Travel: Argentina – Race, People, Fashion & Street Art

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Buenos Aires

I intended on writing a five-part blog about Argentina, the first would address what I did in Buenos Aires while the second would detail El Calafate. Then I would dive into the cuisine I was so lucky to sample and end it with speaking more about how I felt about the people, country, and the parts of my assumptions about Argentina that were eye-opening and went against my preconceived notions of the place.

La Gente 

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Sam Telmo

Argentina offered me a curious mix of emotions; after the first day, I wanted to move to Buenos Aires, but by the third, I’d changed my mind. Gone were the fanciful ideas of living in an affordable country rich in history and life. While I loved the Argentine way of life and saw some benefits to it, there were downsides for a person of color wanting to live or even vacation in this country. By the end of my third day in Buenos Aires, I, started to observe a trend happening around me. To explain this, my ghost audience must know that I traveled with an American friend who just happens to be of British ancestry, as her mom and grandparents all immigrated from England in the 1950s to the United States. She is 5”10, bright blue eyes, blond, well-traveled, and stood out in Argentina due to all those qualities. I believe the most noticeable qualities were her height, eyes, and hair, as it was very rare to come across an Argentinian woman who was 5”10 possessing all those features. Me on the other hand, I’m 5’8 of Afro-Caribbean descent with hazel eyes so of course, I stood out as well. I found during my visit to Argentina, many of the so-called white Argentinians did not want to interact with me. If we walked into a restaurant, store, hotel, or any other public space, many of them would direct all greetings and conversations towards my friend and ignored me unless it was absolutely necessary to interact with me. It was subtle but strange to be ignored in this way, but it happened so frequently that I stopped trying to insert myself and decided to become an observer to this behavior. While I would say that the ages of the people we interacted with affected their reactions to me, I still felt overwhelmed and saddened by this response. The only place I found this behavior to be different was in El Calafate, which seem to be extremely different in their approach to me. Everyone in El Calafate were amicable in their approach, and I wondered if the fact that they relied so heavily on tourism shaped their approach to me. While I did find that a good 70% of the people in Buenos Aires looked at me as if I didn’t belong, the rest seemed very curious and overly complimented my beauty, which also seemed a bit odd.

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Buenos Aires

I have always had a good understanding of the demographics of Argentina based on what I learned from my research. This country is one of the few South American countries filled with Europeans from Scandinavia, Germany, France, and even Wales. Outside of Costa Rica and Uruguay, this country has the highest amount of people reporting themselves as being white. I found the people in Buenos Aires, also known as the Porteños to be a mixed bag. There were locals who could trace their roots back to the earliest European settlers and those from Asian countries, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, with a mix of indigenous heritage. Even with some visible elements of the indigenous culture and having a population of mixed people, I noticed that they weren’t too welcoming towards people of color. In my case, I assumed they just didn’t know how to approach me and what to do with me. As I rarely saw anyone while in places like Recoleta, Palermo, San Telmo, or Retiro, who was black and foreign. I saw a small number of mixed-race people with an ambiguous racial look, but even they were rare. Anyone who was in the category of having a much deep skin complexion was Africans working as food delivery guys or doing menial jobs. I later found out by talking to a taxi driver that people in Argentina like to say there is no racism in the country, but that is not true. People with darker skin tones are often discriminated against on a socioeconomic and political level. This does not only include those form African heritage but even the indigenous people or poorer whites and even Jews. There is also a claim that there are no black people in Argentina, while it could seem like they are few and far in between, it all could depend on where you visit and if a person has been passing well enough to be considered white or anything else other than black.

 

The Artist Lucia Sol Vila

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Lucia Sol Vila standing at her stall (Sept 2019)

In almost every country I have visited, I have felt drawn to artists, from those peddling their work on street corners to those who made it big enough to have their own studio. While visiting La Boca, we came upon a stall ran by Lucia Sol Vila. Her work was giving me life and seem to represent all the things I love about art as an expression of one’s ideas and emotions. What drew us to her stall was her depiction of Frida in several paintings and as little figurines with brightly colored roses on their heads. They were so unique and aesthetically pleasing that we had to purchase a few of her work. While many other stalls were selling several paintings, we found that Lucia’s work matched our personalities, and the artist herself expressed an innate openness to our childlike curiosity. Lucia’s stall is definitely worth a visit if anyone goes to La Boca.

Name: Lucia Sol Vila

Facebook: www.facebook.com/LuciaSolVila

Instagram: luciasolvila

Gmail: luciasovila@gmail.com

 

Street Art

Buenos Aires has many vibrant street art and graffiti. They had some of the most beautiful and satisfying street art. I found many high-quality street arts in La Boca and other areas. Instead of banging on about it, here are some of the images I captured.

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Street Art in San Telmo close the San Telmo Market
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Street Art in La Boca
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La Boca
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Recoleta Street Art
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Street Art in La Boca
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Street Art in La Boca

The Fashion and the Platform Girls 

I found the Porteños and Porteñas to be very stylish people. Men’s trends are similar to that of other major cities such as New York or L.A. They seem to take the time to curate their styles just as the women do. If you walk into the primary business district in Buenos Areas, you will see well-groomed men sporting beautiful tattoos with matching accessories. This is all aged-based as you will see older men in business suits. I saw a more casual look, such as dark jeans and slacks paired with nice shoes, belts, and button-down shirts with jackets. The women are also stylish as most women in major cities are, but the one thing I noticed was a trend of wearing platform shoes. Some looked very retro 1970s while others reminded me of the early days of the Spice Girls. While some were modern and more pliable for my liking. I was wondering what was going on when I kept seeing them everywhere. Everywhere you turned, there were women walking around in platform shoes, and I asked why. My only conclusion was the fact that most of the women are very short as sometimes even in their platform shoes, I was taller than they were. I am only 5”8, so if I tower over them while they are wearing platforms, then that says a lot. I tried to look up the origins of this style to find out why this was so common and couldn’t find anything on it. I found one publication that spoke about how comfortable it is walking in these shoes on cobblestone streets, and then there was the discussion of the excess dog poop everywhere. Perhaps the only conclusion as to why they love these shoes is just the fact that they like the look and extra height.

 

Conclusion

I had many preconceived notions about this country before I dared to venture. Every one of these notions painted it in a very positive light. Strangely enough, after visiting Argentina for 12 days, I walked away with some of my assumptions satisfied, but also a bit saddened by some elements of my trip. While I would like to say that the entire trip was terrific, I would be 100% lying if I did. It was a learning experience, and while I wish I had the same experience as the “Goats on the Road” had in Argentina, I am still happy to have crossed this off my list.

 

 

 

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for such an incredible post and amazing photos! .-)