Thursday, September 10, 2009

Becoming a Porteña

Hello again,

These past few weeks have seemed to be more about fitting into the Argentine culture rather than hanging out with American friends. But I think I'm just only starting to realize what that means.

I left off talking about Noche Internacional and I want to continue with the international students' night at a place that one of our directors recommended. It was actually on the rooftop of a hostel, which I thought was a really cool idea, but unfortunately they really couldn't play the music loudly because of their neighbors. Anyway, I met a girl from Espana, a resident porteno (what the people of Buenos Aires call themselves, sort of like a "port person"), and a guy from Columbia who said he was a Socialist but disliked both his government and FARC (a guerilla group). Unfortunately, the US has decided to set up 7 military bases in Columbia so they can reach all Latin American countries easily; this makes me really upset considering our history in breeding chaos that has led to thousands of deaths through military violence. Plus, undoubtedly, all the guerillas are going to die. My political science teacher said that the president allowed this to happen so President Obama could more easily pass health care reform; if they had said no, it would have looked bad for him. Bizarre right?

The infamous futbol game between Argentina and Brasil (note the spelling) happened last Saturday, and a few of my classmates went to see the actual game in Rosario, but the tickets were almost $200 USD. Instead, a group of us went to a bar in Recoleta where they were playing it on a projector. I don't know how this happened, but we managed to pick the bar that had far more Brasilian support than Argentine! Then again, even though Argentina is a VERY good team in Latin America, Brasil has won the World Cup several times in the last few years. People are really crazy and as soon as someone scores a goal, everyone instantaneously throws back their chairs, stands up and starts screaming! One guy even took off his shirt and started running through the bar! Needless to say, there was a lot of alcohol involved. Unfortunately, Argentina lost 1-3 to Brasil, but it wasn't seen as that shameful since they're a world-renowned team.

Mostly, I've just been trying to stay ahead in classes (though finding the motivation to do homework has been extremely difficult), and finding my way around the city. Today, I took a random bus and wanted to see if I could find my way back home (of course, I decided this half-way through when I realized I wasn't going to the park I had intended). I ended up at a plaza where there were several musical groups playing, including a Native American one that was composed of two men dressed up in their full traditional regalia and using native instruments, many of which seemed to mimic nature's sounds like the wind or the call of a bird, and it was absolutely beautiful! It's too bad I didn't have enough money to buy one of their CD's! Though, really, it all got me thinking... Here are these indigenous men, keeping alive ancient traditions that the Europeans sought to eradicate for hundreds of years, now using these rituals to entertain the same Europeans who conquered their tribes, playing in a city of cement which was originally land that belonged to them. It always comes back to the same question, "What if they had never come...?"

I shall now continue my list of random observances!

1) The colectivos (buses) here are rather strange. Instead of making a loop like they do in most places, they have assigned routes that have a beginning and end, but not an in-between. Does that make sense? You also have to tell the bus driver where you're going so he can assign the correct fare (though it's really only a few centavos different). You cannot buy bus passes, though recently there's been rumors of a rechargeable card.

2) Almost every clothing store her has "Liquuidacion!!!" written on the front. Well, to us of course, that means the store is closing. However, that's not the same here, or every store in Buenos Aires would be closing tomorrow. ^_^' Rather, it just means that there's a sale, and they often have crazy percentages like 40% and 50% off, but those discounts seem to stay up all season as well.

3) Did you know that Argentina has the second highest rate of bulimia and anorexia in the world? It's true. Of course, Japan is the first. I can't prove this, but I think in Argentina it has something to do with the fact that naked women are EVERYWHERE. Really, the billboards outside stores display near-naked or totally nude women who of course are airbrushed, skinny as hell, and are so pretty that it makes an average woman wonder how she can ever compete. It's more obvious to me than ever that we live in a patriarchal society; since heterosexual orientation is the majority, and there are about an equal amount of women and men (leaning towards more women), it is ridiculous to think that straight women, or even gay men, in fact many lesbians, would like the outright exploitation of women's body in this manner. In the curbside magazine stands, they have women with unrealistically huge breasts on the front covers right next to the children's books. I can't say for sure this contributes to the lack of self-confidence that leads to eating disorders, but I'm sure it doesn't help.

4) The value of the dollar here is ridiculous. You might say that the American dollar is doing badly right now, and while that's true, it's also true that it's still much better than many currencies in the world. The conversion rate is 3.8 pesos for 1 dollar. So, even though I eat most cafe meals for about $5 or less, it's not really that inexpensive to Argentines; it's just that I'm bringing "superior" currency. Before you get a big head, just remember that our power has come from subjugating countries like Argentina.

5) The presence of Coca-Cola here is overwhelming. And I'm not talking about the drink - I mean the company. I used to think that the reason it was so powerful was because it was well-liked around the world; that's definitely not the case. Coca-Cola has built many factories around the world with incentives to local communities that it would benefit them, and maybe it has - but at what cost? Just think about how much they must make the local owners pay to have their establishment there (maybe over half?). Does that really create a hard-working business ethic? So much is owned by them here - chairs, tables, even entire restaurants. It's impossible to say which companies they have supported over others for their own interests. To mention nothing of the fact that they used Jewish slave labor in Nazi Germany during WW2 to operate their factories, or their flagrant disregard of the environment around the world, in South America Coca-Cola has gone even further. This is from a New York-based committee that included city officials, who after investing the incident, found that:

To date, there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so.

Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers. The physical access that paramilitaries have had to Coca-Cola bottling plants is impossible without company knowledge and/or tacit approval....

I didn't know about this at the time, but I'm pretty proud of the US for standing up to one of its own major corporations in spite of the fact that the US has supported military dictatorships for years. Since foreign corporations have an infamous history of exploiting workers in other countries by paying them next to nothing and making them work under hazardous conditions, the union members likely went on strike to fix that. Apparently Coca-Cola wouldn't hear any of it though.

To see an entire list of its violations, see Wikipedia.

Five of my friends and I are traveling to Santiago, Chile next week so I'm really excited. I'll make sure to tell you about it when I get back! Hasta luego!

No comments:

Post a Comment