainment.
On Ben Linder’s tombstone is engraved in Spanish: The light he turned on will shine forever.