Saturday, March 27, 2010

LOST and finding...

Buenos Aires' premiere hip-hop Club: LOST

This Thursday I can officially call myself a researcher. I didn't have to spend three days slaving in an archive to earn this title. Instead, I earned it in the university of Da Club. This Thursday, actually by invitation of a few amigos, I found myself at LOST, the biggest mainstream hip-hop club in Buenos Aires. Every Thursday night Club Arroaz in the illustrious barrio de Palermo, opens the doors to those who want to get LOST in a bit of hip-hop. It's an impressive crowd. Even if you aren’t a huge hip-hop fan, the club will always bring the lolz because of the rich social intersections of such disparate people, especially if you’re looking as an anthropologist.

First and foremost from around 12am to 2:30am all the bboys and bbgirls come out to play. The club turns into a battle arena of sorts; 90’s jamz spinning on the 1s and 2s sets the mood while hundreds of youth create a break circle or watch from the upstairs balconies. Bright colors flashing, and huge screens overhead remind you that you’re in LOST: THE hip-hop culture club.

The second group of people that you’ll always run into, (or more likely, they’ll run into you and shout a drunken “sorry…I mean LO SIENTO”) is every American study abroad student that has ever lived in Buenos Aires. Ever. It is like “intercambio mecca” after the American visitors realize that its too hard to sloppily booty-bump to the techno, cumbia, and 80’s rock that plays at more mainstream posh clubs.

The next charming group are what la gente in Buenos Aires refer to as “los chamuyeros” or bull shitters. This cohort is made up of Argentine 20 somethings on a strictly predatory mission. They are usually armed with a mullet or other embarrassing Argentine haircut, a polo, and incredible artillery of pick up lines (often times in broken English). They reek of cheap beer and feel that they must touch you and speak no more than one inch from your face to transmit their important message. They may or may not be flanked by their female counter parts who are just looking for some attention despite their lack of rhythm.

And lastly, what's most important-ly, in my biased opinion is the gathering of black, and brown people that congregate every Thursday. Africans, Afro-Argentines, Afro-descendants of all sorts come to revel in the Afro rhythms….la musica negra. Some nights make me more proud than others.

As I’ve previously mentioned, Argentina has the absolute most Euro-centric appearance, discourse, and public memory in America Latina. It is popular for gente to pronounce, no hay negros en Buenos Aires, we have no black people, while completely overlooking those that exist, and the population that grows more and more everyday.

This specific night I was flanked by two Fulbrighters, a few Argentines, a Chinita (little Chinese girl) as they call my Japanese friend, and an Afro-Columbian activist I recently met. Arriving at around 2:00, we got to see the last part of the bboys action, as well as a bgirl dance troupe do a planned number: music, lighting and all.

There were a few really talented bboys who had a real smooth and impressive style…one spinning on his head like a cork screw for a minute at least…faster and slower, then continuing his top rock afterwards. Damn! But as a whole, the bboys were a bit jerky in their style, violently Argentine in their moments.

Afterwards when a mainstream pop beat came on, the djs switched and the circle closed up to do their thing. The b-boy audience dissolved into a mobbing crowd, some swaying nervously to the rhythm, some continuing their pop lock sessions, some latching on to the waist of the cute, giggling American at their side, and some running to the bar to get wasted enough to feel alive.

My head hurt so I wasn’t getting down like my usual self, but it wasn’t until I heard “Grillz” that I realized, the music just wasn’t doin it for me that night.

As I was about to leave, Luna came back and to tell me that he just saw Fidel Nadal, a huge reggae artist in America Latina, who happens to be my friend Fede’s cousin, and another Afro-Argentino that interviewed years ago. I went to say whats up to Fidel, who I hadn’t seen for a few years, and his friend told me that they were all hip-hop artists and they would be doing a show the following evening.

And so I ended the night with more work on the agenda. A concert the next day--que vida de orrrrrrrtoooo que tengo. :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Vanquishing the Ego: sharing your gifts

Direc&ExecDirec Rashad Byrdsong & Daytona Gordon.

Right after graduation, I was blessed with the opportunity to work in one of the most incredible grassroots organizations in Pittsburgh, Community Empowerment Organization. For 7 months, my official title was Special Projects Consultant which translates in non-profit terms to “do-whatever-shit-needs-to-be-done-when-it-needs-to-be-done.”

My boss, Brother Rashad Byrdsong, was a former Panther and relentless activist, organizer, and general do-er that has never lost his spirit in spite of all of the backlash and turmoil that a life of standing up to unjust institutions has brought him. The man has been at war, been shot up, beat up by cops, stood up to a firing squad of agents, and spent years in the pen, so even at his most urgent times he’s got an air of joviality about him.

Apart from his expectations that I do many things that I had never tried before, some of the best learning experiences were just sitting for long conversations with the man.

He understood the value in cultivating true relationships with his workers, and that in sharing his life experiences he was, as he always called it “creating the succession plan”. His teenage experience was one of segregation, military experience, putting his life on the line for his brothers & sisters in the name of racial and social justice. My experience was one of organized sports, and organized clubs, my activism was mostly confined to teaching youth, and in the classroom, an ivy league education. He wanted more words, I wanted more pictures, he said flyers, I said online facebook invites, he lived for summits, I suggested hip-hop concerts. And his goal was to bridge our experience, combine his wisdom with my young energy--bridge our generational gap, pass on the secrets of creating community institutions.

He and I both understood how special and important it was to pass on his knowledge to the newer generation. He explained how our generation had been lost in the cross fire. We had been told to go to college, go to college, get a degree, and once we get it, we turn around confused and ask “Now what? Where are the jobs that you promised? What is supposed to make me happy?"

He admitted that most people from his generation had made the mistake of not passing on the fervor and the energy that made education so special for people across the diaspora. Black kids these days get degrees, and then they just do for themselves, they’re worried about getting they’re money up, getting their car, getting their hair and nails done, and this to them is success. The only way that we will make any progress is if we begin to realize that the reason that we better ourselves, and the reason that we get college degrees is to bring our knowledge back to our communities…to create legacies for those who come after us, to help along those who haven’t had the same luck, opportunity, or eye-opening experiences that we have.

The gifts, the knowledge, and the know-how that you learn in your life are blessings to be shared with the community. Whether the community be brown, black, yellow, or indifferent.

As a person who is very stringently and often-counter productively hard on herself, it is a lesson that hit home to me. Why worry that your skills aren’t perfect, that you haven’t learned something from a book?? We are on this earth to share the blessings that we have to create communities.

My boss and I are in agreement on one thing: it’s not enough to just reach a position of privilege and tout yourself as a role model to your community because you’ve made it to the top. If your gifts aren’t personally benefiting your community, and you haven’t made the effort to pass down your blessings, your just teaching kids to do what our individualistic society teaches them enough—go out there and get theirs.

When I was offered the position to teach yoga just weeks after I arrived in Buenos Aires, I was excited, and yet my ego jumped again with fear. I wasn’t certified, and what if I wasn’t good enough? What if some students questioned by credentials, and knew more than me? The week leading up to my first and “practice” class, I was more and more nervous. I’d never taught yoga before.

One sunny afternoon, my roommate Emilse, suggested that since I was going to be a yoga teacher, I should teach her some yoga. She’s a beautifully demanding, and straightforward person, and as the sun peaked through our back door, I realized there was absolutely no reason that I should say no.

As we trekked off to the nearby park, I was still nervous, my stomach doing knots about positions I wasn’t sure about how to explain. But, once our toes sunk into the grass, and the sun provided us with warmth, I realized that the sun and the day surely needed to be saluted…and it was an honor and a privilege to be able to introduce another person to a ritual that made me feel so good.

Immediately I transformed into my teacher role, and told her about our class for the day. I taught her about the root chakra and how important it was, I taught her about root imagery, and the color red, and balance techniques that I had learned in my six year relationship with yoga. I simply shared with her the joy that I found in my practice.

It was exhilarating.

Afterwards, not only were we both giddy and bubbling with energy and I had vanquished the barrier of ego that stood in the way of sharing my gifts with a larger community.

My first class with my roommate has turned into weekly lessons, and my first class professional yoga class was such a success that I was offered three classes to teach a week.

Check out my first weeks lesson: WEEK 1.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Don't Force it!

In my days as a young whipper snapper athlete on the soccer field, the time I spent playing on la cancha significantly shaped the way that I saw the world.

It was on the field that I began to really deal with my overly shy and nervous traits that colored my childhood. I learned to face a crowd, throw bows with girls who were twice as wide, and put my foot where my shit talk was. This may be the influence of futbal obsessed Argentines seeping into my skin, but I definitely learned some of my favorite mantras on the soccer field, especially one in particular.

As an excitable and energetic, midfielder I would often race down the outside of the field looking frantically to cross the ball towards the goal. My eyes would dart side to side until I caught a favorable jersey and I’d peg the ball over in that direction. Sometimes the defender would pop up and the ball would ricochet behind me before my teammate could even get a foot out.

In these moments, no matter how rowdy or quiet the crowd was, I listened for one voice. My couch since the beginning of my soccer experience, and my good friends father—Coach Leroy. He was a burly brown skinned man with a graying-santa claus beard, and an unmistakable voice.

Deep and husky, his voice always echoed down the field. No matter if the score was 7-0 (yea it bes like that sometimes) he would energetically advise us from the sidelines.

“Don’t force it!”

It still remains the way that I try to live my daily life, and it’s a mantra that my studies and my practice has always confirmed. In my experience the universe/God/Allah (whatever you name the energy that pulses around us) will always provide us with that which we need. Of course, it may not be exactly what we WANT or BELIEVE we need at the time, but even in our weakest moments the universe has a lesson for each of us.

As I’ve often said to people, I don’t believe in the term “deserve” in terms of academic, work, or personal merit. The justice system, universities, nor the government have any idea on how to distribute power or just desserts. I do believe heavily in karma and the constant movement and redistribution of energy. We get back what we put out…we essentially are treated with what we’ve asked for and with what we demand from our actions, or choices, and our mentality.

I’ve come to Argentina the same way that I try to come into most situations—open to what may come, trying to read the messages that the city and the people in it have to offer. Well, I’m constantly trying at least, I definitely have my energy blocks.

I have one cycle that I’m actively trying to break which is a constant gnawing at my brain which tells me I’m not being productive enough, that I’m not taking enough advantage of the opportunities that the world grants me.

I try to jump into a million and one activities to feel like I’m producing something, and realize that I can only do them all running. This leaves me exhausted with no time to actually enjoy life, and often makes me a pretty grumpy person.

This trip around, the universe has given me some pretty clear signals about lessons that I need to learn. God has shown me that she's ready to take care of me in anyway that I need but I have to decide exactly what it is that I want.

After a bit of stress during my first weeks of not doing the type of research that “I should” be doing, of not exploring enough, of not “getting enough done” the universe threw at me everything that I thought I wanted—all at once.

I arrived in Buenos Aires late because the Fulbright Committee forgot to adjust my plane ticket after an orientation change. Luckily for me, later was better as I got to spend more time fighting for my VISA and hanging out with my family, friends, and boyfriend. Unfortunately, my late arrival meant I would miss my orientation, and instead would go to the orientation of the Argentine English Teachers Assistants. Most of orientation was a fierce fight to not catch a narcoleptic episode.

After I (mostly) won the battle versus the dark side, I decided to accompany a few former Fulbright scholars for some coffee. Over a green tea lemonade, a spritely, bouncy-haired, twenty-something revealed her interest in yoga and yoga communities. She told me she would be teaching at a studio in Recoleta, and she put me in touch with the studio owner.

And thanks to some universal magic, after a few days in Buenos Aires, I had a job that I had always wanted—A YOGA TEACHER.

A few days later, at a protest that I attended with a few friends, I noticed an older brown-skinned man walking in the crowd. I went to greet him, as I do all black people in Buenos Aires, and he started up a conversation as if he knew me. I followed along until he asked me to remind him where it was that we had met. I told him we had never met, but I was just wanted to say hi to a fellow brother.

He looked at me with a bit of surprise and appreciation, then he pulled me over to meet his sons who are marching with huge drums in the protest. He tells me that he’s an activist living in Dock Sud, from Cape Verde.

“I’d like to talk to you,” he said. “I’d like you to meet my family. I thought you were another Cape Verdean. You need to come and meet my community.”

I passed along my information excitedly as I could feel his genuine energy and goodwill. What a beautiful thing to invite someone to be a part of your family upon meeting them, to invite them to dine with your people, to conocer a tu gente.

My friends were impressed that my research actually came to me instead of requiring a tenuous search…I shrugged and felt in my heart that this would be much more than just a contact for research, but an important part of my experience here in Argentina.

From running into reggae artists right before their shows, constantly meeting rap artists excited about contributing to my project, to running into three people by casualidad from Pittsburgh or who have lived in Pittsburgh. (All of them mentioned Shadow Lounge!! Shout out to the 412). The universe has given me a lot, now its time to synthesize and understand how it can all fit together simply.

Perhaps the most important lesson is understanding what to say yes to. As much as some of us like to try, we can’t say yes to everything all the time. A focus has to be declared and understood…

Well, for now, I’m just trying to figure mine out.

Check out the song of the week...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Un casamiento de negros: Fede & Ceci get married!

You must understand that I was jumping for joy when I found out that I would be arriving in Buenos Aires just in time to see my friend Fede getting married. As one of my best friends in Buenos Aires who had definitely shaped my political, and social views of Afro-Argentine politics, it was such a well-timed honor! His wife to be, Ceci is such a wonderfully sweet woman who speaks perfect English, and was always looking to help out with anything and everything that I needed.

My first week into the trip, and I'm still living with Erika and Uli, who have graciously donated their couch and wifi to my cause of house hunting. Yet there is no better half-way housing...

Good music all the time, awesome conversation, comfortable atmosphere, and people who appreciate my cooking. As we got ready and put on our wedding party bests (funky, flowy clothes to dance in) Erika told me about her last experience with an Argentine wedding.

“An open bar, and it went from about two in the afternoon to two in the morning!”

As Erika, Uli, and I drove to the wedding, I was bursting with anticipation to let off some of the stress and pressure of my new arrival jitters. I was excited to dance the night away...and dance all over and around that open bar.

But when we arrived, my excitement sunk a bit. People were sitting in little pods at tables, the lights were dim, and the dance floor looked like uncharted territory (I swear I saw a tumbleweed roll slowly across the parquet wood). We offered our saludos to the family and I took in the scenery.

The families sat at separate tables, the Pita family lineage of Afro-Argentinos sat regal and black-as-ever in a room full of contrasting colors. Beautifully-antiqued caramel women with thick thighs and soft waves sat next to burly mahogany men. There were all types of brown aunts, uncles and cousins who I had never met.

Fede’s Mama’s side, surrounded the Pitas--clarito, plump, and with booming, scratchy voices. As I kissed Fede’s Mama she commented on how special it was to be at “un casamiento de negros” and I nodded in agreement, then was washed with a bittersweet feeling:

This may be the last of the negro Pitas. It seemed likely that after this generation there would be no more phenotypical signs of blackness in this enduring slave family.

Fede who is already a café-con-mas-leche-que-café was to marry Ceci, who is pretty Aryan if I do say so myself. And Nico, Fede's younger brother who describes himself as a “novio muy comprometido” also fell in love with a nice girl, “without the color”.

The whole family was handsome. Beautifully mixed and huddled in the corner, I couldn’t help but getting flashes in my head of their future generations having to show ID to fight the Afro-Argentine power . Ok, so maybe it’s a stupid image colored by my American-made, color-protective instincts, but one of the few remaining Afro-Argentine slave-descending families who proudly claimed their blackness, would soon have a passing option.

Eri, Uli, & I chose a mesita on the balcony, that faced a stage that looked like a neon cube dangling from the ceiling. Though we were at a casamiento de negros, we were still in Buenos Aires. We were two negras divinas with large curly hair. Erika was sporting a Foxy Brown-esque Afro, and her indio fiancee was also decked out in his brightest patterns. Most people looked up at us curiously, unabashedly, and without a friendly greeting or smile. Accustomed to the attention, we sat around, eyeing each other hungrily and asking not-so-non-chalantly “so um where’s the damn comida?”

As the appetizers of white bread sandwiches called “migas” came out, I joked about how little of a “negro casamiento” this was. Where were the chicken wings, of the jollof rice, the laughing, and the dancing? But the grumbles were more than likely coming from my empty tummy as soon they were quieted by a tomato basil pizza, and some hot picks by the dj. Erika and I couldn’t help but belt out tunes between bites as Anthony Hamilton, Robin Thicke, Erykah Badu brought us back to the good times in the old country where we didn’t have to go “black market” to get hot sauce, negros, and some rice and beans.

After we crushed a pizza, and Uli and I alternated bringing each other Fernet y Coca, we decided to get the party started right. It was a Mo-town singer that pulled us out to the dance floor and I put down my drink of dark syrup water and vegetable booze to get down on the floor with my girl Eri.

It started out as only us two in the zone of funk. We would dance to the era, and encourage Uli to come down (or encourage him to drink more so he’d come dance). Soon after, another black girl (the dj’s girlfriend) from Uruguay came to dance with us. And little by little the liquid courage conquered the Porteño no-dancing gene and the dance floor started looking less and less like a tightrope to the crowd.

“We started this damn party” Erika threw out at me assuredly mid-twerk.

And so we did.

And so we kept it going through an awful reggae dj, a dancehall & hip-hop dj, the soul &funk period, reggaeton & salsa, and even through the 80’s. (Argentines LOVE the American 80s. No I can’t explain why. Why yes, unabashedly, with mullets and rat tails and all.)

Eventually the family mounted the stage, to not only toast the newly weds but to get a jam session going on! The Pitas and the Nadals are a super talented musical family. How musical? Let’s just say that two members of the family came out in the same “best of” Rolling Stone issue.

The band played a mix of rocky-blues and bluesy-rock, and Erika and Uli kept gently and not so gently nudging me to take over the stage.

“You better sing” Erika reminded me as Fede and his Papa started going into a bout of vocal improvisation. I preferred to stay behind my new camera to capture some of the scenes, but when the two broke into a butchered version of the Beatles “Yesterday” I received two demanding looks that pushed my ass to move. They gave me the kind of parental look that moves reluctant four year olds to kiss weird smelling grandparents, the look that leads snarky teenagers to bite their tongues so-we-can-at-least-have-one-god-damn-peaceful-dinner….and it is the look that pushed me to gingerly weave through the crowd of on-looking wedding goers towards the stage.

As I reached the stage, the two had tripped over the last verse and Fede, realizing my intention, motioned for me to take over his mic. I slid into the song smoothly, but conspicuously, the feminine gringa voice amongst the scratchy Argentines, “I believe in yesterdaaay...”

And just as I geared up to sing another verse, they finished unexpectedly, leaving me a bit exposed as the only non-family on the stage. We clumsily did a bout of improvisation on the next song until I felt useless enough to climb back down to my seat.

“Mommy and Daddy” gave me approving complements, then we all got back to celebrating The Last of the Afro-Argentiquans…I mean, the marriage of Fede and Ceci. :) Congratulations beautiful people!!!

We stayed until our feet were sore and the party was winding down. And long after we had left, Fede relayed us our complements from all of the wedding party.

As Ceci’s Dad said of the two negras “I will always remember the one for how she danced, and the other for how she sang”.

Well, at least were helping to break some stereotypes here. Yessuh, Somebody hea bess git me a basketball n some watah-mellon. ooooo--weeee!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Emerging community or Afro purgatory: Why am I here anyways??

About a month before I left for Buenos Aires I got an exciting e-mail from my friend Fede Pita, an Afro-Argentine slave descendent and political activist in Buenos Aires. He let me know that:

1.) He was getting married!

2.) He had been elected the president of the organization La Diaspora Africana en Argentina

I was ecstatic about both events, especially because I would just happen to be arriving in Buenos Aires as he would tie the knot.

Fede was one of my first contacts within the communidad afro en Argentina two long years ago. He gave an inspiring speech on a panel of activists and academics during The Week of Africa en Argentina, (although it was only later when I transcribed the speech that I was inspired, as my Spanish at the time was “mas o menos”). Nonetheless, I was impressed with what I did understand and his fiery energy that made his words shoot out in bullets. About four months into my exchange in Buenos Aires, I met with Fede, and his little brother Nico Pita for helado at the mall. We talked easily, despite my verbal hobbles in trying to express concepts of black liberation in my alien language.

The Pitas and the Nadals are two of Argentina’s largest existing Afro-Argentine families of slave descendents, and they are closely linked by marriage ties. Unfortunately, most people don’t believe that they exist. That’s right, throw away your visions of all Latin American countries being rice and bean eating brown and black people who speak a smooth Spanish. (Ok, maybe those were my prejuicios coming from the vision of the black and white city of Pittsburgh.) One of the most common phrases that you’ll hear in Buenos Aires is “no hay negros in Argentina”.

Porteños will tell you that these Afro-Argentine families just don’t exist anymore. Yup, “They’ve all disappeared” or “They were all killed off in the wars and by yellow fever.” or “We never really had very many slaves anyways, they all came from Brazil”. No hay negros in Buenos Aires.

Ok, so how can this be??

Well, at the turn of the 19th century, Argentina’s founding fathers went through the identity crisis similar to that which most Latin American elite were experiencing. As their colonizers were pushed back to their high chairs across the sea—they realized that THEY COULD NO LONGER CLAIM WHITENESS, they were LATIN AMERICAN. The remaining elite (and often the lightest breeds) who would often become the founding fathers, scrambled to find ways to become obedient children to their former colonizers. One of the best ways to make themselves more appealing to the Mama Patria (and to their own colonized minds) was to make themselves whiter!

Argentina just happened to be more successful than most countries.

The country that some 200 years ago was one third Afro-Argentine, is now the "whitest" country in America Latina with only a speculated 2-3% of population claiming to be Afro-descendants.

How the hell did they do it?

Well, I can’t tell you why Argentina specifically was so successful at ridding themselves of black and indigenous people—I’d say part efficiency, and part luck.


-- Founding Fathers such as Sarmiento (like an Argentine George Washington) literally wrote up a plan to make the country whiter and therefore more “civilized”.

--Similar to Americans, in the late 1800’s the national government organized a genocidal tour around the Argentine countryside in hopes of reinventing and modernizing Argentine society. (Read: Kill all brown and black people by whatever means necessary.)

--At the beginning of the 20th century founding fathers mused that the most efficient way to civilize the population was to just bring in more Europeans. They received over 6 million European immigrants, doubling the population of the capital city in just a few years.

--At the end of the 19th century, a yellow fever epidemic broke out. By taking no precautions to protect the slums, 20,000 people died—most poor, and disproportionately black.


--Ok, well clearly a bitter sweet luck. Argentine's fought numerous and consecutive wars in their independence process, killing off a great deal of Afro-Argentine men who were fighting for their freedom.

--By endorsing the silly notion that miscegenation would actually whiten the country and civilize the people of color. (White blood is stronger, so they said.) Their genetic miscalculations actually came to fruition when the deluge of Europeans drowned out the number of colored folks.

While importing Europeans and courting the British and French, the Porteño elite also worked hard through the 20th century to continue to rebuild their port city specifically to resemble Paris. The Argentine independence process was like 100 years of plastic surgery that the current Porteño population wants no recollection of. Despite the extensive indigenous and African influences on the culture of the country, the national imagery remains one of European mixture.

Everything that is black or indigenous is often geopolitically located to neighboring countries. When telling cab drivers what I research, one common suggestion is that I move my research to Brazil, where I might find something. When asking Argentines about the Afro-Argentine traditional music Candombe, they politely tell me that the tradition is from Uruguay.

Everyone who is phenotypically black is considered a foreigner in Argentina and so the Pita and Nadal families go through pains in trying to explain their existence.

“How is it that you are Argentine?” People ask quizzically.

“But where are you REALLY from? Where are you parents from?”

Some, blinded by a white Argentine mythology firmly bolstered by public education, refuse to believe in the existence of Afro-Argentines.

Most of my interactions with Fede Pita involved political meetings or at least political conversations. He’s incredibly well-read and well-spoken, and because of his constant interest and research on the diaspora, his ideas and understanding about black social politics in Argentina is often on a different dimension than older activist with very localized definitions of culture and race. As the name of the group “Diaspora Africana en Africana” suggests, his activist politics are firmly rooted in organizing a cultural African diaspora in Argentina. His views come partly from his voracious reading of diasporic literature…and partly from his interest in hip-hop.

Fede and his family own the biggest hip-hop clothing and shoe company in Buenos Aires, and he is actually one of the biggest inspirations for my writing my thesis on music, and for applying for a grant to study hip-hop.

Where the topic of my studies will take me, I’m unsure, but with Fede (and wife) onboard the Afro-Diasporic train, I’m interested to see where we’ll all be going...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Finding a home...

My lifestyle has never been one attached to a certain land, place, dwelling or person. I don’t have roots gripping tight into the physical land. Though I’ve lived in the same city and neighborhood for most of my life, I was never super attached to any one house, or community. I don’t even particularly care for the neighborhood I lived in—most of my free time was spent working, playing, and building communities elsewhere.

I have waterlily tendencies, growing roots in freshwater, and thriving on infinitely changing situations. Although I love my family and friends, the concept of home sickness and intense missing only occurs to me while in love. Change is a constantly soothing rhythm for me; new friends, new challenges, new language.

But with all of my nomadic tendencies, one of the most important things is creating my own HOME and space in each place that I go. In Buenos Aires I wanted to live ALONE, in my own apartment, decorate it all by myself, and create the energy in my OWN place. At 22, I figured it was about time. That was until I sat down to quantify how much my independence would COST in Buenos Aires. As an American, my one bedroom apartment for myself could cost well over $600/US month--and that’s just a box with a kitchen sink.

So after I threw out my image of my being a well-adjusted, independent, young adult, I started the hunt again.

I called around and found the cheapest place to crash during my search for hogar. I settled in a neighborhood down here called Constitution in a hostel called “Hotel America”, where the amenities had little to do with American standards. I was unfazed; I had a bed and a shower, and a safe place to keep my equipment for a while—or so I thought.

One night after meeting up with my friend Erika, I took the bus home super late. Upon arriving en casa I received a frantic e-mail message from my friend.

“Diane, I hope you got home ok. Call me when you get there!!!! You’re leaving that hostel tomorrow!!!!”

I had been warned already that the neighborhood wasn't the most desirable, (everyone gave me the slight gasp and furrowed brow when I would mention the name), but I wasn’t personally too concerned. First of all, as per usual, those who commented on the dangers of my barrio weren't usually very familiar with it, and surely hadn't lived there. Anyways, beside all of the tiny Italian looking girls in this country, I don’t look like the easiest target to eff with.

Actually, Erika's reaction had surprised me because she and her boyfriend also live in a neighborhood that people presume to be “dangerous”. When I called her, she explained her preoccupation. I understood that it was a poor neighborhood, next to the train tracks and all that ish, but as her boyfriend explained to me in the nicest possible way…

All of the putas del barrio were Dominican women. Read: You’re in the red-light district, and you lightin up like Rudolph.

I’ve definitely been the victim of the widespread prejudices of many (especially older) Porteño men who think that all black women are 1.) Loose 2.) Sexual goddesses or 3.) Prostitutes.

Walking home from school, my arms full of notebooks, I’ve had grown men grab me by the arm and whisper in my ear, "I'll pay you whatever you want. Anything you want." My response is always a series of ill-formed puteas...though my grandma later advised me later that I should have seen just how high he would go only so I had a good assessment of my “street value”. (Now y'all understand why I’m crazy right, it’s gotta be genetic!)

More disgustingly, after I threw a polite head nod at an old-as-dirt fellow outside of the post office, he proceeded to follow me and ask me if I was taking him with me. When I contorted my face and spat out a “Que?” he flippantly responded with a gummy-wet air kiss and started advancing towards me with open arms.

So the thought that specifically in my neighborhood, my skin was a signifier that said “I am for sale and I can be treated like the sex object that I am” presented me with a serious ideological conflict.

If I move out immediately, am I running away from the same diaspora that I’m attempting to commune with??

To encourage my decision making, Eri graciously offered up her house with her fiancée. Needless to say, I decided to ponder my ideological shortcomings in free housing with an awesome friend.

The area that Erika and Uli live in also would commonly illicit crumpled faces from those Porteños from the city. It’s outside of the capital federal city limits and parts of it are known to be “very dangerous”. But as she tried to assuage my contradictory feelings she assured me that my job and my life were two separate things…and I should try to keep them separate. Hell, I didn't even know what my research would turn out to be.

The temporary housing was awesome. We would cook, sing, jam out (Uli is also a musician), and Erika, who is an Afro-Argentine scholar and mentor to me, would challenge me to our classic political and academic discussions. Laptops on lap, we would work on project proposals and explore our future goals and dreams.

During the day we would run around to Afro-Diaspora meetings and I would relentlessly search for apartments. I met filmmakers, and teachers, and families who rented out rooms, houses full of foreigners...houses that had curfews, houses that had tiny kitchens, houses with no windows. I lived with an awesome Columbian for a week, had to desperately crash at a friends house for a night, and was a bit stranded for a point in time.

Finding a house, like most things should be all about instinct. You can’t ever predict whether your roommates will be axe murderers, or snorers, loud talkers, or horrible cooks—you just got to try to absorb as much of the feeling as the house as you can.

One night I decided to go out with a girl that I had seen on a house sharing forumn months before arriving in Argentina to see “que onda”. I had forgotten about her departamento until she sent me a facebook message. She was very forward, and very excitable, telling my ass to come over immediately so we could hang out in her apartment and so that i could take pictures of her and be the singer in her band.

I gave it a shot, and the place was just as beautiful as it was in the pictures. The kitchen is all windows, a patio in the back with a parilla, brightly colored walls, and huge closets. We drank some beers, hung out, and I tentatively understood half of the conversation that was going on. The girl, Emi, and all of her friends are from outside of Buenos Aires from a place called Tucuman. Their slang is quite different from the rest of Buenos Aires, so as the night went on we ended up entering into discussions of linguistics.

I have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure about the living situation after the first half of the night. The girls seemed awesome but I wasn’t that fond of a few of her friends and I had some image in my head of them always being around and poisoning my energy.

But alas, the vibe got better when we arrived at her friends house, her lifelong friend, and stand in uncle figure. Not only did he make us perfect caipirinhas and gin & tonics, but he also let me know that he was a music producer and a chef in training. The deal sealing moment came at the end of the night when we ordered an entire chicken, French fries, and salad from a Peruvian place, and downed it all—hot sauce included!

I didn’t realize how important the politics of food was to me until I started to live in this country. Not only do they not each rice or beans like the rest of the world BUT generally the food options consist of empanadas, pizza, or pasta. To marinate is to harm the meat, and using steak sauce or hot sauce is an insult to the cook. In general, people just aren’t very warm or open to trying things outside of their vocabulary.

Porteños, people from Buenos Aires, will tell you that their food….women….futbol…are the best in the world. Of course, there ain’t nothing wrong with a bit of patriotic pride, but it often comes with the refusal to consider or understand anything outside of their borders.

So yes, I do admit it: like the fat girl that I am at heart, food was the deciding factor in choosing my roommates!! Their affinity for “ethnic” and spicy foods like Carlitos peruvian cuisine, was an indicator of their ability to find the goodness OUTSIDE of Argentina.

So, while I’m in Argentina I have my home, I have my little family. A family that accepts me for the american football loving, couscous eating, yoga doing, yanqui imperialist that I am.

I’m sure more adventures will be to come, but for now here are a few pictures of the house...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Back to Buenos Aires....

The five months that I spent in Buenos Aires during my study abroad term in 2008 was truly life changing. I arrived as a gringa mute and deaf to Porteño español, and left having written essays on La Politica Exterior de Argentina. It was in Buenos Aires that I started my love affair with cooking, that I would jam with jazz musicians, where I tested the academic waters with an independent project. I was so enamored with the city that I almost deferred my college studies to play soccer in Buenos Aires.

My time was about language immersion with beer in hand, singing, dancing, and constant activity, activity, activity.

This time, though I'm super hyped about the future prospects, my focus will be completely different. My experiences during this grant process will focus on answering the following questions: Do I love research? Do I want to get a pHd? Do i want to study hip-hop/music/& black people in latin America...?

Do I want MORE formal education?? A LOT more formal education? Will higher education eat my brain??

When I signed up for the study abroad experience in 2008, I was embarrassingly ill-informed about the country and the culture. I was looking for a sexy spanish, salsa, rice and beans, and brown people...none of which are easy to find in this city. As I looked for ways to supplement my African American studies major, I was literally laughed at on arrival. You can't study that down here...

Befuddled as to how a city that was a former slave port could claim to have no black people, black history, no black roots, nor any culture to teach about, I started investigating on my own. This independent investigation became my thesis "From Candombe to Hip-hop: Generational shifts in black Ideology"

This time, I'll be focusing my studies almost completely on Hip-hop.

To get started on the right foot I've made a list of possible goals and research questions.
How the project will develop from here, only time can tell.

Exploring the significance of hip-hop culture in Buenos aires as it grows from it's incipience

Exploring hip-hop culture as it specifically relates to the black community in Buenos aires

Exploring a new sentiment of organizing (around diaspora)?

Exploring a new concept of blackness—less localized more globalized?

Can music continue to be a unifying entity for the community? (Is the word community even applicable to a dispere group of people who happen to be afro-descendientes?)

Is community something that the diaspora in Argentina is searching for?

Can music be a teaching and galvanizing force for the community?

Aside from hip-hop, what are some of the most important musical genres for young Afro people?

Will hip-hop be a way for Argentines to view and recognize blacknesses, while Afro-Argentines realize their own blackness? (Will this give Afro-Argentines a cultural identification?)

Will this alternative culture gain a voice although there is little appreciation for hip-hop in the mainstream culture?

Can hip-hop ever be a non-political entity??