Class Struggle in Buenos Aires

20 Apr

A Polo Match, Enjoyed Mostly by the Upper Class

Today I had an interesting conversation at lunch with the guys. Reading a brochure on Buenos Aires, we came to the discussion of the differing realities of life in Argentina, and most notably, in Buenos Aires. The brochure had quotes from writers dating from the 1920s and 30s, talking about how beautiful the city was and how most families had a dozen servants. We laughed at how ridiculously outdated these quotes were and compared modern times to what was sold as the image of this city. The problem is that many people read these kinds of things and hear the phrase “Paris of South America” and think of something totally different from what you get. Those who visit for a few days and stay in Recoleta or Palermo might find that it’s an excellent place to visit, but if you stay longer you’ll notice how it’s not all the rosy picture some people would like you to think.

Buenos Aires can be such a divided place, with a large difference in neighborhood and social status. For a large majority of those who come from Recoleta or Palermo, their lives are in their eyes normal and what you would expect in Buenos Aires. Streets are safe, architecture is magnificent, and everyone is affluent and taking trips to Punta del Este in Uruguay. But far from that sort of life is another reality, in which people struggle to make ends meet each month and have to be careful as they walk in the streets late at night. It’s not to say one is correct and the other is false, but they are unique to the people who live in them.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think Argentina has some of the best marketing geniuses around. Ask most people what they think of when Argentina is brought up and they’ll likely say one of the following: beautiful people with European features, the best soccer players in the world, the best meat and wine, tango dancing, and a cosmopolitan hub in Latin America. For one end, that is true, but it’s also just a small portion of the larger picture. There are a huge number of Argentinians without European features, not everyone plays or cares about soccer, there is a difference between a good steak and a great steak, and on and on. Somehow, the rest of the world has come to see Argentina is a pretty positive light, which isn’t a problem, except that it overlooks the fact that not everything is perfect.

Protests--A Reality for the Majority

This reminds me of the typical architecture in Buenos Aires, with that classical touch and a lovely facade, but turning the corner you notice that the whole thing is a sham. The sides are dirty and faded concrete and inside could be a similar disappointment. It’s like they put so much concern on the front which will be seen by everyone else, that nothing remaining was dealt with much care. In a way, you can say the same thing about the country as a whole. It’s a sort of facade, with many different faces which sell you on various points. Getting to know it a little better and entering, however, and you might not feel like staying too long.

Those who reign in the upper class and sit upon a perch, assuring the world that everything is fine, are essentially digging a bigger hole and burrowing further into a problem which won’t fix itself. Only fixing the problem in one neighborhood or putting more guards in one school will not help anyone in the long run, and only creates a gap which ends in resentment and mistrust. I won’t get into the end result which history has already spelled out in various examples. The point is, you need to hear someone when they say that, yes, those beautiful people who are talented at soccer and dancing are Argentinian. But so are we, and we are just regular, everyday working stiffs. So why don’t they figure into the reality that most of the world sees?

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