In advance of the band Montoneros's show at Larimer Lounge, Saturday, March 18, we caught up with Gaston Leone, singer and guitarist, to talk about his personal connection with Argentina's dirty war and how it has impacted his own life.
Westword: You have a little different background than most people in bands, having been born in Argentina at an interesting point in that nation's history.
Gaston Leone: I was born in Buenos Aires in 1988, around the time the military coup was dissolving. It was the hyper-inflation era, and by 1990 my parents were looking to move to the U.S., and my dad was able to get a partial scholarship for the engineering program at CSU, so we ended up in Colorado. But we had never been here or traveled here or visited before.
The whole reason we were able to do that in the first place was that my mother was born in Oklahoma in 1965. My grandfather was a military general in Argentina and doing his master's degree in Oklahoma, paid for by the military. My grandfather was part of the company that invaded Juan D. Perón's home when the military was taking over. Nobody was there, because they got tipped off, but they stayed in Perón's home for a week, drinking his expensive wine and probably stealing stuff. [My grandfather] found a little chest of letters written to Evita from Mussolini. Apparently they had some sort of relationship and were regularly writing letters. [Leone's grandfather has never published these letters, and because of legal considerations regarding his acquiring them, he may never be able to during his lifetime.]
Perón's regime wasn't particularly democratic either.
Perónism is confusing because it can be interpreted in various ways. It has some elements of fascist ideology but also liberal ideologies too. The whole campaign of theirs was also about helping the poor. It's still so entrenched in Argentina today.
You have some sense of guilt for having some privilege out of your grandfather being involved in the coup that ousted Perón and becoming the mayor of Cordoba?
Absolutely. I fully understand that without the privilege and that aspect of my upbringing and being fortunate in that regard, I wouldn't be here in this country and living the life that I'm living. I have a cousin who was born four days after me on a different side of the family, and he's never been able to leave the country. I see it as us having these parallel lives. In the States, I've received a great education and had these musical opportunities. And I just see [him struggling]. That's where that sense of guilt comes from. When I was twelve or thirteen and began to understand who my grandfather was and what was going on, I've carried that as a burden, because it's definitely uncomfortable.
Why do you find it uncomfortable or hard to accept?
I've grown up with politically involved parents and very conscious of social justice, economic inequality and institutional racism and that sort of thing. Part of it is the awareness that those things exist and the fortune of the position we were in as immigrants. It's incredibly rare for anyone to think they're just going to move to the United States and just do it. It's often a long, tedious process for many people. Part of the guilt, too, is to push myself to be active politically and be as involved as I can be — calling elected representatives and being involved in Latino groups and going to NCLR [National Council of La Raza] conferences [when I can].
In naming the band, you borrowed it from the movement that resisted the military coup in Argentina in the ’70s.
I did think it made a good band name and got the vibe across that we wanted to convey. There is the minor point that when you Google “Montoneros,” the first thing that comes up is “leftist guerilla warfare.” Part of the reason we were able to downplay it a little is that if you're not from Argentina, it's not likely you'll know what it is. But the people that would know, that's who I was trying to get to and get a little jab in.
Does your grandfather know you chose this name for your band?
He does! He regularly sends me e-mails about each and every terrorist attack Montoneros committed, and he'll send me a list of all the people that they killed. Talking in person was a big guilt trip and bordered on the type of rhetoric you'd hear about that time, like, “Those people were scum!”
With no real acknowledgement for what people involved in the military coup did?
Exactly. That was always my point, which is where it went and devolved quickly. It started with college students and Jesuit priests and started out with good intentions and was originally a nonviolent group. But as with all dirty wars, it devolved. Part of the name, though, was a part call-out, as well. I suppose it's a little bit of cherry-picking on my side, but with nuance and not everything being black and white, I didn't find it despicable in that sense.
You've been contacted by people who have seen the band name? What kinds of people contact you?
We get Facebook messages, including from a woman in Denver who seemed upset with the name and said it was some kind of sick joke. I didn't respond because I didn't want to pick fights with someone on the Internet. I guess I didn't think about the name fully when we started the band, because I didn't have any big expectations about what it would be, but now that we're getting some national shows, [it could be an issue].
Montoneros, with Overslept, Instant Empire and Wrinkle, Saturday, March 18, 8 p.m., Larimer Lounge, 303-291-1007, $10-$12, 18 and over.