I was fortunate to benefit from three Fulbright grants: as a grad student (Argentina, 1992), an associate professor (Uruguay, 2005), and a full professor (Chile, 2011). All three of these experiences were life-altering. In Argentina, where I lived for one academic year, my frame of reference changed. As I passed the magnificent buildings surrounding Plaza de Mayo, I felt I had entered Argentina’s conflicted history myself. I reached an important marker when I could understand the jokes and political cartoons! I did research in Buenos Aires for my dissertation on Argentina’s difficult transition to democracy. A revised (and shortened!) version became my first book, Incomplete Transition: Military Power and Democracy in Argentina (1997). During my three months in Montevideo, I researched Uruguay’s role in Operation Condor. My book on Condor, Predatory States, which provided an overview of the multinational repressive system, had just been published and I wanted to focus intensively on a key Condor country. Those investigations resulted in a micro-level study of Uruguay’s military as a key protagonist of Condor, concentrating on the Condor structure in Uruguay and its transnational links [“Death Squads as Parallel Forces,” Journal of Third World Studies (2007)].
By 2010 I was embarking on a new research focus: music and politics, specifically the political impact of Chilean New Song during the 1960s and `70s. I spent three months in Santiago in 2011, and that trip was probably the most significant of all. I became engrossed in Chile: its cultural scene, its community of musicians, its historical memory, its vibrant popular movements, and the warmth of the Chilean people. I developed lifelong friendships and returned many times. The Chileans I met were very interested in my study and enthused about contributing; they opened their doors and their hearts to me. I rediscovered how music reflects the soul of a people. That project resulted in my 2015 book, Chilean New Song: The Political Power of Music, 1960s-1973.
The Fulbright grants offer irreplaceable opportunities: to meet and consult with protagonists and specialists, to investigate unique local archives, and to actually live in the country one is studying. I developed a deep affection for all three countries. Probably the most enriching aspect of the program is the chance to forge relationships with academic colleagues, historical actors, and ordinary people, hear their stories and analyses, and gain insights that one simply cannot from afar. Getting to know and exchange views with a broad range of people in the host country opens a window to understanding other ways of living and perceiving the world. To immerse oneself in the daily life and culture of another country deepens one’s grasp of the commonalities as well as the differences among peoples. I fervently hope that the pandemic soon ends and that younger generations of scholars will have the opportunities I have had to deeply know other countries and peoples.
J. Patrice McSherry – Fulbright to Argentina 1992, Uruguay 2005, Chile 2011