Argentina Journal 

The following articles were submitted by students who travelled to Argentina in the summer of 2008.  Browse all of the articles by choosing a country from the left hand navigation or see all of the articles from one student by clicking his or her name (in blue) at the top of the article. 



Wednesday
May132009

Final Reflections

Reflecting back on my SPAN experience as a whole, I feel I am very blessed to have been a part of the program. From June 3, 2008 until August 19, 2008, I had the opportunity to live and do fieldwork in Buenos Aires, Argentina through the SPAN program. It was truly a wonderful experience that I will never forget. Before coming to Buenos Aires, I did not know what to expect. I had previously lived in both Latin America and Europe before, but Buenos Aires was something completely different. It was a distinct mix of European architecture with a Latin American feel to the streets, people, and way of life. The city was simply enormous, and had style and grandeur to go with its great size. 

I lived in the historic barrio of San Telmo just blocks away from the city’s central market and also from La Bombonera (The Chocolate Box), the famous stadium of the most popular soccer team in Argentina, Boca Juniors. It was a great place to live because it was minutes away from the working class neighborhood of La Boca, downtown Buenos Aires, and the lovely views of Puerto Madero, but it was also in an area that was always busy and bustling because of its proximity to major tourist sites. 

During my time in Argentina, I grew as a person. I learned how to live completely on my own in a different country with a different language and this helped me grow. Coping with everyday life in a foreign context was a vitalizing experience and it gave me a great deal of confidence in that I now feel like I can succeed in any situation, no matter where I am. I am more prepared for all of life’s curveballs because I know that in any situation, I just have to stay calm and enjoy the moment like I did in Argentina. Living there helped me open up as a person and I am now less guarded and more receptive to trying out new things and different situations. My research also gave me motivation because after meeting Afro-Argentines and learning about their struggle, it made me more motivated to fight for the lost, muted voices of all countries and societies. Gaining their trust and entering into their lives let me gain not only a new perspective on social, political and economic situations, but it also helped me build friendships that will last a lifetime. Thus, personally, I have greatly changed for the better because of SPAN. 

Furthermore, I felt that I not only grew as a person, but also as a scholar. I learned how to do fieldwork, in conducting interviews, observing cultural practices, and analyzing discussions. I now am very confident that I can do any type of research. The SPAN experience and what I learned and got out of it has also made me more able to compete in this increasingly competitive world. I won the Fulbright Grant to Venezuela, and I know that without the SPAN experience, I would not have received the grant. Thus overall, I feel very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the SPAN program. It is a memory that I will keep forever. 

Tuesday
Sep022008

African Diaspora Research

My research with the African Diaspora in Argentina has allowed me to get to know the groups of the African Diaspora in that country. In the country, the African Diaspora can be divided into three major groups. The first, which I am primarily focusing my research on, is the group of African descendents from slaves from the colonial period. The second is the group of immigrants and descendents from Cape Verde, a nation of a group of islands off the coast of West Africa. The third group and most recently visible population in the country are recent immigrants from West Africa. In this journal entry, I would like to talk a little bit about this third group.

Through a community cultural event, I had the opportunity to meet a representative of Tutor de Refugiados, an organization that is sponsored through the Public Defender’s office of the Argentine government. The organization offers legal, psychological and emotional support to African refugees under the age of 21. A visit to their organization gave me insight into African immigrants to the country. I learned that because of the political and economic situations in their home countries, people from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Cote D’Ivoire, and numerous other West African countries jump on whatever boat they can find and hope that it will bring them to a land of greater promise. This is how a number of African refugees arrive to Argentina. They do not know where they are headed; they are simply looking for a better life. They are given very little food or water on the journey across the Atlantic and once they are a short distance from the ports of Argentina, the ship captains tell the survivors of the trek that they must jump and swim to shore because the captains can’t bring in people to the country. Afterwards, the survivors of the entire ordeal scratch out a living by selling jewelry or trinkets on the street. 

The organization attempts to help out and give them any help they need. Mainly of the people who come to the organization were former children soldiers or have experienced horrific events. Thus, the organization provides psychological services and counseling to help on the mental side. They also push to gain citizenship for the newcomers as with citizenship, they can enroll in school and legally have a job. Spending time with the newly arrived immigrants was great. Their stories are tragic, but their will to survive and succeed in life is incredible. Many lost their parents when they were very young, many saw their parents get slaughtered, many have seen such horrible things at such a young age that most will never see in a lifetime. But they always keep going on. Their motivation to work, learn the language and support themselves was amazing and inspiring. I feel very grateful to have met these immigrants and I hope I can help out a bit by spreading their story to the world. 

 

Tuesday
Sep022008

Boca Juniors

I got the chance to attend a Boca Juniors game last week and it was simply amazing. Before coming to Argentina, I told myself that one thing that I had to do while there was go see a Boca game. Boca Juniors is one of the most popular domestic soccer teams in the country and the world. Its followers are ardent, proud, and live and die with the team. The team is most associated with the lower class and common people. 

I went with some friends to the first leg of the Recopa Sudamerica Cup which had Boca Juniors facing its rival, Arsenal from neighboring province of Avellaneda. It was a great cultural event. First, getting to the stadium was an experience in itself. The match was in a semi-dangerous area part of town and not knowing at all where we were going, we depended solely on following rowdy, yelling fans. As we descended with the crowd of people from the bus, police stopped us to ask who we were going to cheer for. The obvious answer was Boca. The police directed us to a particular part of the stadium and told us not to venture away from this side. We realized that this was because opposing fans don’t mix for security reasons. We bought tickets and excitedly entered the stadium (Racing Club’s stadium).

As we entered the stadium, a load roar of cheers and yells filled our ears. There were no seats we just found a little tiny space to stand, squished in between people, and began to enjoy the game. The stadium itself was amazing. The field was almost on a platform as it was surrounded by a moat and an electrical fence to prevent fans from running on the field. The crowd was nothing like any crowd one could find in the U.S. For the entire game, during halftime as well, the people were united in chants and songs and it never ceased. People young and old all knew the chants and they sang and chanted united as one. It was unbelievable being in the stadium, moving, screaming, chanting, and singing as one with the crowd. There were perhaps 10,000 fans at most, but they made 5 times as much noise than 40,000 would in a game in the U.S. It was simply incredible.  

 

Friday
Aug082008

Afro-Argentine Identity

When I tell most people here in Argentina or people from other parts of the world that I am here studying Afro-argentine identity, I mostly get a confused look, a question wondering if they heard me correctly, or a simple response saying, “pero no hay negros acá” (but there are no blacks here.) The stereotype to the world and to Argentina itself is that Argentina is the whitest, most European nation in Latin America. One rarely hears of the mestizaje, the mix of European, indigenous people, and Africans brought over from slave trade which is dominant in Latin America, when talking about Argentina. However, I am slowly discovering that there is much more to the story. 

Argentina’s government and leaders throughout history have worked to whiten the country to uphold a “European” ideal in Latin America. In doing so, they have effectively erased any trace of African influence or presence in the country. This has made it so that the majority of the population does not know that tango, perhaps Argentina’s most famous contribution to the world, derives from candombe, an Afro-argentine dance which has roots in the Congo or that Argentine parrilla, the most famous process of cooking meats on a grill, came from Afro-argentine practices. However, very pleasingly, Afro-argentines along with African immigrants are trying to reclaim their past in the country and demonstrate Afro-argentine contributions to Argentine culture and society. 

I was lucky enough to attend the Movimiento de la Diáspora Africana en Argentina, a weekend-long event promoting Afro-argentine and African culture in Argentina. The event, led by the African Diaspora in Argentina, was littered with numerous cultural productions including an African story telling session for children, Afro dances from all over Latin America and Africa, musical performances from the Afro community in Argentina, and perhaps most important, numerous discussions about the future of the Afro community in Argentina, possible problems, and the goals of the movement. I came away impressed at the entire weekend’s activities. The African Diaspora in Argentina struggles to gain visibility in the public and they are all in it to gain recognition from the government and the society itself. The event’s main goal was to unite the Afro community in Argentina while also presenting to the public their cultural practices and their importance and contributions to Argentina. I think it did well in both. There had been many divisions, and there still exists many divisions within the Afro community, but for one weekend, everybody united and presented a unified movement to the public while mapping out a plan of attack for the future. It was very inspiring to see people who Argentina wants to forget and erase come together to try to fight the powers that strive to keep them quiet. There remains a great deal of work to be done, and the movement is at its beginning stages, but it is setting the foundation for the future, hopefully a future where the Afro-argentine population and their contributions to the past and present will be recognized in Argentine society and their history be taught to the future generations of this country. 

Wednesday
Jul302008

SPAN Argentina


After only 6 weeks in Argentina I can see what has made the SPAN program such a success. The independence and ability to meld with a foreign culture are truly unique opportunities. 


Beyond that, getting to be a part of history in the making here is an incredible experience. Last week there were massive protests regarding the attempt to impose much higher taxes on the nation's farmers. I went to the rally for the farmers where there were over 200,000 people. There, I climbed up a fence and held onto the wrought iron bars for a good hour to gain a vantage point of the demonstration. Staying up that night to watch the vote, it went until 0430 and when it was all over, there were celebrations.

While at a conference on judicial efficacy, I met the head of the Argentine Supreme Court and got to talk with him regarding judicial independence. 


Sitting in on trials, and my whole project here has become more interesting as my Spanish has improved. I’ve got a good grasp of the situation at hand during the proceedings. At the end of some of these trials, I eat lunch down in the holding cell area with the jailers. It’s a good look of the hospitality I have received here as an American student. Not the detail about sitting in jail, rather the openness and welcome to join in the Argentine life.


I have to close with the food in Argentina, it is well worth writing about. Their beef is all grass-fed and tastes fresher than ours in the US. Beyond that, it's incredibly inexpensive compared to most any meat in the states. One can go into a decent restaurant, order a steak, mashed potatoes, a glass of wine and a dessert and expect to pay under U$S 10.00.


I think sticker shock is an appropriate thing to add to my list of what will surprise me being back in my native land come September.