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Armando Armero: Safeguarding Collective Memory and Reconnecting Diasporic Communities


On 13 November 1985, over 20,000 people lost their lives in the deadliest landslide in Colombian history. As the world watched the rescue efforts which were captured by television cameras, hundreds of injured children were helicoptered away from the disaster site – a small town called Armero, in the cotton-producing region of Tolima. In the weeks after the ‘Armero Tragedy’, some of these children were adopted by families from North America and Europe. Subsequently, it came to light that some of these adoptions had not been legally authorised, and that children had been separated from parents who had also survived the landslide.

In the absence of a sustained state-led response to these claims, the relatives of disaster victims formed an NGO called Armando Armero (Building Armero). The principal objectives of Armando Armero, run by its founder Francisco González, are to reunite relatives who were separated in the disaster; and to safeguard collective memory of Armero, a site that still exists in ruins but has no official heritage status. In the process of working towards these objectives, Armando Armero had amassed a substantial archive of written testimonies, legal documents, photographic images, video recordings, and other textual artefacts, gathered in adherence with ethical codes of conduct. The archive existed in physical form at the Armando Armero office, with the texts in their source language of Spanish

In 2018 Dr Rebecca Jarman led an international project that brought together stakeholders in the charity sector, the creative industry and academia in seeking to further the principal objectives of Armando Armero with collaborative acts of linguistic communication. The project recognized the cultural and social value in preserving the contents of the archive, and in making these available in the public domain to speakers of Spanish and other languages. To do so, it produced a bilingual website for Armando Armero, drawn from its archive, that served two purposes, firstly to be a source of information for the diasporic Armero community and secondly, to become a digital repository for collective memory as sustained in texts, narratives and images.

To do so, it partially digitized the Armando Armero archive, and translated this content from Spanish to English. Digitization and website design was undertaken by a digital curator in Colombia, in collaboration with the NGO and the academic partner. This content was then translated from Spanish to English in a role open, in the first instance, to postgraduate students at the University of Leeds Centre of Translation Studies.

Finally, the whole project worked together to produce the bilingual version of the website. Website users were invited to contribute their own memories of Armero to the website, and also had the option of adding their information to registers of missing relatives.