Argentina is a Land of Contrasts

23 May

Before coming down to Buenos Aires I made a good friend in Ecuador named Andres. Andres had just come back from living in Buenos Aires for a year, simply because he wanted to experience it and see what it was like. He was Ecuadorian but grew up part of his life in New Jersey. When I would ask him for advice or stories about the capital city he would kind of shrug, unsure of how to explain it.

It’s like two different places he would explain. On the one hand, you can meet some awesome people and feel welcome, but on the other hand you will meet some racists and people who hate their own country. He would just listen to them and not argue, but just try to hear their sides. Quickly after moving here, I too could see these contrasts. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but there’s no doubt that this city (I won’t go so far as to say country) is split.

I think about this now during the Bicentennial, when the sky blue and white flags are all over the city. Everyone has the ribbon pinned to their jackets, and when the anthems are played people sing along. Yet at the same time no one seems to really care that it represents 200 years of independence. A lot of people are happy that it’s a holiday, simply because they get a couple extra days off and can get out of the city. This is maybe the only time of the year when you’ll see the flag flown proudly.

Just the other day I was talking to some guys as we walked through Florida Street in the Microcentro. “This country is shit,” one of them said. “In the 20s and 30s we had so much potential. We were on the rise and growing to be one of the strongest countries in the world. Now look at us,” he said, pointing to the vendors on the ground selling junk toys. They told me that these street vendors only appeared a few years ago, but that the lack of respect and disregard for law has always been there. They said that as someone jay-walked straight into oncoming traffic, causing the car to halt to a stop.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard these complaints. Argentinians love to complain to the extent that it’s almost like a national identity, the same as the association with good beef and wine. When I tell people that I’m here for an extended period of time they ask me why. “Don’t stay,” is a common warning. It’s not even a dislike for their own country so much as just hatred. Some people here truly do not like this place at all, which to me is interesting because they totally overlook the fact that in comparison to the rest of Latin America, they’re doing pretty well.

Maybe the standards are too high. They had a glimpse at Old World class and style but sunk back into the Developing Nation status. Or because the culture is so similar to a European or North American model, when they look in the streets and see Latin America there is a disappointing gap. But I can’t help but think that if Argentina somehow wins the World Cup this winter (summer in the Northern Hemisphere), then suddenly a bit of pride might come rushing back.

The level of pessimism, disappointment, and general mistrust in Argentina is a crippling disability which I think will inevitably hold it back. If no one wants to plan for the future then there can be no foundation to set things in motion for change, and stagnation will ultimately rule. I wonder how you say “catch 22” in Spanish.

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