Posted by: talljoe | December 2, 2011

The Bolivianization of Northern Argentina

“I don’t mind that they’re here but –”:
The Bolivianization of Northern Argentina

Racial discrimination has been rampant throughout the world for centuries.  From the African slave trade in the 1700s and Nazi Germany’s humiliation of Europe’s Jewish communities during World War II, to the continued racial boundaries between white and black in the United States and the internal physical discrimination among Asia’s various bloodlines, discrimination is nothing new when it comes to determining ones’ place in society.

Today, one can point to the struggle of Mexican immigrants adjusting to new lives (legalities pending) in the United States as a significant source of discrimination.  According to a Pew Research study conducted in late 2008, nearly 13 million Mexicans were living in the United States – more than half (55%) were residing illegally.  This has prompted outrage among conservative Americans.  “We are a nation of people that have worked to gain our citizenship,” Josh Hensen, creator of ‘Stop the Invasion,’ a Facebook group which formulates a discussion on illegal immigration, wrote on the site.  “Illegals are an insult to our ancestors, and most importantly, the legal Mexicans that have worked their butts off to become part of our great nation.”

Simultaneously an equally significant struggle is occurring in Argentina – over 6,000 miles south of the U.S. and Mexican border – where Bolivian migration has rapidly increased since the year 2000 to 7 million.  Conservative Argentines share the opinions of U.S. citizens when it comes to the Bolivian burst.  “I don’t mind that they’re here,” Recoleta resident Cristina Claros said sarcastically.  “They’re invading our schools.  They fill up the queue in our hospitals.  They take our jobs, but they’re still littering our streets selling their fruit.”

Despite backlash from natives in both countries, Mexicans and Bolivians continue to migrate to the United States and Argentina respectively.  In Argentina, Bolivians arrive knowing that there are anchors of support.  Bolivian journalist Lilia Camacho and activist Reina Isabel Torres are just two shoulders to lean on.  Camacho and Torres have been supporting each other and immigrant communities in Argentina since 2001 when Torres’ sister-in-law Marcelina Meneses and her 10-month-old son were pushed off a train en route to Buenos Aires and killed.  The apparent assassinations of Meneses and her son were due to discrimination toward their Bolivian roots.  Since that day Camacho and Torres have been tirelessly advocating for the improvement of immigrant communities in Buenos Aires.

Camacho mans public relations for Radio Constellation, an Argentine radio station operating out of a small apartment in barrio Flores, Buenos Aires.  For four years, the station has provided Bolivian immigrants with music from their roots as well as a place that they can call a second home.  In addition to broadcasting great music, the station also acts as a community center for immigrants in need.  Upon walking into the building there is a wall covered in classified ads posted by members of the community.  Those looking to buy, sell, find a job or hire employees come to the center and hope for the best.  The radio provides counseling and support to those who are employed in Buenos Aires to educate new workers on their rights and responsibilities and to ensure success.

Camacho and Torres understand the fragile situation for immigrants in Argentina.  “One of the reasons for the discrimination is that [immigrants] are vulnerable,” Camacho said.  “We come from a country where we, as farmers, are also discriminated against, so [Bolivians] are shy and unaware of their rights in Argentina.”  Others attribute immigrants’ susceptibility to their distinct appearance.  “They’re very noticeable in the streets,” Claros said.  “[Argentines] call them Boliviguayos because we don’t know if they’re Bolivian, Paraguayan, Peruvian.  They’re different.”  Bolivians are also called bolitas (little balls) and Paraguayans, paraguas (umbrellas).

The derogative labeling of immigrant groups is quite common in countries with large migrant populations.  In the United States, Mexicans are sometimes referred to as wetbacks because of the necessity to cross the Rio Grande in order to enter the States illegally through Texas.  Bolivian name calling was illustrated in the 2001 award winning film Bolivia.  The film portrays a Freddy Flores, a Bolivian employed as an undocumented restaurant worker in Buenos Aires.  Throughout the film, Flores is subject to racial slurs like ‘negro’ by some of the customers.  However, Flores’ struggle did not stop with verbal abuse.  At some points he is physically harassed and in the end he is killed due to his Bolivian heritage.

Today, the social wellness of Argentina’s Bolivian community is slowly but surely developing.  Reina Torres recounted the change in the frequency of the discrimination while speaking to a group of students in Buenos Aires.  “In 2001 the Bolivians were viewed as scapegoats,” she said.  “But now if you ask Argentines about Bolivians the response is improving.”  Camacho added that the graffiti which pollutes the city’s streets used to fire shots at the Bolivian immigrants.  Expletives about the Bolivian community which used to adorn walls throughout Buenos Aires are now being replaced by signals of support – fighting back against fascism.

Perhaps the shift in the mood has some connection to the advancements made by Bolivians in Argentina’s work force.  “The first waves of Bolivian immigrants were farmers,” Torres said.  “But now the second generation is mostly made up of textile workers who earn and save a lot of money.”  It is difficult to move ahead in the job market without holding a legal status in one’s country.  Immigrants are well aware of this.  A visit to Argentina’s Immigrations office in Retiro will reveal long lines filled with Bolivian, Peruvian and Paraguayan immigrants looking to earn their golden ticket into Argentine society.

Discrimination among migrant groups is always going to have an impact on societies around the world.  With time, Argentina’s citizens will come to fully accept Bolivians as Argentines, and U.S. citizens will no longer frown against the abundance of Mexican workers in their workplaces.  However, the end to of discriminatory action always leads to another.  This practice, as negative as it maybe, will always remain a significant part of the global society.

Posted by: talljoe | December 2, 2011

La Luna Brillante

La Luna Brillante

Este es mi primer diario en español. Estoy volviendo a Montevideo en Buquebus. La fecha es 2 de diciembre de 2011 y la hora es 00:44 AM. No pude escribir mucho hasta ahora porque no sentí que podría escribir adecuadamente sobre mis experiencias en América de Sur. Estoy abrumado por muchas experiencias buenas y malas y es muy difícil exponerlas con palabras.

Entonces, esta noche tiene una buena onda. La luna está re linda porque tiene un buen color y está re grande. Escuchaba canciones navidades y miraba la luna sobre Buenos Aires. El momento era muy bello – las luces brillantes de la ciudad abajo y la presencia de la luna anaranjada en el cielo. Cuando estábamos más lejos, la ciudad se obscureció, pero la luna todavía era brillante y grande.

A la derecha del centro de la ciudad es un lugar re triste. Villa 31 es un lugar donde viven 50,600 personas sin dinero, sin educación y sin esperanza por el futuro. Es irónico porque está al lado de los barrios más ricos de la ciudad. Usualmente, Villa 31 es obscura después de anochecer pero está noche es diferente. Está noche la luna brillante está iluminando la villa para todos.

Estoy sentado en la primera clase de un barco, leyendo la revista Hola!, y escribiendo un documento en my computadora. Y por contraste hay niños sin techo sobre sus cabezas y sin buena comida en la villa. Tengo remordimientos de conciencia. Es muy desafortunado que ellos tengan que vivir allí. Por lo menos que tengan la buena onda de la luna – un marcado contraste con las vidas que ellos viven todos los días.

English Translation:

The Bright Moon

This is my first blog post in Spanish.  I am returning to Montevideo on the Buquebus (ferry).  The date is 2 December, 2011 and the time is 12:44 AM.  I couldn’t write much until now because I didn’t feel that I could write adequately about my experiences in South America.  I am overwhelmed by many good and bad experiences and it is very difficult to express them with words.

There is a good feeling in the air tonight.  The moon is very pretty because it has a good color and it’s very big.  I was listening to Christmas music and watching the moon over Buenos Aires.  The moment was very beautiful – the bright lights of the city below and the presence of the orange moon in the sky.  When we were farther away, the city appeared darker, but the moon was still big and bright.

To the right of the center of the city is a very sad place.  Shantytown 31 is a place where 50,600 people live without money, education and without hope for the future.  It is ironic because it is located alongside the richest barrios of the city.  Usually the shantytown is left in the dark at night, but tonight is different.  The bright moon is illuminating the shantytown for everyone.

I am sitting in the first class of a boat, reading Hola! magazine and writing a blog post on my laptop.  By contrast, in the shantytown there are children without sufficient roofs over their heads or healthy food to eat.  I feel a little guilty.  It is unfortunate that they have to live there.  At least they have the good vibe of the moon – a stark contrast with the lives they live every day.

Posted by: talljoe | November 24, 2011

Twisted Turkeyday in Buenos Aires

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  It’s going to be kind of awkward this year.  While my friends and family will be enjoying the day off, I will be spending this Thanksgiving in class.  Obviously, the holiday is not celebrated in Buenos Aires.    It’s probably going to be 80 degrees today too… It’s funny because in the stores they’re starting to sell Christmas decorations, and alongside the Christmas decorations they’re also starting to sell summer things – bathing suits, rafts, beach chairs and towels.  It sure is twisted!

Tonight the university is having a Thanksgiving dinner for us.  They don’t sell turkeys in the grocery stores here so I’m interested to see how it turns out.  I’ll take some pics and write about it later!  Happy Thanksgiving from Buenos Aires, Argentina!!  🙂

Posted by: talljoe | November 24, 2011

Salida a Once

Once es un barrio re copado en Buenos Aires, pero no es mi barrio preferido.  Hay muchas tiendas de textiles y tiendas de maniquíes. Cuando era niño, me encantaba jugar con los maniquíes en las tiendas.  Abasto Shopping tiene muy buena onda.  El edificio es grande y tiene muchas tiendas de especialidades.  Hay una rueda gigante dentro de Abasto.  ¡Qué groso! Antes de nuestra salida nunca vi un McDonald’s con la comida bendecida.  Cuando vimos la casa de Carlos Gardel fue un poco cómico para mí porque los uruguayos siempre me dicen, ‘Gardel nació en Uruguay,’ y los argentinos me dicen ‘Gardel nació en Argentina.’ Pero, yo siempre le digo ‘nadie tienen razón, Gardel nació en Francia.’  Ellos tienen muchos argumentos sobre él. Es re cómico para mí, porque no entiendo porqué es tan importante. Ya fue.


Posted by: talljoe | November 24, 2011

Un Buen Trabajo

Here’s something else I wrote for my Spanish class… Kind of random, but everyone keeps asking me how my Spanish is coming along, so I thought I’d start posting some of the things I have to write for class..

Un Buen Trabajo

Cuando me gradúe yo trabajaré como un periodista en Washington, DC. Espero encontrar un buen trabajo con un programa de noticias o una revista popular. En Washington, DC hay muchos trabajos para periodistas porque hay muchos periódicos, muchas revistas y muchos programas de noticias por TV.

Me encanta el periodismo pero hay inconvenientes. Yo entiendo que los periodistas no ganan mucho dinero, por lo tanto, que tendré otro trabajo también. En la oficina de la revista o el periódico, yo seré feliz si puedo trabajar con mi propio espacio, pero hay muchos periodistas en las publicaciones, por eso no podré. El periodismo es un trabajo estresante, porque hay muchas fechas límites, sin embargo cuando estoy estresado, escribo mejor.

Iré a la oficina cinco días por semana tipo de 9 de la mañana a 5 de la tarde. Durante el día escribiré muchas preguntas para entrevistas, por otra parte haré muchas entrevistas sin haber escrito las preguntas.

Periodismo me dará experiencias copadas. Tal vez encontraré personas famosas o personas muy importantes. El periodismo me permitirá vivir en cualquier parte del mundo. Este es muy importante para mí porque es muy probable que no pueda casarme con mi novio en los Estados Unidos.

Al final, mi futuro en periodismo es muy brillante. Tal vez algún día seré un famoso periodista!

Posted by: talljoe | November 23, 2011

Paco: A Classless Drug

With a population of over 45,000, Villa 21 is Argentina’s largest slum.  Located in the capital city of Buenos Aires, walking into the shantytown is like entering another dimension.  The rocky streets filled with children playing soccer with a makeshift ball, hundreds of shacks carelessly built one on top of another, and a rank smell of garbage – villa 21 is an exceptional parallel to the glitz and glamour of the streets of Recoleta and Palermo, two of the city’s wealthiest barrios.  On some corners, groups of men lazily sit, devoured in smoke and listless conversation.  With a closer look one would notice that not all of these men are smoking cigarettes or marijuana.  Some are hopelessly engaged to a manmade pipe – a pipe filled with a toxic substance with the capability of controlling their lives forever.

According to the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) paco is an inexpensive, yet highly addictive residue left over from the creation of cocaine.  Paco’s ingredients are deadly – cocaine sulfate, smashed glass and rat poison are only three of the various toxicities used in creating the drug.  The drug grew in popularity among Argentina’s lower classes, particularly in Buenos Aires, during Argentina’s financial crisis.  However, although paco began as a comfortable substitute to cocaine for those in the Country’s impoverished Villas, it has gained in power and influence among the middle and upper classes as well.  Hugo Ropero is the former executive photo editor of Argentine news magazine Noticias.  His struggle with addiction to the drug is a prime example of how paco has slowly gained control of even those who lead lives of luxury.

“It’s not a matter of who you are, or where you come from,” Ropero said.  “It’s a matter of how vulnerable you are to addiction.”  Ropero began using the drug in 2004 when a group of 20 to 25-year-old girls he was socializing with offered him a joint.  He was immediately hooked.  Ropero cannot compare the affects of the drug to anything else on the market.  “It’s a completely different effect,” he said, tapping his foot up and down, perhaps out of nervousness.  “After you swallow the smoke the feeling is intense – orgasmic.”  The effect of paco is felt as soon as one inhales its smoke.  However, the sensation only lasts a few seconds.  Afterward the user falls into a deep depression.  “It’s a very dark place,” Ropero recalled.  Ropero believes that anyone can fall victim to paco if they allow themselves to.  “I’m weak in front of addiction,” Ropero said with a laugh.  “It’s a part of my nature, my essence.”

Ropero is not an amateur when it comes to taking illicit substances.  In fact, he has tried just about everything – from marijuana and cocaine to LSD.  While working for Noticias Ropero followed many rock bands on tour and acted as their photographer.  During his experience he was exposed to chemical drug use, and unsurprisingly he began to use lysergic acid and marijuana.  “I am a rebel by nature,” Ropero said.  Drug use among journalists who shadow rock bands is not uncommon.  Famous American photographer Annie Leibovitz experimented with similar drugs while on tour with the Rolling Stones in the 1980s.

Although dealers target the Villas – places where one cannot afford the expense of a cocaine or heroin addiction, paco is also available on the wealthy street corners of Palermo and Recoleta.  Feeding the addiction to paco was quite easy for Ropero.  “As an addict,” he said, “you always find what you’re looking for.  When I was looking for a paco dose, I knew exactly where I could find one.”  Ropero was surprised as to just how many members of Argentina’s middle class were addicted to the drug.  According to Marta Gómez, one of the founders of Madres en Lucha, an Argentine organization of mothers who fight against the spread of paco addiction and provide support to those families with children under the influence, paco is a bigger problem in the city than it is in Argentina’s interior.  “Paco is a drug of extermination,” Gómez said.

Although addictions are very difficult and dark experiences, Ropero views his as a life lesson.  One morning in 2004 Ropero was washing up and getting ready for his day when he looked at himself in the mirror.  It was in this moment when he decided that enough was enough.  He took a day trip to Brazil to clear his mind.  He decided that it was time to find help through rehabilitation.

Unlike most addicts living in Argentine’s villas, Ropero was lucky.  Due to his financial stability he was able to afford effective treatment from a private institution in Argentina.  Villeros, or the people living in Argentine villas, either seek the support of non-profit organizations, or they submit themselves to Hospital Borda, one of Buenos Aires’ psychiatric hospitals.

Today Ropero’s three years of addiction have come to an end.  “Now [paco] is invisible to me,” Ropero said.  “I’ve changed my social world and left the addicts behind.  I’ve found new interests.”  Although he is clean of paco, Ropero still smokes marijuana from time to time, as well as cigarettes.  Ropero, like many of those dealing with a drug addiction, cites his children as his main drive to quit the drug.  He now leads a healthy lifestyle, working as a freelance private photographer instead of for the mainstream media.  In 2009, Ropero penned his experience into a book he titled Maldita Droga (Damn Drug).

Whether you are rich or poor, living in a pent house in Recoleta or a small shack in Villa 21, Hugo Ropero stresses that addiction is not about the drug, but about the willpower of the human being.  Although malicious drugs like paco are to be ignored, if one stumbles into their presence, the power of a single hit is endless.  Paco has surely become a classless drug.


*Written for my Reporting Buenos Aires course at NYU in Buenos Aires



Posted by: talljoe | November 9, 2011

Punta del Este: A Beach Resort in Uruguay

Click here to view photos from my recent beach vacation in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I spent a long weekend in Punta del Este – a beach resort on the East coast of Uruguay.  Overall my experience was great.  The beaches were beautiful.  The sand was white and very fine, there were tons of seashells and sea lions.  We stayed in the Azul hotel on the main street in the city.  The hotel was average – nothing too special.  The breakfast, on the other hand, was delicious!  We bought a group-on that gave us access to the complementary breakfast buffet.  There were various pastries, eggs and toast, jams and dulce de leche (juices and coffee of course!).  Breakfast in Uruguay is quite small compared to the large breakfasts I’m used to eating in the States.

On the second day, we walked around the Beverly Hills area to look at the mansions.  Many Brazilians, Argentines, Europeans and retired Americans have summer homes in Punta del Este.  As I was taking pictures of the various mansions, I felt as though I was paparazzi walking through a celeb filled neighborhood in Southern California!

One of the most unique experiences from Punta was watching the sea lions eat the leftover fish from the fishermen in the port.  I’ve never seen any sea creatures that close outside of the Pittsburgh and National zoos.

I was terribly sick the last day with sun poisoning.  I wore sunscreen, but not on my face because I didn’t want to spray it into my contacts (fail!).  I guess I should buy some cream sunscreen next time.

Overall Punta del Este was great.  It was quite out of the ordinary to walk on the beach in November, feeling the sun beating down on my shoulders.  In the U.S.  I live several hours from any beach, and Punta del Este is only a short two hour bus ride from Montevideo.  I’ll definitely be visiting Punta del Este again in the near future.

Posted by: talljoe | November 9, 2011

Un Ensayo Para Mi Clase de Español

Yo tengo muchas anécdotas sobre mis viajes pasados. En diciembre pasado mi novio me dijo que yo no era un hombre romántico por eso quise sorprenderlo con una noche muy romántica. Quise ir a un lugar muy lindo así que ahorré plata. Yo busqué en internet y cuando tuve plata suficiente yo reservé una habitación en el hotel Hilton y una cena en el restaurante Chadwicks. Eran muy caros para mí pero mi novio se lo merecía. El hotel y el restaurante estaban en Alexandria, Virginia, en los Estados Unidos. Alexandria es la cuidad más romántica en mi país. Hay muchos edificios viejos y muchas tiendas pequeñas en Alexandria. En diciembre hay muchas decoraciones para la navidad.

Cuando era el día estaba nervioso porque no puedo guardar secretos. Yo compré sus chocolates favoritos y una botella de sidra y aceite de masaje. Yo quería hacer un ambiente romántico así que me pareció meloso usar velas para la iluminación.

Por fin le dije a mi novio que íbamos a algún lugar para la noche. El era muy curioso pero no le dije nada. Cuando estábamos esperando el metro, no recordé el nombre de la estación más cera del hotel. Yo envié un mensaje para mi mejor amiga y ella me dijo el nombre. Me sentía aliviado. El metro estaba llegando y le dije que íbamos muy lejos de la ciudad. Mi novio estaba sospechando pero se estaba riendo. Mi novio odia cuando no tiene control de la situación. Nosotros entramos al metro y nuestra noche comenzó…

Posted by: talljoe | September 23, 2011

Tall Joe Goes to the Dentist (in Argentina…)

Two weeks ago I was laying on my bed after a long day of classes, relaxing, listening to the extraordinary Sia Furler and sucking on a banana flavored Jolly Rancher when I began to feel a bit drowsy and started to doze off.  Okay! I guess I can take a power nap! I thought.  I turned on my side as I normally do while sleeping and shut my eyes.  Oh no!  The Jolly Rancher!  I remembered.  In the effort of laziness, and the desire not to choke on the wonderfully fruity piece of hard candy, I pushed the Rancher to the right side of my mouth near my back molars and bit down, hoping to chew and swallow before my siesta.

Bad idea.

I felt a slight pinch – the kind you briefly feel while getting a vaccination.  Whoops! I thought, in all my Joe-ness… but my inner fatty ignored it, continued to savor the Jolly until it was soft enough to swallow and then fell asleep.

Later that night I was finishing up some homework and talking to my best friend on Skype.  I felt as though something was stuck between my teeth on the upper right side of my mouth.  I played with it for a while with my tongue, trying to remove the substance without avail.  Eventually I gave up and went to the bathroom for some floss.  I wasn’t expecting to see what was about to come out of my mouth.

I had completely forgotten about the pinch I had felt while eating the Jolly Rancher.  That pain must have been the tooth breaking!  After a mini freakout, reflecting on the numerous dreams I’ve had where my teeth completely dislodge themselves from my mouth, I looked up some dentists in Buenos Aires.  I had to get this fixed.

At school the next day, the administration recommended a dentist and set up an appointment for me.  The dentist spoke perfect English.  I could hardly tell that she was a native to Buenos Aires.  First I had to attend a consultation.  She told me that the silver filling in my tooth had leaked and formed decay, causing the tooth to weaken and chip.  I had to have the filling removed and replaced with a composite filling.  Because the insurance I have through my program did not cover dental, I had to pay for the procedure by myself and then send the claims to my insurance in the States.  The procedure cost $150.  I’m not familiar with the cost of dental work, so I’m not sure if this is cheap or expensive, but it was well worth my time.  The experience on the other hand was a bit different than work I’ve had done with my dentist in the States.

I must start by saying that I’m not making any generalizations about dentists in both the United States and Argentina.  I’ve only been to two dentists in my entire life – one in the States, and this one in Argentina; therefore, this dialogue is a reflection on my experiences in both locations.

The most noticeable difference between the dentist in Argentina and mine in the States was that this dentist never stopped talking.  Not with me, but with her assistants and secretary in the office.  She wasn’t asking for tools in order to complete the procedure, or for a hand in holding one of the various instruments inside of my mouth, but conversing about her day, what was for dinner that night and her plans for the weekend.  I was a bit nervous, but perhaps placing a mesial-occlusal filling is like tying a shoe or zipping a zipper – an easy task that doesn’t require much concentration.

The next few things I noticed were some differences in the preparation for the procedure.  The dentist put Vaseline on my lips in order to “make [me] feel more comfortable.”  I didn’t mind.  Next, I used a Dixie cup and a mini sink attached to the chair each time she asked me to rinse, rather than the air-water syringe my dentist uses back home.  Next, she didn’t use any kind of clamp to keep my mouth open during the procedure.  Instead, while she drilled the filling out of my tooth, she repeatedly told me to open and close my mouth when necessary.  This was kind of freaky… I didn’t want to move my mouth and cause her to drill too deep or in the wrong location.

Next she put a dental dam around my tooth so that she could isolate it during the procedure.  I thought this was a genius idea and I’m still wondering why my dentist in the States never used one with me in the past.

In the end, I’m satisfied with the results… it’s almost as if I have a new tooth!  No more Jolly Ranchers for me.  😉

Posted by: talljoe | September 16, 2011

Whoomp! There it is!!

The water this morning... pear juice anyone?

I woke up yesterday morning, tired after a long night, barely getting six hours of sleep.  I stumble into the bathroom, hardly able to open my eyes.  I turned on the faucet and quickly began spritzing my face with cold water.  When I am finally able to open my eyes and look down into the sink, I noticed… The water was orangeWhat’s going on here?! I thought as I quickly shut off the tap.  Did I sleepwalk last night and try to give myself a spray-on tan then absentmindedly gorge on a family size bag of cheese doodles?  I stopped for a moment and then slowly started the water again.  It was as though someone had swapped the waterline with a keg of diluted orange soda.  I waited for a few moments.  The color didn’t change.  I turned off the faucet and went to class – without washing my face.

I’ve never really thought about the quality of the water in Buenos Aires.  Just across the river in Uruguay, the tap water is pristine – very drinkable.  Since arriving in Buenos Aires last month I’ve always considered the tap water to be up to par with Montevideo’s.  I’m having second thoughts.  This morning the water was better – not clear, but definitely not orange soda.  I bought a few bottles of water and stashed them in the fridge.  For now, I’m shutting off the tap.

Older Posts »