- Another Latin America is Possible: Notes from an early spring
in Buenos Aires
- September 1, 2002
- Dear Friends,
- It's an unusually warm day for winter in Buenos Aires so
maybe spring is not so far away after all. I've been trying to
disengage from the news, which comes blasting at us everyday
in lurid and sensational colors from the tv and newspapers :
7 out of 10 children here are now poor, 1 out of 4 Argentines
are indigent and can't afford to eat, people are kidnapping their
neighbors for ransom, the police are as corrupt as ever and activists
are still being threatened and tortured.
- Meanwhile, the politicians fight over who is going to have
the honor of presiding over this mess in March. "Only someone
like Carlos Menem with a huge desire for power would even want
to be president of Argentina," said one commentator. Or
Rodrigues Saa. Or any of the other names that are currently being
tossed about. Most of the general public doesn't seem to give
a damn about the elections. "More of the same," they
yawn. "Get rid of them all, que se vayan todos." While
the old system collapses, the politicians fight over its remains
like a bunch of vultures over a corpse.
- My Argentine roommate Monica said she danced and sang with
some judges from the Domican Republic the other day, who have
come to her to learn mediation techniques. She moved around the
kitchen, wiggling her hips, showing me how the ease and happiness
with which the Dominican Republican judges dance and sing. "And
then I belted out a tango..."Oh my tragic Buenos Aires...."
Then we both laughed. Right there in the kitchen, we both laughed,
very loud, which was good for us both.
- Now that you've listened to the bad news and my roommate
singing tango and making fun of the Argentine penchant for high
drama, I have tell you that two people in the past week,native
Argentines, have told me with exactly the same tone of enthusiasm
that "wonderful things are happening here" and "I
wouldn't go anywhere else for the world."
- One of them, a musician, said he just got back from a European
tour where things were,uh, a bit "moribund" compared
to the renaissance of community cultural events which has exploded
here. And the other man, who works with the poor to create community
farms and housing projects, said almost exactly the same thing.
"It will take awhile," he said, "but in ten years
you are going to see a very different Argentina. After I talked
to him I talked to some of the people who are getting together
and building the community farms and housing projects, and though
none of them had lot of money, they all had a twinkle in their
eye. "We are the ones creating the new country, not the
politicians." said one woman.
- "Solidarity" is the key word here now. Since the
police killed two demonstrators last June, people have been reaching
out to each other even more, middle class assembly members learning
from the unemployed working class piquetero demonstrators, neighbors
forming alliances with the cartoneros whose job it is to pull
cardboard from the garbage. Some people think the media's focus
on crime is an effort to scare activists back into their houses,
and create a popular demand for an authoritarian leader but if
that is the case it doesn't seem to be working, at least not
with the people who are politically active.
- Yesterday I found myself at the World Thematic Social Forum,
where people converged from all over South America to devote
themselves to the utopic principle that another Argentina, another
Latin America is possible. Yet another story was added to the
long biography of the Plaza de Mayo, as it filled with people
talking and eating in the sun and selling sausages and books
and drums and flags and pictures of Che and Evita and Marcos
and and the sidewalk tents bustled with young Brazilians. Three
or four university buildings were crammed with workshpps and
conferences on NAFTA, spontaneous theater, popular movements,
non-violence, global projects to fight "globalization".
- I passed by one stand where an Argentine kid was selling
a bilingual edition of Howl by Allen Ginzberg and I coudn't resist
picking it up and reading out loud in English: "I have seen
the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving,
hysterical, naked...." Etcetera. The kid was impressed by
hearing the poem read out loud in English and asked me if any
of the old beats were still alive and I thought of eighty some
year old Ferlinghetti still running his bookstore in San Francisco,
and said, yes, they are still alive.
- Two filmmakers who have come down here to do a documentary
were showing a film called No Se Vende which talks about how
multinational companies are buying up patents on everything:
seeds, genes, indigenous medical recipes. Small farmers who have
been using seeds for years now have to buy their own seeds from
large companies. After I left that meeting I wanted to go back
into the plaza and stand in the middle of it and read Ginsberg's
poem Howl again, but this time loud, I mean really loud.
- I arrived at the NAFTA conference just as several members
of different indigenous tribes stood up and challenged the intellectual
and discussion prone residents of Buenos Aires to come up with
"concrete suggestions" rather than endlessly talking.
They got a standing ovation. I spoke to one of the women during
the break who had pink skin and white hair and blue eyes and
reminded me a little of my grandmother Beulah Mae Dickey. She
said she always felt a little funny as a kid being a fair skinned
Indian, but her grandmother told her when she was a kid that
the light of the sun was stronger than the light of the moon
when she was born, and besides she had a special mission to fulfill.
- "Either that or it was some blue-eyed Spanish guy,"
said Monica, as we were talking after she had danced around the
kitchen and we had laughed about her singing her tragic tango
with the Dominican Republicans.
- The white haired blue eyed Indian woman told me that there
were eleven indigenous communities living on the outskirts of
Buenos Aires, many of them still speaking their own languages.
- "I didn´t know that," said Monica, who has
lived in Buenos Aires all her life.
- How invisible we have all been to each other, I thought,
and realized that the "crisis" here has awakened many
of us to the people around us. And that I, as a resident "Yanqui"
have my part to play in all this.
- The night before I had had a dream about the Mapuche community
in the south of Argentina so I went in to a conference about
what was happening with these people whose land has been taken
over by a multinational oil company so that they no longer have
access to their own water and their children are being born with
birth defects. Oh, and some North American guy has also moved
onto their land thinking he can maybe set up an inexpensive summer
- Later, in an upstairs room a group of Argentines gathered
to talk about creating artwork based on a multicolored flag from
the Quechua people, which represents diversity within unity.
One woman was Quechua and knew something about what the flag
represented, so she stood up and told everyone else a about it,
how it originally represented all the indigeneus people of America,
north and south. Soft-spoken, twenty three years old, with her
long hair beaded and a blue feather hanging from one strand and
a striped brown and white feather hanging from the other , she
was probably the most calm and balanced person I have met in
the year that I've been here. She said there was a belief among
her people, the descendants of the Incas, that 500 years after
the Spanish invasion of this continent, the ancestors of her
people would return and that the world would begin "to wake
up." I certainly hope she is right.
- When everyone had gone, she and I went to see if we could
get in to the room where Evo Morales, the Bolivian indigenous
man who recently ran for president, was speaking, but the room
was too crowded she this young woman, her name was Cafdey, and
I stood on the steps outside the university building and watched
the group of Andean flautists and drummers and the dancers who
were moving in a circle of big hats and green and fuschia clothing
on the sidewalk in the unusually warm night. We talked about
Morales and the Bolivian indigenous movement as well as about
the sun and the moon.
- In my black bag I was carrying way too many words:pamphlets,
flyers, books, pronouncements, protests, discussions, proposals,
spiral bound notebooks filled with journalism notes. So I was
happy when the young Quechua man who was with us invited me to
dance in the circle of people, and I was able to put down my
bag. When I was finished Cafdey and I were joined by a Uruguayan
woman who runs a radio show and then Cafey's mother and several
brothers and sisters showed up as well as Jorge from the Colegiales
neighborhood assembly whose face was all lit up with happiness
and we stood there and had our own social forum on the steps
of the building, which seemed equally as important as the speeches
that were going on inside.
- It was almost ten PM, early for Buenos Aires standards,
and the night was alive with speakers and dancers and musicians
and small groups of diverse people creating their own mini-social
forums in the plaza swarming with proposals, ideas, hopes, dreams.
Eventually it was time to go and so I unfurled the poem of the
Zapatista Subcommandante Marcos that I had bought and shared
it with Cafey, a translation of which I will share with you now:
- A piece of the moon
But in reality it's not one
But two pieces
the piece of the dark side of the moon
And the piece of the shining side of the moon
Here, what one needs to understand
is that the piece of the moon that shines is bright because there
is a dark side
It is the dark side of the moon that makes the shining side possible
If it's our turn
to be the dark side of the moon
this does not mean that we are less
but that we are willing
to be the dark side
that makes it possible
for everyone to see the moon.
And at the end of it all
the dark side is worth more
because it shines for other skies
and because to see it
you have to learn
to fly very high
- Un pedacito de luna
Pero en realidad no es uno
Sino dos pedacitos
El pedacito del lado oscuro de la luna
y el pedacito del lado brilliante de la luna
y aqui lo que hay que entender
es que el pedacito que brilla de la luna
brilla porque hay un lado oscuro
Es el lado oscuro de la luna
el que hace posible
el lado brilliante de la luna
si nos toca ser el lado oscuro
de la luna
no por eso somos menos
sino que es porque estamos dispuestos
a ser el lado oscuro
que es posible que todos vean la luna
y al fin de cuentas
el lado oscuro vale más
porque brilla para otros cielos
y porque para verlo hay que aprender
a volar muy alto
- Love, Lisa