The Mexican Suitcase

As we went into the screening of this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival documentary from Spain and Mexico, we thought we were going to learn about the Mexican Revolution. Instead, to our great surprise, we finally learned about the Spanish Civil War, which has mystified most of us all of our lives.

When Spanish revolutionaries defied the fascism of the ruling power in 1936, it launched a civil war that continued until 1939 after Generalis- simo Franco received political support from Nazi Germany, Portugal and Italy. Three Jewish photographers from Central Europe, Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and David Seymour, documented the first modern war in which civilians were specifically targeted. Gerda died on a battlefield, all three earned well-deserved fame (Capa is now called the "Indiana Jones of Photography"), and photo-journalism was born.

The Revolutionaries fled Spain and they made their way on foot across the Pyrenees. This diaspora huddled on the cold windy beaches of France and was refused entry to any country but Mexico. (Both Mexico and Russia had furnished armaments to the cause; in fact the bullets used by the Revolutionaries were called Mexican-skis, a witty blend of countries that can only be coined in the military!) Over 200,000 of them emigrated to Mexico, which welcomed them with open arms. (The patriots who chose to return to Spain were executed.)

In Mexico, one tearful immigrant explains why he helps excavate the mass graves (600,000 people died) that are found in Spain. "I have no grandparents because of this war. These people are my abuelas!"

It was long rumored that a valise existed which contained many nega- tives of photos taken by our intrepid photographers. This is the story of where it was found, what was in it, why a big exhibit featuring it was held in New York City, and how the Spanish feel about THAT.