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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 home.
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
Igual nosotros
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

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