Curious Argentines Meet Yanqui Politics (and Vice Versa)

 

Wednesday, March 30th

Curious Argentines Get Taste of Yanqui Politics

After school, my sister Milagros took me to “El Shopping,” an outdoor mini-mall just to look. Everything was SUPER expensive. I think it would be like buying all your clothes in Bryn Mawr. We came back to the house for “la merienda,” the evening snack (lunch is at 12 and dinner is served around 10). When I walked in the front door, her entire friend group was waiting for me, laden with pastries to share and questions to ask. They sang me a song of welcome, and it felt exactly like when it’s your birthday and people sing happy birthday to you and you don’t know what to do with yourself. Then the interrogation began. They were all talking at once, rapid-fire throwing some complicated questions my way. Luckily there were a lot of pastries to help me through it. Cheese danishes, medialunas (croissants), and powdered sugary goodness filled with dulce-de-leche. Plus, I had already answered a lot of their queries in previous conversations. Multiple times. So I was somewhat prepared.

When did I arrive? How long am I staying? Do I like Tucumán? What made me decide to study abroad? Why Argentina? How do I find la Escuela Normal, my high school? Where am I from? Then the conversation has officially shifted to the good old U.S. of A. Inevitably, I get asked if it’s like the movies. I ALWAYS get asked if it’s like in the movies. The point of Hollywood is to make money, I say. Everything is super exaggerated. It’s not totally like it is in TV series either. Cheerleaders do not wear their uniforms to school every day like on Glee. There’s often less distinction or more mixing between social groups. It’s not just the nerds and the jocks and the stoners and the smarties, the theatre kids and student government, and all of it under the dominion of the popular crowd. There’s also buildOn. Ok, ignore that joke if you do not go to Lower Merion High School and continue thinking about the stereotypes generated by entities such as “reality” TV.

Next up, do we have quinceñeras? The Latinas do. “And everyone else has a dieciseis?”

Ah, the Sweet Sixteen. “Well, I didn’t have one!” I guess it depends on how much money you have to throw around and how much you love being the center of attention and if you’re a planner or a spontaneous adventurer and how many friends you have and if your birthday falls on a date when everyone else is on vacation and how much money you have to throw around (did I say that already?)

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[A few more of the interrogators and I at a private school soccer tournament days later.]

“And do you like Donald Trump?” Oh, dear Lord.

“There are so many things wrong with him that I don’t know where to start. Ok, I will give you just a few examples.”

Donald Trump has said that he wants to prohibit Muslims from entering the country. My nation was basically founded on the idea of freedom: personal and institutional, religion and expression, speech and print, assembly and petition. DEMOCRACY, BEACHES! Actually, your constitution (the Argentine constitution) is based on ours (the UnitedStatesian* constitution, and thus the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights). Anyway, Donald Trump basically plans to scratch out the fundamental principle of my nation. If you follow memes, he’s for ‘MURIKA and not America.

*I have to say estadounidense, not americano, because Argentines are indignant. “We’re Americans too!” They learn six continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, Antarctica, America. We Unitedstatesians learn 7 continents (North and South America are distinct). Why? Because we cut the continent of America in half when we created the Panama canal. At least that’s my theory.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the border. He also plans to deport about 11 million Latin Americans living in the U.S. without permission, including some of my best friends in Philadelphia. Aside from being against my personal interests (Hi, Bayron, love), the deportations would certainly bring down the economy, if not tank it.

“Yeah, I don’t know what would happen if we took all the Bolivians out of the workforce,” someone said.

Ok, I’m not sure if that Argentine situation is comparable but ok.  All I know is that my nation has pretty much always operated on the marginalization and utilization and unjust treatment of “minorities,” or anyone cast as other. Historically in the race category (in no particular order), that has included Native Americans, Africans, Irish-immigrants, southern and eastern European immigrants, Jews, African-Americans, among others and including mixes of the aforementioned groups.  And now it seems some of the country is on an anti-Latin American kick or at least an anti-illegal kick that has affected all of Latin American immigrants (and them more than any other group). But no human is illegal! Anyway, Donald Trump is going to capitalize on that fear that some have (pun intended), intentionally or not, and continue propagating bigotry and discrimination.

Plus, he’s a businessman, and will likely run the country based on his experience in that realm. If that meant that he’d drastically reduce the national debt and improve the countries’ finances, that would be a point in his favor. But there is no guarantee of that (he went bankrupt a few times), and even if it was a sure thing, the social cost is too high. What he proposes will undo much of the civil rights progress we’ve made of late, pushing us back years. He also said 7-Eleven instead of 9/11, replacing one of the most important dates in our nation’s history with a convenience store chain. While Trump as president is no laughing matter, his sheer ridiculosity, his Twitter account, and other people’s comments about him do provide some entertainment (just check out the New York Times article: The 210 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List).

The problem is, the other candidates (and former candidates) aren’t exactly saints.

Following my rant about Trump, I go on to name the principal defects of those still in the race.

+illegal activity and attempts to cover it up

+total lack of empathy for other human beings

+far-too-extreme conservativism

+from a certain state which shall remain nameless (rhymes with Blue Furs-y)

+affiliation with a type of government because of which the U.S. has taken up arms (and lost lives to combat) in the World War II, the Cold War, and many smaller conflicts.

+relation to a former president who screwed up big time

+shady corporate history

Yep, that covers Rubio, Fiorina, Clinton (Hillary), Bush (Jeb), Sanders, Cruz and Christie. Oh, and Trump! And some of the above descriptions even fit multiple candidates.

“So who are you voting for?”

“Whatever happens, come November, I will try to cast my vote for the lesser of two evils.”

“Do you like Obama?”

“He’s not a candidate. He’s already served his two terms!”

“Really? Ok, but do you like him?”

I mention the rampant use of executive orders, healthcare.gov and the emergency team from Google, the bombing of Libya, excessive vacation spending, Lily Ledbetter, the economy, and diplomatic relations with Cuba. I talk about his not-that-productive time as Illinois senator, mysterious education at Columbia, lofty goals, broken promises, and incredible speaking abilities. I try to present a balanced point of view, but I still come out subjective.

More questions follow. Where are you going to college? What are high school parties like? What do you drink? Do you guys go clubbing? Does your class hang out? What are the big differences between school there and here? Do you really use a locker? How many boyfriends have you had? When a mosquito bites you in the U.S. does it itch more or less? Do you even have mosquitos?

I am not making this stuff up.

Most of the questions were valid. But the whole experience was a bit exhausting. I’m either an ambivert or a very confident and social introvert who likes to meet new people and will talk your ears off. I’d much rather be one-on -one than in a giant mob of people. Small get-togethers over raging parties. Actually, I think “small get-together” tends to mean raging party. As in, “Mom, can I have a small get-together at our house while you’re out of town? Just a few friends, really.” This happens in the movies and the next morning the house is trashed and empty bottles are everywhere and the tablecloth has holes from cigarette butts and the special vase is broken and there are one to five kids passed out on the floor in weird positions and they somehow all stir at once and have to frantically clean up the mess before the parents get home OR ELSE. I’m pretty sure this happens in Sixteen Candles (click here to see “Jake walking through house after party” which is a much more entertaining clip than it sounds… thanks, YouTube) and also in that Eddie Murphy movie The Nutty Professor (half of which I watched in Spanish and therefore had to google “fat scientist movie black guy” to find out what it was called). But that is only one of the problems that surge the morning after the party. One of my favorite quotes from The Great Gatsby is “I like large parties—they’re so intimate. Small parties there isn’t any privacy.” That quote is true here in Tucumán, if not all of Argentina.

Los tucumanos are very gossip-bee and small parties are the hive. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar but when you’re gettin’ the honeys the gossip flies. You might say that it’s basic, but it stings like acid. Or like a bee. A gossip-bee. You better behive or the gossip-bees will swarm. In my opinion the Argentines bee nectar-sipping and gos-siping more than WASPS, as teen alcohol consumption is at 70% here and gossip consumption in the upper 90s. (One of those statistics was provided by Christina Kirchner and the other I guesstimated, making it hard to know which is more reliable). As I was saying, the common people are all up in everybody’s bee’snest. The policemen are not. According to some, Tucumán is the most politically corrupt province in a politically corrupt Argentina. It may even put the “fun” in “dysfunctional.”

Tuesday, March 29th (one day beforehand)

Curious Yanqui Gets a Taste of Argentine Politics

Every class in 6th (senior) year of a public high school participates in a government service-learning initiative called the National Education Solidarity Program (PNES). Created in 2003 in one of Néstor Kirchner’s first acts as president, the PNES intends to “to promote solidarity in education  and citizen participation in the community through the pedagogic methodology of learning.”  It is, oxymoronically, mandatory volunteer work, or as the official documents say, it “creates spaces for the promotion of student protagonism.” After copying this sort of official government blubber for a month, the 6th years in the Social Science division were supposedly ready to present about institutional community service, ‘systematic solidarity initiatives,’ and the ‘Ten Prosocial Conducts.’ The four-professor team had made a PowerPoint detailing the details. The school had reserved its recently-renovated salon for the occasion. All because the Minister of Education of Tucumán was going to come and give his seal of approval. Four of my friends (all from the other S.S. class) were nervous: one pacing around the room, one tapping her heel on the tile floor, one muttering her prepared remarks to herself, and one checking his watch every five minutes like clockwork. After about a half an hour, the teacher called for a student to go meet the Minister at the front door. My friend Sheila, a bubbly Japanese-Argentine who likes to bake, raised her hand and was whisked out of the room. Minutes passed. Students chattered in low (and not-so-low) voices. It was hot. Sleep beckoned but anticipation won out. Twenty minutes later, the Minister was still nowhere to be seen. The teachers decided to proceed with the presentation. My presenter-friends were incredibly chipper, but the teachers were incredibly monotone. I was fighting the head-bob hard long before the home stretch. Guess who never showed?

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“Whadduh you lookin’ at?”

That’s right,  Juan Pablo Lichtmajer, Tucumán’s very own Minister of Education. Dr. Lichtmajer, I presume. Yes, that’s Dr. Lichtmajer to you. He flaked.

“Perhaps he got caught in traffic,” I posed.

“His office is two blocks away,” they responded.

“Oh in la Casa del Gobierno. That ornate building I pass two times every day between school and home as I cross the plaza with the super tall statue. Yeah, that office.”

There was really no excuse for his absence. But no one was all that surprised. My first firsthand brush with Argentine politics.

One good thing that surged from this disappointment is my classmates and I started talking about… Argentine politics. Now during some of the 15-minute breaks between classes, my classmates are teaching me the political history of Argentina. So far we’ve covered 1946-1982. Pages and pages of my little vocabulary notebook  are now filled with dates and overthrows and deaths and false promises and polarization and explanations. This may be the most significant thing I am learning in school even though La Escuela Normal Superior en Lenguas Vivas Juan Bautista Alberdi does offer an excellent public education from which I am benefitting immensely. I am also learning about Argentine politics and corruption (which could be considered synonyms here) from the media. We watch the news during breakfast, just before 7 o’clock. Then I read The Bubble, a sarcastic but authentic Argentine digital news source written in English. I think it is targeted at witty politically-minded millennials and those snarky middle-aged men and women who are somewhat tech-savvy and strangely hip, and happen to be living in Buenos Aires. I can think of two prime examples, whom most of you do not know, but for those who do, I’m talking about Lyle Patterson of LaGrange, IL and Tim Obendorf (Alaska native, longtime resident of Glen Ellyn, and current owner of a trendy apartment in Downtown Chicago.) For those who don’t, I have compiled a few pictures of people who look like they would appreciate The Bubble.

Disclaimer: None of these people have endorsed The Bubble, except that gorgeous babe in the bottom righthand corner. No, not Ariel! No, not University-Student-Moonlighting-as-Male-Model Ken Clark (the one with an uncanny resemblance to Metropolis-Journalist-Moonlighting-as-Superhero Clark Kent). I’m talking about young Carlina Green (me)! Anyway, The Bubble tells it straight. Cristina Kirchner’s ties with money laundering? Lionel Messi’s tax evasion? Macri in the Panama Papers? Get out your popcorn, folks.

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I still have way too much to learn. But I’m already getting a lot out of this. Today’s moral of the story: In Argentina you can’t get away with anything at a party, but you can get away with nearly anything if you’ve got a government position, money, and/or fans.

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