East Timor is a country not many Oberlin students have heard of. Not many East Timorese voices are heard either. But two weeks ago, the only Timorese man in the United States spoke to an enraptured audience about his life experience in the small war-torn country.
Constâncio Pinto, the leader of an underground movement to regain freedom for East Timor, spoke to about 80 students and faculty about his trials.
"He was really inspirational," sophomore Ali McDowell, co-chair of the Oberlin chapter of Amnesty International, said.
Pinto was brought to Oberlin because of the connection first-year Sudha Muthuswamy has to him. She was active in Amnesty International in high school and met Pinto through the organization in Chicago.
Muthuswamy told a story of her friendship with Pinto and the life he led in East Timor.
"We spent three days with him, night and day. Spending that time with him was really amazing," Muthuswamy said. Just hours after his speech in Oberlin, Pinto learned that soldiers had marched into a classroom in East Timor and killed four students, and 10 were dragged out of the room and tortured for participating in a remembrance of people killed in the East Timorese struggle.
"It's basically genocide, what the East Timorese people have endured," Muthuswamy said. "When people saw him over the weekend, that was the only thing on his mind."
According to McDowell, Pinto is an undergraduate student at Brown University. He has co-authored a book, East Timor's Unfinished Struggle, and is a United Nations representative for East Timor along with the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Jose Ramos Horta.
Horta will be visiting Oberlin in February.
Pinto's visit came three weeks before the 22nd anniversary of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, which occurred on December 7, 1975. In that invasion over 7,000 people died, one-third of the pre-invasion population.
"It's hard for people to escape the country," Muthuswamy said. She told the story of how Pinto escaped by first becoming a double agent after being captured and tortured and later fleeing from island to island and country to country until he finally found refuge in Portugal and later the United States.
Pinto's stay affected Muthuswamy deeply. "There were a lot of incidents that hit us. We took him to the Feve where he saw people eating and drinking and having a good time. He said 'people in Timor aren't able to do these things. People are lucky here,'" she said.
"No matter what, his heart is over there. He is always thinking about it," she said.
People who attended the lecture were also struck by his words and manners.
"He seemed very calm and seemed really optimistic in terms of what East Timorese people could do," McDowell said.
"I was really moved. He is a very humble and strong person, and he seemed very sincere and straight forward. It was excellent," senior Lara Rusch said.
Pinto told Muthuswamy a story about his five year old son. She said his son was watching a movie about Timor and asked why there was so much hatred.
"A five-year-old questioning like that. He's beginning to know and beginning to question," Muthuswamy said.
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 11, December 5, 1997
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