betatrendingnewhotpromotedPostI finally was returning to Argentina after a 30 year hiatus. I didn’t imagine myself leaving Chile so soon but it was inevitable, especially with my kinda sorta motherland Argentina right next door. For sure being broke also speed up my return to Argentina. This part of my journey was not just about visiting another country, making some friends and having some cool stories to tell.
Did all those things happen? Absolutely. But for me it was about connecting with my roots, this return to Argentina after 30 years was the fulfillment of a dream, sort of a return to Mecca or the Motherland.(Bariloche, Argentina 1983)I was 6 years old the first time I visited Argentina and fell in love with Argentina and all things Argentine. Argentina has a kinda crazy fun loving dysfunctional neurotic, artistic, hippie, dangerous, cool vibe.
I really don’t know how else to explain it, in others “Fucked Up Crazy”. While on the bus ride to Argentina, my mind was filled with memories and thoughts I had carried with my my entire life. I had nostalgic childhood memories of playing futbol in the streets with the local kids in the barrio, I Loved the freedom and how easy it was to make friends. I remember beating up my older brother Ernesto’s friend for making fun of me while the neighborhood kids gave a traditional boxing 10 count. I’m not even sure how I communicated with them or my family for that matter since my Spanish skills were very limited back in those days. I experienced many new things on this trip like fishing, visiting the ski resort town of Bariloche were I experienced nature for the first time. Me and my siblings were even left for 2 weeks with cousins in Buenos Aires as my parents went back to New York to handle business and considered relocating the family back to Argentina.
My Aunt Sarita took care of me a lot and I was obsessed with her, to me she was like a nicer slightly prettier upgraded version of my mom. My relationship with my mom was always complicated and lacked affection. Sarita was a teacher, great with kids so I gravitated to her my positive energy. I even remember I cried and thru a fit when I was told I was having to leave Argentina, mainly because I had grown attached to her. This childhood adventure of mine lasted 6 weeks and I didn’t want it to end. I’m sure it has happens to others especially travelers the feeling of deja vu when you feel at home somewhere you’ve never been before.
That is how I felt when I first arrived in Argentina when I was 6 and I was experiencing the same deja vu all over again at age 36.(Ernesto, Mom and Me)(me and my my mom in red and Sarita holding my hands)Many times I fantasized what life would have been like if I would have grown up there. I was always very curious about what that experience would be like. As an American of Argentine parents I always felt like an outsider looking in. Not quit American not exactly Argentine. Because I grew up in Brooklyn in a community around many immigrants, it was normal for kids to ask you where you were from.
Of course I would say Argentina because of my parents, even though I didn’t speak much Spanish. In my mind it was that acceptable for be a Puerto Rican kid in New York not speak Spanish but not an Argentine. Argentine’s have a reputation for being arrogant and proud so you would think my parents would have made sure I learned Spanish, but it wasn’t the case. I don’t think they purposely didn’t teach me, they just didn’t make and effort nor they did realize how my lack of Spanish skills would affect my in life. I also felt uncomfortable trying to speak Spanish cause my family would make fun of me. In their arrogance they would say shame me and say”ehhh es Americano, es gringo or es yankee. Being called an American, Gringo or Yankee for me was offensive, it was a way of saying “Your not one of us, Your not part of the club”. I heard my parents communicate or to be more accurate yell at each other in Argentine Spanish which is rather intense.
It definitely is strange to grow up hearing repetitively a language your entire life without fully comprehending it. Even my grandmother who took care of me only spoke Spanish and somehow I still didn’t click for me. My father also had a jewelry manufacturing business with all Spanish speaking employees from all over Latin america. The employees also communicated with me in Spanish but I still was lost. So the issue of language and my identity definitely affected me and put me on a search to connect with my roots and myself properly.I was not the only person that seem to be conflicted by my so called identity. Even while was staying in a Spiritual Community in Brasil called Source Temple after my time in Buenos Aires the Master aka Leader their named Beloved who also is from Brooklyn pointed out my American Argentine duality by joking about it in front of 30-40 of his disciples/residents by saying”He’s from Brooklyn, no he’s from Argentina, No he doesn’t know where he’s from.
So I just replied “The Best of Both Worlds”. I have always claim to be from Brooklyn but no matter what because of my appearance, my name and the Argentine flag tattooed on my arm, my connection to Argentina get never be ignored or erased.(Beloved the leader of Source Temple)A lot of my Argentine sentiments predominantly came from my father. My father was and is obsessed with all things Argentine from Asados, Futbol, Pizza, Empanadas, Dulce de Leche, Che Guevara, Faturas, Tango, Futbol, you name it. I grew up playing futbol which was big in my house and I suppose me growing up in a time period where Argentina had won 2 world cups gave me a superficial sense of pride. Plus my father grew up in a neighborhood known as La Paternal, famous for being the first club that Maradona played for as a professional, something my father took a lot of pride in.
My parents even took me to Argentine Malvinas protest in New York back in the early 80’s when I was around 7, 8. So Argentina played a big part of my identity. In my earlier years we had a lot of family get together’s and of course Asados so I was indoctrinated in the Argentine ways. Even though I didn’t understand what was fully said I was still curious and would listen to my uncles, aunts and grandparents speak. Argentine’s are very expressive dramatic intelligent funny characters who use a lot of hand gestures similar to Italians when they speak.
I also studied my father and uncles and was impressed by how nice they dressed and how they always had on a nice smelling fragrance. I guess many Argentine men have a kinda metro sexual vibe are what is known as “Coquito” (which means someone who takes cares of there appearance). Though I knew I wasn’t really one of them because I was made somewhere else, I was still intrigued with Argentina and felt a strong connection.(Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, La Paternal Buenos Aires)(typical Argentine humor from the 80’s)(typical Asado minus the Kim Jong and the Nuclear missile, lol)(me in the purple uniform on the far left)(My fathers futbol team made up of his workers mostly ex professionals)Argentina in my mind was like a woman that I’ve been madly in love with my entire life but never had gotten the courage to tell her I love her. I felt like she would ultimately reject me if I ever shared my true feelings, so rather then be rejected I suppressed my feelings.
Lack of courage is probably what kept me from going for so many years, it was always in the back of my mind. It’s not as if I didn’t have the money in the past to go, since I worked for Wall Street firms. And by this point I had already traveled 12 times to Colombia from Miami in the past and a few others places. No I didn’t have a cocaine addiction, mainly just enjoyed meeting females and smoking marijuana which is what lead me to frequent Colombia. It’s different, don’t judge.
I didn’t feel accepted as Argentine which was probably a big reason I didn’t go sooner to Argentina. In my experience it was much easier to be accepted by non Argentines then by Argentines. Also I had never had an Argentine girlfriend because of my insecurity plus Argentines are not like other so called Latin woman that gravitate to Gringos. So Colombia was a much better fit if I was looking for special attention, which I was.Even as I got older and played futbol with my Argentine friends in Miami but no matter what I was an outsider.
But in life everything is destiny and timing and I believe my destiny to be in Argentina came at the perfect time, when I was truly ready. I had a love for Argentina that ran thru my veins and I was finally making my return to fulfill a dream to return to this place that had left such a major impression on me and had played a role in shaping my life and personality. What’s so funny now is that I don’t care or have an attachment to an identity of being Argentine, American or whatever.
My father basically made me believe that Argentina was Heaven on Earth and the highest thing one can be in the life is Argentine. Needless to say I had very high expectations of Argentina and what it represented to me which may cause me to give you some bias perspectives of my time their or maybe allow you too see a side of Buenos Aires you never really knew. Aside from my family influence I was also influenced by the Argentine communities in Queens. Some of the highlights of growing up in New York was going to Queens with my family and eating at one of the typical Argentine Restaurants, bakeries or pizzerias. I loved all the Argentine goodies I had in New York and I was excited to finally taste the authentic version for myself.(La Esquina Criolla, typical Argentine community in Elmhurst, Queens)Now that I have provided you with a review of my Argentine roots, I will finally get into the trip from Santiago to Buenos Aires.
The bus ride to Mendoza from Santiago was one of the most beautiful enjoyable rides of my life. I just starred out the window in awe of the views of the Andes mountains.. I even saw hot springs, I was in love with Argentina and South America. I thought to myself “Holy Shit, Look at this” who knew even 6 weeks earlier that I would be on this bizarre journey that all started with me getting pissed off at my father. I went from being locked in my room staring at the wall, bored, frustrated,crying, lonely, depressed, traumatized with no answer or solutions to life’s problems to a magical bus ride thru the Andes.
It’s something I really wanted but never until that moment had just gone for it. In the past I was always worried and preoccupied with money and thought I was trapped and limited because I didn’t have enough of it. And it wasn’t until I had almost nothing even to the point of selling my computer to buy a bus ticket to even get into Argentina. For me there is not much that can top the feeling of being in someplace new, with the feeling that anything is possible. It’s also nice to look out the window, see nature and forget about the cares of the world for at least a few hours. Traveling makes one see that all the baggage and thoughts that fills ones mind can be removed and replaced with new thoughts. Of course one can choose to change their reality without the need to travel, but for many there can be great benefits in changing ones physical location.
Everybody is different and in my case travelling was a medicine that allowed me to cleanse my soul of years of torment and social conditioning.We got to Mendoza in the evening, it was approximately an 8 hour bus ride. I still had a few Chilean pesos after selling my computer, so I went looking for a casa de cambio or exchange house in the bus terminal.
Walked around the terminal and finally found a guy in a small room that was exchanging pesos. I didn’t really know the exchange rate at the time but it appeared I got a good rate something like 600 Argentine pesos for 40 Chilean, not bad I think. I had some cash so I went out side the terminal to grab a bite to eat, my first meal in Argentina in 30 years. I choose the classic Milanesa Napolitano with Papa Fritas. I took the food to go as not to miss my bus plus The surrounding area appeared a bit sketchy.
(Milanesa Napolitano is basically the same as Chicken or Veal parmigiana with Ham added)The ride from Mendoza to Buenos Aires at night was interesting. It was interesting for me to see to small towns and a lot of people playing futbol on small 5 on 5 canchitas. I did manage to get some sleep and finally arrived in Buenos Aires around noon.
As I got closer to Buenos Aires, the scenary changed drastically from farm land with thousands of cows grazing all over to place to your typical city traffic congestion and overpopulation and filth. Upon arriving at Retiro, you will inevitable notice adjacent from the terminal is what is known as Vila 31 otherwise known as Villa Miseria (which means Misery village). I was so excited to be back in Argentina but at first glance it looked a lot different then the perfect clean fantasy Disney version I had of it from when I was a child. A Villa is basically Argentinas version of a Brazilian Favela. But Buenos Aires doesn’t have high mountains like Rio so these slums are on an even surface. The villas are basically shanty towns occupied by the poorest Argentines and mainly Bolivian, Peruvian and Paraguyan. I always had this image of Buenos Aires being a somewhat clean city and thought it would be so much more sophisticated since it is considered the Paris of South America and Argentines boast and pretend to be Europeans which puts them on a higher level then others Latinos, but no matter what an Argentine might project the reality is far different.
Yes there is European flare to Buenos Aires but it is far from the days when it was considered the 8th richest country in the world. Like everywhere in the world you have rich and poor and in Argentina like most places the daily struggles to survive for the average middle class person are prevalent.(Villa 31 next to Retiro Bus Terminal)I was received by my Aunt Sarita, her sister Graciela and my cousin Yamila, Saritas youngest daughter Yamila. A lot had change in the last 30 years since I had last scene Sarita, she was now she was a married woman of 3 grown children. We made our way out the terminal to catch the bus to Saritas house which is a province 40 – 60 minutes outside Buenos Aires in an area called Ramos Mejia. On the way to Ramos Mejia I was filled with excitement and could not believe I was finally here after so long. We made it to the house and was greeted by Saritas other daughters Sabrina, Cami and her husband Walter.
Everyone was very nice and things got off to a promising start. Walter gave me a tour of the neighborhood and we passed a street called Gaona which is the most famous street in Ramos Mejia known for having a lot of Boliches which in Argentine means night clubs. Once again I felt the same type of Deja vu feeling I experienced during my first ever trip to Buenos Aires.(Avenida Gaona on a typical Friday night, even people who live in Capital take the trip to Ramos Mejia)(Argentines love to Party)This is just an intro to the beginning of a bizarre personal journey that I was about to undertake. Nothing up until this point had come easy and I assure you that things pretty much stayed this way for my duration in Buenos Aires. I look forward to sharing my next post and what occurred to me in just my first few days in Buenos Aires.Until then peace and love.