Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"I am Agustina Gamboa and I will no longer keep silent"

Fathers and teenage daughters at loggerheads over a political issue isn't news. Imagine if the father in question is a prominent priest in the archdiocese who holds traditional views on reproductive rights and you, his daughter and guilty secret, are a feminist. Agustina Maria Gamboa Arias, did not reveal her biological father's identity for 18 years, but when she saw Fr. Carlos Gamboa, a member of the Archdiocese of Salta, Argentina, on the TV program La Otra Campana speaking out against the bill to legalize abortion that her nation's government is considering, she knew she could no longer keep silent. On July 29th, Gamboa Arias issued the following statement on her Facebook page, revealing her father's identity, his past actions, and her opposition to his views:

"Priest and point of reference of the Catholic Church of Salta Carlos Gamboa was interviewed on the program "La Otra Campana" about the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act to be dealt with soon in the nation's Senate. On the occasion, Carlos Gamboa appealed to the slogans "Yes to life", "Yes to all life", "All life is worthy." Those were his statements. However, reality contradicts his words since he has systematically neglected and disregarded me, his daughter Agustina María Gamboa Arias, born in May 2000.

I bear the last name of my progenitor, but originally I was noted in the Public Registry as Agustina Arias since he refused to acknowledge me legally, denying me also the right of every boy and girl to their identity. On August 16, 2002, at the behest of a lawyer, I was able to be recognized as is recorded in the annotation on the margin of my birth certificate. Even though I am alive, if it were for him I would be in complete abandonment.

I have always known everything about my identity, who I am and where I come from, but this reality was inconclusive. As I grew up I needed not only to know it but also to understand what was happening. Why was my father absent?

In the interview in which he appeared, Gamboa talks about "accompanying the woman who is in the dilemma of continuing or interrupting a pregnancy." He also talks about "supporting the kids who are alive." Being his daughter, I went through many abandonment issues because Carlos Gamboa never cared to  know me.

Based on my insistence, we were able to coordinate some meetings that became more and more complicated. We would see one another at service stations far from anyone who might recognize him. In the meetings he would repeat the argument that he loved me but that he couldn't be my father. In those days for a girl of 6 or 7 years, it was a very confusing story since I didn't have the emotional tools to understand what he was saying in such a contradictory way. I was a girl who believed my father loved me; I waited for his calls on important dates like birthdays and holidays or any show of interest that never came.

There were never any initiatives on his part, despite the fact that my mother and my heart father [stepfather] offered him many options to facilitate our bond like meeting in other provinces or paying his fare to the Federal Capital, the place where I live, so he could come see me. He never agreed and with the passing of time, the silences were longer and longer.

I understood a lot later, in my adolescence that my father didn't love me so I sought affection in other members of my paternal family. Through the social networks I started to look for everyone with the last name Gamboa who might be a relative. There were many and I was even able to meet a cousin who with her parents and brothers, received me with joy. However, that unleashed a storm that manifested itself in verbal and psychological abuse over the phone by Gamboa towards me and my mom.

Carlos Gamboa's family lined up behind him, protecting him and preventing me from knowing them and completing part of my identity and my life -- what Gamboa says he's defending. In this very unfortunate episode, Víctor Gamboa, Carlos' twin brother, had a terribly violent and destructive role, being that at the beginning he seemed to be a trustworthy person and a good father.

In this struggle to achieve recognition, space, a little affection and to complete my story, I ended up confronting the Catholic Church of Salta which, as we know, has a lot of power and through a lawyer defended its interests, going completely against my rights.

So, when my progenitor talks about "respecting both lives" I must say that he did not respect the life of his daughter because of defending his image and his economic privileges. The church covered it up and helped hide me. No one was to be aware of my existence.

I was the victim of all these manipulations that affected me psychologically. The abandonment of the child who was born is so destructive for the personality that it makes it still hard for me today when bonding or shaping my personal relationships to the point that I came to think that I didn't deserve to be loved.

Carlos Gamboa in the interview says the Church should form and respect people but he never did that with me; his actions affected my way of being, the way in which I bond with people and how I've developed emotionally, having experienced so much emotional manipulation, having heard so many empty words that have affected me forever. I've been going to a psychologist as long as I can remember. How to trust others if you can't trust your biological father? That's why, when in the interview he says he's "for both lives" and says "let's not harm it more with another abuse," I must state that the damage he did to me is irreversible, harm that also manifested itself in relation to child support since for him to comply with his obligation, a private agreement had to be concluded. On numerous occasions he fell behind on the support payments and abused my mother when she requested what was due me, so that situation was very violent.

So when Carlos Gamboa and the Church he represents talk about "yes to life", "yes to all life", and "every life is worthy," I ask myself what does he mean by that? Why does he feel he has the moral authority to say it so lightly? Imposing with this argument a way of thinking on society, knowing that his words have a lot of weight but his actions contradict him. I have to say that all this seems total hypocrisy to me.

Against my father's position, my family and I are in favor of the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act without modifications because we know that this Act will help women and gestating bodies that are at risk or want to decide about their future. We also think that abandonment is death and that the dogma of the Church should not be interposed in republican life and that women's decisions should be respected.

To conclude, I would add that this letter was very hard to write and that there have been months of preparation, analysis and removing issues that hurt or are troublesome, but it leaves me somewhat clearer, it frees me from the stigma the curia imposed on me at birth. Now I can proudly say that I participated in the vigil at the [Chamber of] Deputies, that I've had an ideological life formation oriented towards human rights and those of women and dissident sexualities and that is why I'm making this letter public. My name is Agustina María Gamboa Arias and I have decided on my own -- and with my family's support -- to stop being an accomplice in the moral double standard of the Church of which my biological father, Carlos Gamboa, is a part.

I am expressing myself because I want abortion to be LEGAL SAFE and FREE and that there be SECULAR SEXUAL EDUCATION WITH THE GENDER PERSPECTIVE in ALL educational institutions in the country, and because I want ALL women and gestating bodies to have FREE CHOICE over our bodies and our lives.


Gamboa Arias' public statement caused a huge uproar. On July 31st, Msgr. Mario Cargnello, the Archbishop of Salta, issued a communique asking God's forgiveness and that of the faithful for the pain caused by this news, by the scandal it has caused. While he did not apologize directly to Ms. Gamboa Arias, Msgr. Cargnello did say that he wants to "staunch" her wounds and would be launching a canonical investigation into her allegations.