Hector Aristizábal grew up in the barrios of Medellin, Colombia, where he and his siblings had to use all their wit, wiles, and wherewithal to survive poverty, the ever-present allure of cheap drugs and very dangerous money, and the endemic violence from leftwing guerrillas, rightwing death squads, cocaine cartels, and the armed power of the State. As a young actor and psychology student, Hector was seized by the military, held in secret, and tortured. He survived and went on to find meaning in his ordeal as he channeled his desire for revenge into nonviolent activism both in his homeland and during decades of exile in the United States.
While challenging the State-sponsored causes of much suffering in the world, Hector reached out to some of society’s most marginalized—at-risk and incarcerated youth, immigrants, and many others—using his theatrical skills and psychotherapeutic training to help people shape their own stories and identities. He sought to understand his own identity as well as that of one brother who was a revolutionary and another who was gay—and how his belief in personal integrity and political freedom might square with the realities of a country under the yoke of toxic ideologies. Hector was forced finally to examine his own motivations and commitments, and begin to heal his own gaping wounds.
Shockingly honest, heartbreaking, and vibrantly told, The Blessing Next to the Wound is a passionate and evocative memoir that, amid enormous suffering and loss, is a full-throated affirmation of life.
“Here we have a ‘must read’ as the military base at Palanquero, Colombia is taken over by the United State Air Force. Hector personifies the suffering of the Colombian people. But the biophilic love of life overcomes the necrophilic love of death and power, as the victims of torture, the victims of crass and brutal violence, elevate their suffering by seeing the world through eyes that have not yet been born.”—Blase Bonpane, Director, Office of the Americas
“This aptly titled book draws a spiritual path to transcend physical and psychic wounds, whether they come from political persecution, domestic abuse, gang violence, exile, or poverty. In this remarkable and powerful personal narrative, Hector Aristizabal portrays his own transformation—from a torture victim to a spiritual guide strong enough, artistic enough, and, ultimately, blessed enough, to lift other lost souls into the light.”—Sue William Silverman, author, Fearless Confessions and Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You
“Psychologist, internationally known actor, human rights activist. Any of these vocations could be a life’s work but Hector Aristizábal’s life’s work encompasses all three. Here is an intimate view of his coming of age in the complex and violent society of Medellín, Colombia, and how his experiences gave him insight and compassion faced with the complex and violent society he found as an immigrant to the U.S. I have witnessed just a small part of his work: bringing hope and healing to those who—like him—are survivors of torture. This book now offers his dramatic story along with his powerful ideas of healing, art, and advocacy to a wider audience.” —José Quiroga, M.D., founder and medical director, Program for Torture Victims
Hector Aristizábal was born and raised in Medellín, Colombia when it was the most dangerous city in the world. One of his brothers was seduced by the power of crack cocaine and another by the promises of revolutionary armed struggle. Hector’s path was different. He worked his way out of poverty to become a theatre artist and pioneering psychologist with a Masters degree from Antioquia University, then survived civil war, arrest, and torture at the hands of the US-supported military. In 1989, violence and death threats forced him to leave his homeland. Since arriving in the US, he has won acclaim and awards as an artist and also received a second Masters degree, in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Oaks College, leading him to combine his training in psychology and the arts with lessons gained from life experience in his therapeutic work. As an activist, he uses theatrical performance as part of the movement to end torture and to change US policy in Latin America. His nonprofit organization, ImaginAction, taps the power of creativity in social justice programs throughout the US and around the world as far afield as Afghanistan, India, and Palestine for community building and reconciliation, strategizing, and individual healing and liberation.
Diane Lefer is an author, playwright, and activist whose most recent short-story collection, California Transit, was awarded the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and published by Sarabande Books. She is also the author of two other collections—Very Much Like Desire and The Circles I Move In, as well as the novel, Radiant Hunger. Her fiction has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the City of Los Angeles, and the Library of Congress. For 23 years she taught in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been a guest artist at colleges, writing conferences and festivals. She has facilitated creative workshops for high school students, adjudicated youth in lockup and on probation, and children in the foster-care system. Diane’s ongoing collaboration with Hector Aristizábal includes work for the stage and for the page, and social-justice action workshops. She is a frequent contributor of articles to LA Progressive.
The Blessing Next to the Wound
A Story of Art, Activism, and Transformation
Hector Aristizábal, Diane Lefer
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