Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Uruguayan teacher Didaskó Pérez receives visit of daughter in jail

This year, many Uruguayan teachers were jailed by a military dictatorship that has ruled the country since a coup d’etat in 1973.  Other teachers have been kidnapped by military and paramilitary forces and then tortured and disappeared without trial. In most cases, their only crime was to express dissent with the military rulers who had broken the Constitution and dissolved the Parliament. Uruguayan society was full of fear and terror, and censorship and self-censorship was everywhere. As an Uruguayan military leader once stated, the opposition was guilty of “having ideological ideas.”

One Sunday of 1976, jailed teacher Didasko Pérez received the visit of his 5-year old daughter Milady. She brought him a drawing, which was quickly censored by the jail guards.  The following Sunday, she brought him another drawing, and this time the censsors allowed it. The story of those two encounters is recounted in a brief and beautiful text by the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano entitled ‘Forbidden Birds”, published in his famous book ‘The Century of the Wind.”

Forbidden birds

“The Uruguayan political prisoners may not talk without permission, or whistle, smile, sing, walk fast, or greet other prisoners; nor may they make or receive drawings of pregnant women, couples, butterflies, stars or birds. One Sunday, Didasko Pérez, schoolteacher, tortured and jailed for "having ideological ideas," is visited by his daughter Milay, aged five. She brings him a drawing of birds. The guards destroy it at the entrance of the jail. 

One the following Sunday, Milay brings him a drawing of trees. Trees are not forbidden, and the drawings get through. Didasko praises her work and asks about the colored circles scattered in the treetops, many small circles half-hidden among the branches: "Are they oranges? What fruit is it?" The child puts her fingers to her mouth: "Ssssshhh." And she whispers in his ear: "Silly. Don't you see they're eyes? They're the eyes of the birds that I've smuggled in for you." 

Eduardo Galeano, Memory of Fire III, The Century of the Wind, 1988 

Those who can read Spanish will also enjoy the original version of the text by Eduardo Galeano: 


" Los presos de la dictadura uruguaya no pueden dibujar ni recibir dibujos de mujeres embarazadas, parejas, mariposas, estrellas ni pájaros. Didaskó Pérez, maestro de escuela, torturado y preso por tener ideas ideológicas, recibe un domingo de 1976 la visita de su hija Milady, de cinco años. La hija le trae un dibujo de pájaros. Los censores se lo rompen a la entrada de la cárcel.  

Al domingo siguiente, Milady le trae un dibujo de árboles. Los árboles no están prohibidos, y el dibujo pasa. Didaskó le elogia la obra y le pregunta por los circulitos de colores que aparecen en las copas de los árboles, muchos pequeños círculos entre las ramas: ¿ son naranjas? ¿que frutas son? y la niña lo hace callar, Ssshhhh, y en secreto le explica:

- Bobo. ¿ No ves que son ojos ? Los ojos de los pájaros que te traje a escondidas."



Eduardo Galeano,  Memoria del Fuego III, El Siglo del Viento, 1985.

Prepared by DS, OISE/University of Toronto, 2005

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