This summer, The Metropole is departing from its Metropolis of the Month format and will instead feature travelogues from globetrotting urbanists. We’ve asked some great contributors to share photos, reflections, and lists of their favorite things to do in the cities they’re visiting. But before we bid Buenos Aires adios, we actually have two travelogues from the city. Next week we have a post from Anton Rosenthal, who has collected perspectives on the city from 19th and 20th century travelers , but first I want to share some recollections of my three encounters with Buenos Aires and a list of recommendations for those making a visit.
My siblings and I each got to take a big international trip the summer after we turned 16, and my turn, in 2003, was to Buenos Aires. That year I became fascinated by Latin American literature and magical realism after reading Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban, ironically in my Sophomore English class. I had been taking Spanish for a few years and my parents, watching my enjoyment of learning the language, wanted to give me an opportunity to practice. Argentina’s economy was still spiraling after its crash in 2001 and the favorable exchange rate gave us an opportunity for a slightly more luxurious vacation than we might otherwise be able to afford.
We stayed in a nice hotel in Palermo, within walking distance of the Jardín Japonés and the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano (MALBA). I recall visiting both, and being particularly enchanted by MALBA’s permanent collection. I bought several postcard-sized prints in the museum shop and they were prominently displayed in my bedroom for years afterwards.
My most vivid memory from that trip, however, was the day we spent in La Boca—the working class neighborhood whose colorful row houses are most vividly associated in the public imagination with the city. We walked around, and saw outdoor tango performances, and who knows what else. It had been several hours of exploring, and I was tired. That’s when “the incident” occurred, the one thing for which my father will never forgive me.
We were walking past La Bombonera, the stadium of the Boca Juniors football club, and a game was about to begin. A life-long soccer fan, my father’s face lit up. The gears began turning in his mind, as he imagined himself in the stands cheering for Boca and enjoying what would likely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In equal measure the gears began turning in my mind, but I imagined being simultaneously bored and scared by the pressing crowd of screaming men surrounding us. So I put my foot down, literally stomping my foot and crying and refusing to go. I won, and my father angrily hailed us a cab back to the hotel.
During that week Buenos Aires made a strong impression; I remembered it as a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with delicious and cheap food. Four years later, I decided to spend a semester abroad there during my junior year of college. By 2007, the economy had not measurably improved and it was still the best bang for your educational bucks.
My experience of the city as a twenty-year-old college student was mixed. I had hugely formative experiences–I took a modern dance class at a community center, which kicked off a three year love affair with, if not talent for, dance; I attended services at Jewish congregations throughout the city and realized that religious practice was important to me; I attended concerts and festivals and films and by the end could actually understand the Spanish–but I also found myself exhausted by porteño culture. My clothes were too casual by the standards of the formal, fashionable women of Buenos Aires, and as I ate and drank my way through a city obsessed with thinness I had fellow passengers on buses and trains admonish me for standing (because I was “clearly” pregnant). In an email I wrote to friends back at home, I shared an anecdote capturing the best and worst of the city and my experience abroad:
Standing on a crowded bus yesterday, a woman yelled at me for not making someone give me a seat, since I was so obviously pregnant. Although it was the 4th time now that this has occurred, it was still humiliating. It was worse this time though, because despite 4 months of constant language immersion, I could not formulate even the most perfunctory response. Eventually I just managed to say “No, no lo necesito” and got off the bus (luckily, it was my stop).
I got off the bus at the Palermo Wine Tour. For 40 pesos, we got a souvenir wine glass, and all of the businesses on CalleHonduras had representatives from various bodegas (vineyards) offering unlimited samples. We were celebrating my friend’s 21st birthday, so we got pretty sloshed. It was a good time.
I found myself back on Calle Honduras in 2015, when I dragged my husband and in-laws to Buenos Aires so they could experience the city themselves. Seeing the city through their fresh eyes, it felt bigger than when I left in December 2007. Quickly, though, I found myself gravitating towards what I had always loved about Buenos Aires: lingering over long meals without being harassed by waiters, watching films in immaculately clean theaters, visiting craft fairs on Saturday afternoons, buying candy and snacks from the kioskos, and drinking lots of cheap, delicious Malbec.
This is my number one recommendation to anyone traveling to Buenos Aires. The permanent collection of Latin American art is one of my favorites of any museum in the world–and I’ve been to a lot of museums! Make sure to see the Wifredo Lam and Xul Solar paintings. Before going, also check what films they are showing.
Most neighborhoods in Buenos Aires have an arts/crafts/antiques fair each weekend, but my favorite has always been the one in the neighborhood of Palermo (though multiple times I found jewelry I loved at the feria in Belgrano, and the one in Recoleta, outside the cemetery, isn’t bad either). These fairs are the best place to find distinctly Argentine gifts.
If you leave Buenos Aires without trying Cumaná, you screwed up. The empanadas are above average but the restaurant is really known for their cazuelas, or little casseroles. Just know that at lunchtime there can be lines, so don’t go starving–or make sure to arrive before noon or after 2-3 PM.
The recent explosion of black studies in Argentina has been a welcoming effort of various scholars and activists that have refused to accept the old and tired categorization that Argentina is a country of European descendants. For instance, most recently activists challenged Argentine president Mauricio Macri’s association between Mercosur and the European Union at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2018. There the president stated, “I think the association between Mercosur and the European Union is natural because in South America we are all descendants of Europeans.” I can’t say I wasn’t proud to see and hear the strong backlash that challenged this outdated and very tiresome notion that Argentina has always been a white nation. But is that all that is left for us? What I mean more specifically is we can and will continue to dispel that Argentina is a white country of only “European descendants,” but as the field of black studies in Argentina develops it is also time that we take a hard look at the scholarship and ask ourselves what comes next.
My response is that it is time to expand westward. Why? Because scholars of Argentina’s black history have tended to focus on Buenos Aires. So much so that the black experience in Buenos Aires has become the national narrative. In other words, Argentina’s black history and more specifically the process of black disappearance references the black experience of Buenos Aires during the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century. By the mid-nineteenth century intellectuals such as Juan Batista Alberdi and Domingo Sarmiento (president of Argentina 1868-1874) justified policies that encouraged European immigration using pseudoscientific theories that purported to prove the biological superiority of “whites” over “nonwhites.” In effect, Sarmiento, and similar intellectuals joined the larger Latin American process of blanqueamiento, or whitening. Blanqueamiento serves as an operative word to describe the late-nineteenth-century state-led modernization process. Like Argentina, many other Latin American countries looked to European immigrants as the way to bring civilization. Historians have argued that this ideological erasure is one of the main reasons for the disappearance of people who identified as black in Argentina.
Instead of enforcing segregation policies to sanction white superiority, Argentine authorities sought to eliminate blackness through European immigration and miscegenation. The constant arrival of European males through immigration made this goal attainable. For example, Sarmiento often touted mulatos as proof of progress because they “had the brute force of the African and the intellect of the European.” By the turn of the twentieth century, it seemed that the whitening project had achieved success. In 1905 Juan José Soiza Reilly wrote in the magazine Caras y Caretas, “The [black] race is losing in the mixture its primitive color. It becomes gray. It dissolves. It lightens. An African tree is producing white flowers.”
In turn, scholars have also documented the importance of the Black press, which has proved paramount in understanding how African descendants in Buenos Aires responded to blanqueamiento.  Prominent Black newspapers such as La Broma were geared toward a more elite audience, while others, such as, La Juventud appealed to working-class audiences. La Broma perpetuated the politics of respectability while La Juventud focused on the social and economic choices left for a community whose proportion in the population continued to decrease every year because of European immigration. Over time, the newspapers revealed a developing class conflict within the Black community which failed to reach a consensus regarding how to deal with blanqueamiento.
The country’s adoption of blanqueamiento and the reactions to it in the Black press demonstrates the “success” of a state-led project that marked the beginning of the myth of black disappearance and more recently has propelled the field of black studies in Argentina. However, this is a Buenos Aires narrative. To be fair, this practice reflects larger trends in Argentine history as Buenos Aires’s history eclipses the histories of other prominent cities and regions in the country. And to borrow Macri’s natural analogy, it is very much because it is the capital as well as the largest city in the country. But if we are continuing to develop the field of black studies it is time to expand westward first to acknowledge that African descendants resided in all of the cities throughout Argentina and second that cities’ geographic, political, and cultural characteristics directly shaped and molded how they disappeared. In studying other cities, we not only extend the scholarship, but we also acknowledge that diverse and dynamic history of Argentina beyond Buenos Aires. My forthcoming book, Hiding in Plain Sight: The Disappearance of the Black Population in Argentina focuses on the city of Córdoba and expands our understanding of Africans and their descendants. It concentrates on the process of disappearance during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, prior to state-led and institutionalized whitening at the end of the nineteenth century.
Córdoba was a prominent city that served as a center of distribution because of its central location in the Río de la Plata during the colonial period 1573-1810. Like Buenos Aires, Córdoba had a large black population. But unlike Buenos Aires, Córdoba did not experience a wave of enslaved Africans at the end of the eighteenth century. Instead, the city of Córdoba remained a small, close-knit society of ruling families who could trace their lineage back to the conquistadors, Indians and their descendants who survived the conquest, and Africans and their descendants both enslaved and free. Together, they numbered roughly 7,240 inhabitants according to the 1778 city census. This small concentrated population stood in stark contrast to Buenos Aires which around the same time had 24,363 inhabitants. 
Absent of state-led institutionalized notions of blanqueamiento during the eighteenth century, individual choices and negotiated identities described the process of disappearance in the small but prominent city of Córdoba. This is because identity remained influx and dependent on dress, phenotype, occupation, and an individual’s reputed persona, which culminated into calidad during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Examples of calidad labels in Córdoba included negro (referenced the enslaved or freed Africans) mulato (mixture between European and African), indio (Indian), pardo (mixture between descendants of European, Indian and/or African mixture), mestizo (mixture between European and Indian), and español (referenced people born in Spain or their descendants). As a result, when possible, African descendants—especially those whose phenotype was often described as “the color of a Spaniard” in the documents—chose whiteness, as evidenced through contested marriage cases, to achieve privilege and status. Moreover, African descendants who risked enslavement sought Indian status in contested freedom cases, because Indian status meant freedom. Cases of contested freedoms continued throughout the early nineteenth century and African descendants continued to claim a case of mistaken identity and they were in fact Indians. After providing extensive proof of Indian identity which included dress, place of origin, voluntary service, and maternal Indian lineage, African descendants evaded enslavement and gained their freedom.
African descendants’ transformation into Indians complicates the notion that all African descendants attempted to ascribe to whiteness. My findings have determined African descendants’ attempts to achieve freedom by transforming into Indians provides a more colorful narrative about the disappearance in the interior city of Córdoba. In particular, the transformation from African descendant to Indian status represents a “browning” rather than “whitening” process. As a result, Córdoba’s browning process at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century provides a stark juxtaposition to blanqueamiento, which is very much associated with the late nineteenth century and the Buenos Aires experience.
By examining black experiences in interior cities such as Córdoba, the developing field of Black Studies in Argentina will not only continue to dispel myths of black disappearance but expanding westward will result in a field that reflects the varied and diverse black experiences in Argentina.
Erika Denise Edwards is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is an expert on the black experience in Argentina. She has written various articles, book chapters, and has given lectures about her current research about the myth of black disappearance in Argentina. She has also been quoted and/or consulted by the New York Times, National Geographic, and interviewed by La Voz del Interior, an Argentine newspaper. She is currently finishing her manuscript Hiding in Plain Sight: The Disappearance of the Black Population in Argentina.
 George Reid Andrews, The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-1900 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980); Miguel Rosal, Africanos y afrodescendientes en el Río de la Plata : siglos XVIII-XIX (Buenos Aires: Dunken, 2009); Marta Goldberg, “La población negra y mulata de la ciudad de Buenos Aires 1810-1840,” Desarrollo Económico 16, no. 61 (1976): 75–99; Marvin Lewis, Afro-Argentine Discourse: Another Dimension of the Black Diaspora (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996); Lea Geler, Andares negros, caminos blancos. afroporteños, estado y nación Argentina a fines del siglo XIX. (Rosario, Argentina: Prohistoria Ediciones, 2010); Alejandro Frigerio, “‘Negros’ y ‘blancos’ en Buenos Aires: repensando nuestras categorías raciales,” Temas de patrimonio cultural 16 (2006): 77–98; Edwards, “Slavery in Argentina.”
 Andrews, The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-1900.
 Domingo Sarmiento, Obras de D. F. Sarmiento: viajes por europa, áfrica i américa 1847–1854, vol. V (Paris: Belin Hermanos, 1909), 67.
 Juan José Soiza Reilly, “Gente de color,” Caras y Caretas, November 25, 1905.
 Geler, Andares negros, caminos blancos. Afroporteños, estado y nación Argentina a fines del siglo XIX.; Tomás Platero, Piedra libre para nuestros negros: la broma y otros periódicos de la comunidad afroargentina (1873-1882) (Buenos Aires: Instituto Histórico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, 2004); Norberto Pablo Cirio, Tinta negra en el gris del ayer: los afroporteños a través de sus periódicos entre 1873 y 1882 (Buenos Aires: Teseo, 2009); Lewis, Afro-Argentine Discourse: Another Dimension of the Black Diaspora.
 Alex Borucki, From Shipmates to Soldiers: Emerging Black Identities in the Río de La Plata (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015).
 Andrews, The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-1900, 66.
Buenos Aires and Montevideo, the capitals of Argentina and Uruguay, are located approximately 120 miles away from each other across the Río de la Plata. Over the decade from 2003 to 2013, I traveled by boat between Argentina and Uruguay approximately 20 times while living in the two cities for an aggregate of six of those years. A fair number of these trips were primarily to renew 90-day tourist visas in Argentina, where I lived from 2003 to 2008. I was far from alone among the many Americans and other foreigners residing in Buenos Aires that would travel back and forth across the world’s so-called widest river. I had a Brazilian friend that would join me for the occasional overnight trip to Montevideo and to the closer Uruguayan port of Colonia del Sacramento for his own visa renewal reasons. I also made numerous trips to Uruguay for beach holidays in the months of December, January, and February.
Most memorably, I was once stranded on a ferry boat that failed to dock in Colonia del Sacramento due to a large thunderstorm. Our boat ran out of gas in the middle of the river, and we were towed back to the port of Buenos Aires by a tug boat. About 12 hours after leaving Buenos Aires on a planned boat trip to Colonia that would lead to a connecting bus to Montevideo and a weekend meetup with friends, I returned to Buenos Aires without having successfully stepped foot onto the sought-after Uruguayan soil. The return of our stranded ferry was broadcast live on Argentine television news. My doorman in Buenos Aires told me the next day that he had seen me on television looking rather worn down by the odyssey at sea as I returned to the ferry terminal in Buenos Aires along with my fellow travelers to have our exit visa stamps cancelled.
Long before the early 2000s and my experiences with river crossings, Buenos Aires and Montevideo developed a long and shared history dating back to the late 16th century and the arrival of Spanish colonial rule in the region. During the early colonial era, Spanish settlers created a network of urban spaces in South America to administer colonial trade and settlements. Buenos Aires became the largest urban center. Across the river, Portuguese colonists founded Montevideo. By the early 18th century, Montevideo had become a Spanish colonial possession. Buenos Aires became a Spanish viceregal capital in 1776 with dominion over the whole of the Río de la Plata region. During the late 18th century, merchants in the two cities were key participants in the growth of Atlantic commerce. Buenos Aires and Montevideo both functioned as major centers for the transatlantic, trans-imperial, and regional slave trade, which expanded to the South Atlantic in the late 18th century.
By the early 1800s, Montevideo’s citizens began to pursue their own political autonomy. When a Spanish colonial militia was needed to liberate Buenos Aires from a British invasion in 1806, they came from Montevideo. When Argentines and Uruguayans fought for independence from Spain during the 1810s, militia leaders in both cities forged alliances and lasting rivalries. Buenos Aires-based forces invaded Montevideo during the 1810s and then Uruguayans, led by national hero Jose Artigas, fought back to redefine the political alliances of the different regions of Argentina’s hinterland. From 1816 to 1825, Montevideo also fought for national independence against the occupation of Portuguese imperial forces from Brazil. Ultimately, Argentina won its decisive independence over a decade before Uruguay, but by the late 1820s, both Buenos Aires and Montevideo were the political centers of new nations in formation. Since then, connections between Buenos Aires and Montevideo have been shaped by ever-expanding commercial exchanges, but also by waves of migrations, political exile, boats and planes, tango and rock music, Carnival festivals, soccer rivalries, and familial ties.
In my book manuscript in progress, I examine the shared urban and cultural histories of Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the 20th century. My research focuses on the rise of Buenos Aires as a mass cultural capital in Latin America during the period from 1910 to 1960 and the under-explored role of cultural connections with Montevideo in shaping Buenos Aires’s emergence as a Broadway and Hollywood of Latin American mass culture. (I also have published an essay on the close ties between Uruguay’s small film industry and Argentina’s far more sizable cinematic industry from the early 20th century to the present). My work builds on an interdisciplinary body of scholarship by Argentines, Uruguayans, Brazilians, Americans, Spaniards, and others who have paid attention to the varied aspects of connections between the two cities. This essay is an exploration of the shared political histories of Buenos Aires and Montevideo that underpin my work and the second part is a brief introduction to the long history of cultural exchanges between the two cities. It is also an opportunity to argue that the long-standing connections between Buenos Aires and Montevideo as urban spaces for political exiles also speaks to the global historical importance of cities in shaping the transnational dynamics of oppositional political movements. As historian Michael Goebel has documented for Paris, an anti-imperial metropolis during the interwar period of the 20th century, it is crucial to understand how modern political movements have been shaped by the environs of interconnected cities. In Buenos Aires and Montevideo, I would argue that the shared significance for urban history comes from how the two cities contributed to a shared intellectual world of universities, print culture, and the cultural effervescence of mass culture.
Political currents have repeatedly shaped Buenos Aires’s relationship with Montevideo (and vice versa) since the independence of both countries. In the 1830s to 1840s, Buenos Aires and Montevideo developed a new form of connection as Montevideo functioned as a primary site of political exile for opponents of the Argentine government led by Federalist caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas. Political exile of prominent Argentines in Montevideo and Uruguayans in Buenos Aires is a pattern that has repeated itself again and again. During most of the period from 1829 to 1852, Juan Manuel de Rosas was the Governor of Buenos Aires Province (including the city) and his opponents were members of the Unitarian political party. The most famous Federalist slogan was the succinct “Death to Unitarians.” The Unitarian Juan Bautista Alberdi, Argentina’s most prominent constitutional thinker and arguably the country’s James Madison, was exiled in Montevideo in the 1830s and early 1840s. Alberdi and other intellectuals wrote for Montevideo publications such as El Iniciador and imagined a post-Rosas Argentina from Uruguay. Alberdi was joined in Montevideo by Florencio Varela, Esteban Escheverria, Hilario Ascasubi. As literary scholar William Acree has written, Ascasubi was the most potent pen in angering Rosas and his allies. (Another prominent anti-Rosas intellectual and eventual Argentine president, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, was exiled in Santiago del Chile, in large part because it was closer to his native San Juan in northwestern Argentina.)
In Montevideo during the 1840s, Alberdi fled during a siege of the city led by the forces of the Uruguayan general Manuel Oribe and backed by Rosas from Buenos Aires. In 1848, Varela was assassinated in Montevideo on orders from Oribe and Rosas, an act of political violence that would echo throughout the late 20th century with Argentines and Uruguayan civilians targeted while in exile from their respective homeland. After the fall of Juan Manuel de Rosas in 1852, Montevideo was not as synonymous with exile from Buenos Aires for the duration of the 19th century.
During the 20th century, the cities would continue to switch roles back and forth as sites of exile. The Uruguayan capital would become a privileged space of exile for a few anti-Peronist politicians during the first government of Juan Perón from 1945 to 1955. Argentine intellectuals would also seek employ at the Universidad de la República in Montevideo during this period, including the University of Buenos Aires professor and historian José Luis Romero. In the 1960s, more Argentine intellectuals would go to Montevideo when the University of Buenos Aires’s administration was taken over by another in a long array of military governments. In the early 1970s, Uruguayan politicians, intellectuals, and leftist activists would flee to Buenos Aires after the Uruguayan military began to violently repress Uruguayans considered opponents of the new junta. In March 1976, Argentina suffered a violent military coup and the new regime murderously targeted both Argentine and Uruguayan political opponents in Buenos Aires. A number of prominent Uruguayan politicians had chosen exile in Buenos Aires since 1973. Among them were Zelmer Michelini and Héctor Gutierrez Ruiz. Michelini was a Uruguayan senator and political leader of the Frente Amplio political movements in Uruguay. In May 1976, Michelini and Gutierrez Ruiz were kidnapped and killed on the same day in Buenos Aires. The murders were the work of military officers involved in Operation Condor, the transnational network of political assassinations involving military and intelligence officers in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil. Since the return of democracy, human rights organizations in both Buenos Aires and Montevideo have worked together in pursuit of justice and accountability for this period of state terrorism.
Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer and committed leftist, wrote in the heartrending “Chronicle of the City of Buenos Aires” in his The Book of Embraces about his experience of returning to Buenos Aires in 1984 after fleeing Montevideo in 1973 and then having to escape in 1976 from Buenos Aires to Spain.
In the middle of 1984, I traveled to the River Plate. It was eleven years since I’d seen Montevideo; eight years since I’d seen Buenos Aires. I had walked out of Montevideo because I don’t like being a prisoner, and out of Buenos Aires because I don’t like being dead. By 1984, the Argentine military dictatorship had gone, leaving behind it an indelible trace of blood and filth, and the Uruguayan military dictatorship was on its way out.
The exile of Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti coincided with Galeano’s in Buenos Aires before he too departed for another exile in Lima, Peru. Benedetti’s short story “La vecina orilla” (in translation with the title of “The Other Side”) is an evocative tale of the exile of a young Uruguayan political activist in Buenos Aires. The two stories shared the experiences of both writers and the conditions of double exile that shaped the lives of many Montevideo natives who felt almost at home in Buenos Aires during a dark chapter of Latin American history.
While political exiles colored the relationship between residents of Buenos Aires and Montevideo at decisive moments in the 19th and 20th centuries, decidedly more cultural exchanges proliferated during the same period and were not shaped by formal politics. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Podesta family popularized the Creole circus in cities including Buenos Aires and Montevideo and numerous towns throughout Argentina and Uruguay. In the early 20th century, playwrights and performers from both cities increasingly traveled back and forth between Buenos Aires and Montevideo to forge a shared world of popular culture. The two cities also functioned as incubators for the world’s greatest tango singers, musicians, and composers during the 1910s and 1920s. For Uruguayan dramatists like Angel Curotto, Buenos Aires’s Avenida Corrientes was the South American equivalent of Broadway and increasingly offered what Montevideo could not. However, with the rise of Peronism in Argentina during the 1940s, numerous leading Argentine performers pursued theatrical opportunities in Montevideo where there was less political tension and censorship. Curotto became a major figure in attracting Argentine directors and performers to Montevideo’s Teatro Solis in the late 1940s and early 1950s. With the rise of film culture in the 1930s and 1940s, Buenos Aires simultaneously attracted more and more performers from Montevideo and Santiago del Chile to pursue their dreams on screen while working for Argentine film studios. At the same time, mass audiences filled Buenos Aires’s dozens of movie theaters, thereby popularizing Argentine films. In addition, Buenos Aires developed as urban metropolis for various exiles; many of these figures contributed to the city’s mass cultural marketplace in different forms of intellectual production. In the late 1940s, the African-American writer Richard Wright opted to film an adaptation of his novel Native Son in Buenos Aires while collaborating with the émigré French director Pierre Chenal.
During the 20th century, Buenos Aires and Montevideo continued to influence each other’s imaginations. The Hotel de los Pocitos, located on the Río de la Plata beachfront in Montevideo, was a prominent vacation destination for middle and upper-class Argentineans in the early 1900s before being destroyed by a hurricane in 1923. Montevideo’s “salubrious climate” attracted international visitors and helped to transform it into a summer resort for Uruguayans, Argentines, and Brazilians during the early decades of the 20th century. By the 1950s, Argentines began to vacation en masse in Uruguay’s ocean town of Punta del Este, which had more coastline than the Argentine capital and was largely on the Atlantic Ocean. In different moments, residents of Buenos Aires imagined Montevideo as a city of anti-Peronism, frequent business trips, extramarital affairs, and offshore accounts. Buenos Aires occupied the urban imagination of montevideanos as South America’s modern metropolis, and in the 1960s and 1970s as a city of revolutionary and then violently repressive politics. These urban imaginaries ebbed and flowed to shape generations of porteños and montevideanos. In the framework of transnational urban history, my work grapples with the appropriate comparisons to explore the relationship between the two capital cities. Many comparisons come to mind, but the cities lack the clear political schisms of Havana and Miami, are not equally global and political metropolises like London and Paris (and do not differ in languages), and unlike New York and Toronto the cities exist in closer proximity and function as national capitals. My framing of the comparative and transnational histories of Buenos Aires and Montevideo seeks to trace the connections between the cities as contributing to Buenos Aires’s place as a capital of Latin American mass culture and builds on the longer histories of political and cultural connections between Argentina and Uruguay.
Daniel Richter is a Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Maryland. He received his doctorate from Maryland in Latin American history in 2016. His research focuses on the urban and cultural history of 20th century Latin America, transnational urban history, and global histories of mass culture and commodities.
 Roger Mirza, Teatro rioplatense: cuerpo, palabra, imagen: la escena contemporánea, una reflexión impostergable. Montevideo: Unión Latina, 2007.
Michael Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
 William G. Acree, Jr., Everyday Reading: Print Culture and Collective Identity in the Río de la Plata, 1780-1910. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2011, 72-74.
 Juan Carlos del Bello, Osvaldo Barsky, Graciela Giménez, La universidad privada argentina. Buenos Aires: Libros del Zorzal, 2007, 69.
 John Dinges, The Condor Years: How Pinochet And His Allies Brought Terrorism To Three Continents. New York: The New Press, 2012, 145-147.
 Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces. Translated by Cedric Belfrage with Mark Schafer. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992, 188-189.
 Mario Benedetti, “The Other Side,” in Blood pact and other stories, edited by Claribel Alegría and Darwin Flakoll. Translated by Daniel Balderston. Willimantic, Connecticut: Curbstone Press, 1997.
 Juan Carlos Legido, La orilla oriental del tango. Historia del Tango Uruguayo. Montevideo: Ediciones de la Plaza, 1994.
 Daniela Bouret and Gonzalo Vicci, “Relaciones creativas y conflictivas entre el teatro y la política. La institucionalidad de las artes escénicas en Uruguay en la Comisión de Teatros Municipales,” Telondefondo. Revista de Teoría y Crítica Teatral Publicación semestral (December 2011), 123-143.
 Edgardo Krebs, Sangre negra: breve historia de una película perdida. Mar del Plata: Festival Internacional de Cine de Mar del Plata, 2015.
 Edward Albes, Montevideo, The City of Roses. Washington, DC: Organization of American States, 1922.
How many times have the city, its architecture, and the theatre been intertwined, for the theatre is often a foil for the representations of public life, and public space frequently is arranged as if for a theatrical performance. Both the theatre and urban space are places of representation, assemblage, and exchange between actors and spectators, between the drama and the stage set.
M. Christine Boyer, The City in Collective Memory
By Kristen McCleary
The cliché phrase that Buenos Aires was the Paris of South America exemplifies the exaggerated focus that elites placed on the French capital as they promoted and shaped the national identity of Argentina. Marcy E. Schwartz explains the fascination with Paris as follows: “Since the early independence period, criollo culture has had to confront and define itself with European urban models in its continuing attempt to determine political and aesthetic boundaries. The Paris written into Latin American cultural consciousness has emerged from this persistent confrontation.”
While all of Latin America’s elite were fascinated by Paris around this same time—indeed Porfirio Díaz of Mexico went into exile there on the cusp of that nation’s revolution—the link between Argentine elites and Parisian culture was especially strong. Buenos Aires served a particularly important role in connecting Paris to the rest of Latin America through publishing. Pascale Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters underscores the links between Paris as the world capital of literature and Buenos Aires, where Nicaraguan modernist writer, Rubén Dario, first published Prosas profanes in 1896.Casanova argues Dario, “rearranged the literary landscape of the Hispanic world” by importing the latest edition of modernity from Paris to Buenos Aires. Dario worked for and disseminated his work in the largest Latin American daily newspaper of the era, Buenos Aires’ La Nación.
In contrast to a large body of scholarship supporting a relationship between Paris and Buenos Aires, there is very little that discusses the relationship between Madrid, the Spanish capital, and Buenos Aires. In his study of Spanish immigration to Argentina, José Moya writes, “volumes on the ‘conquistadores’ fill shelves but not one scholarly book has been written about these more recent and more numerous [Spanish] newcomers to Buenos Aires.” In the Independence-era historiography, there is a deliberate neglect of Buenos Aires’ connections to Madrid, or to Spain more generally, particularly in relationship to culture. It makes sense that Argentina would distance itself from the country that had once colonized it. And that is largely what the elites did. Argentine elites looked for their national foundations outward to Paris or inward to the Pampas and the mythification of the disappearing gauchos.
Julio Ramos explicitly links the writings of the Argentine elite after independence to modernity:
Beginning with the 1820s, the activity of writing became a response to the necessity of overcoming the catastrophe of war, the absence of discourse, and the annihilation of established structures in the war’s aftermath. To write, in such a world, was to forge the modernizing project; it was to civilize, to order the randomness of American ‘barbarism.”
Domingo F. Sarmiento in his 1845 narrative Civilization and Barbarism bifurcated the political ideologies of his era into urban and rural and positioned the “civilized” city against the “barbaric” countryside: “The nineteenth century and the twelfth century coexist, the one in the cities; the other in the countryside.” Sarmiento and many of his like-minded brethren were influenced by French enlightenment thought. In particular, Sarmiento disparaged Argentina’s Spanish ancestry—absorbing the tendency in literature and history to demonize Spanish culture as uniquely backwards and obscurantist. Sarmiento and other liberal elites, like Bernadino Rivadavia, advocated the de-Hispanicization of Argentina in the aftermath of independence. On the stages of Buenos Aires, however, an entirely different story might be reconstructed than the one told by the elites. This counter narrative concerns the dominance of Spanish popular theater from the colonial era up until 1904—the first year that Argentine theatrical productions outnumbered Spanish zarzuelas.
The main theatrical entertainment during the era of Argentine independence was a number of short musical genres that originated in Spain and which were performed by Spanish acting companies: loas, tonadillas, and sainetes. Oscar F. Urquiza Almandoz notes that in the colonial era Madrid and Lima set the standard most South American cities followed. In Madrid and Lima, a night at the theater would be loa, tonadilla, sainete, and then comedy. Loas were prologues from the Golden Era of Spanish theater that attempted to get the audience’s attention before a play began. Tonadillas were one of several small genres of music that gave rise to the zarzuela, a Spanish operetta with both sung and spoken dialogue. Sainetes (farces) were short one-act plays drawing characters from the urban working classes and employed their vernacular as well.
In 1817, the year after the nation declared independence at the Congreso de Tucumán, independence war hero Juan Martín de Pueyrredón formed La Sociedad de Buen Gusto [The Society of Good Taste] in order to harness and promote theater as a ‘civilizing’ tool. Promoting particular plays about the ‘American experience’ and about independence, the Society attempted to suppress popular theater, in particular the Spanish tonadilla and its main instrumentation, the guitar. Audiences knew what they liked, however, and more than once demanded the return of tonadillas to the stage. The failure of the Society of Good Taste to achieve its mission speaks to the power of the ingrained customs and habits of audience members, who continued to demand Spanish tonadillas, sainetes, and zarzuelas, over dramatic or lyrical theater.
The nineteenth century was a turbulent one for Argentine nation-building and theatrical entertainment waxed and waned along with economic and political stability. Spanish-originating theater and actors remained a constant presence on Argentine stages, simmering on the back burner, so to speak, until society transformed enough to sustain urban commercial theater. This would happen after 1880, the moment that the port city of Buenos Aires became designated as the federal capital, cementing its power over the provinces. Between 1879 and 1914, almost six million people came to Argentina with a little more than half of them permanently settling.
The constancy of Spanish theatre and acting troupes in Buenos Aires throughout the nineteenth century provided a base from which the Spanish zarzuela would arise to dominate urban entertainment in the 1890s. Zarzuelas were written in Spain and often reproduced on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in a few days. Playscripts were transmitted via the telegraph and acting companies arrived to Buenos Aires on steamship. A touring company might leave the port city of Cádiz, Spain, arrive to Buenos Aires, rehearse, and perform in under three weeks time. Zarzuela performers were drawn to Buenos Aires for many reasons. The city had strong cultural ties to Spanish theatre and a large enough population to make a sojourn there profitable. The high season of theatre in Buenos Aires coincided with the off-season in Europe. In addition, the natural audience, Spaniards, comprised a large immigrant group in the 1880s, making up over 20 per cent of the population, and could sustain upwards of ten zarzuela companies. In 1886, zarzuelas comprised 8 per cent of the city’s indoor leisure time entertainment. By 1895, this number had jumped to over 60 per cent.
The zarzuela was an inherently urban form of theatre. Originating in Madrid, the topics of the zarzuelas were Spanish. Some of the titles centering on Madrid and the provinces of Spain: La verbena de la Paloma, de Madrid a Paris (From Madrid to Paris), La gran vía (The Great Thoroughfare), La Romeria de Miera (Miera’s Pilgrimage), Un gatito de Madrid (A Cat From Madrid), La Salamanquina (The Girl from Salamanca), and Olé Sevilla.
Spanish zarzuela companies dominated urban culture in Buenos Aires in the 1890s. They quickly began to adapt Madrid-centered themes to Argentine ones. For example, La gran vía, written by Federico Chueca (1846–1908) and Joaquín Valverde Durán (1846–1910) and first performed in Madrid in 1886, was performed in and adapted to Buenos Aires as well as Havana, Cuba and Santiago, Chile. It was even adapted and performed in the United States. The first scene of La gran vía opens with performers personifying Madrid’s streets and plazas, lamenting their fate in the face of urban renovation where a new Grand Boulevard will result in their destruction.
Justo López de Gomara, a Spaniard by birth and prominent Spanish journalist and playwright in Argentina, debuted his play De paseo en Buenos Aires [Strolling Through Buenos Aires] as a loose adaptation of La gran vía in 1890.
De paseo travels through the quintessential institutions of Buenos Aires, from the San Martin Theatre, to the police commissary, the Plaza Victoria (later the Plaza de Mayo), the Immigrants’ Hotel, La Boca del Riachuelo, a fruit market, the port, the stock exchange, and the Avenida de Mayo [May Avenue]. It also includes local character types, like compadritos, gauchos, and Italian and Spanish immigrants, and borrows from La gran vía several allegorical representations of urban life: squabbling street sweepers and cooks, boys selling newspapers, an Italian opera singer, French chorus girls, and [yes, apparently the porteño infatuation with dogs dates back to the nineteenth century] a professional dog walker.
If in the early 1890s there was a demand for zarzuela performances to be exact replicas of those in Spain, by the decade’s end audience members were increasingly contesting performances that they viewed as inauthentic, especially in regards to the presentation of national themes and character types. The zarzuela resulted in collaborations between Argentine playwrights and Spanish actors who set the template for Argentine national theatre. It also fostered a network of intellectuals and performers who unified their work with political activism during moments of democratic openings. The genre also generated conversation and debate about what it meant to be ‘Argentine,’ as Spanish performers and Argentine playwrights colluded to create a hybrid genre known as the zarzuela criolla where Argentines wrote the plays and Spaniards performed them.
If zarzuela performers tended to integrate themselves smoothly with Argentine audiences most of the year, twice a year it was impossible to forget the historical relationship between the two countries: May 25 and July 9, Argentina’s two days celebrating important moments in their independence from Spain. During independence days, theatres were decked out in the national colours of whichever nation was being celebrated. Streamers were hung, national anthems were sung. As such, theatres were arenas where patriotic gestures and national traditions were embraced and displayed. In addition, theatres were largely masculine spaces and young elite men went there to enact their own sense of manhood by protecting (and over-interpreting) slights to Argentine national identity. The fact that Spanish performers were required to sing the Argentine national anthem, which included lyrics derogatory against Spain also assured that theatres would be loaded affairs on these days.
The preponderance of Spanish performers on Argentine stages resulted in the curious case of the first actor to dance the tango on the stages of Buenos Aires: a Spaniard that performed in blackface. Ezequiel Soria’s Justicia criolla [Creole Justice] (1897) is a Spanish zarzuela that focuses on Benito, an Afro-Argentine doorman for the national congress who peppers his dialogue with political commentary and who also attempts to seduce Juanita, a white Argentine woman. Benito’s primary characteristics are his flirtatiousness, verbosity, and musicality. Benito is famously remembered for being the character credited with introducing the tango to the stages of Buenos Aires. Enrique Gil, an actor from Spain, who directed theater in Buenos Aires, first played Benito.
It was inevitable that the Spanish zarzuela would decline as Argentine theatre matured. 1904 was the last year that the zarzuela genre dominated in Buenos Aires. After the passage of a law that gave Argentine writers a guaranteed 10% of the box office for their plays, something which Spanish writers had secured in 1890, Argentine national theatre became a relatively lucrative business. While Buenos Aires has often been referred to as the Paris of South America, throughout the nineteenth century in matters of popular culture, Buenos Aires looked towards Madrid.
Featured image (at top): Avenida de Mayo, Buenos Aires, between 1908 and 1919, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Kristen McCleary is an Associate Professor of history at James Madison University. She is currently finishing her book manuscript, “Engendering the Urban Sphere: Theater and Society in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1880-1920.” She has published a number of articles about popular culture in Argentina on topics ranging from the transformation of carnival celebrations in Buenos Aires, to the performance of masculinity on the city’s stages, to narratives of theater fires as a way in which to understand processes of urban modernization in Buenos Aires. Her courses on Latin America focus on visual and popular culture, gender, and social change. She has co-directed a study abroad program to Buenos Aires, Argentina since 2008.
On a casual stroll through Buenos Aires City, the pedestrian’s eyes can follow the public spaces lined with colorful graffiti. Though the latter is illegal, it is socially accepted, and for some urban residents and tourists it is even valued. Indeed, they locate their graffiti, including name tags, screen printing, and murals, in highly visible and trafficked areas to share messages or evoke memories across time and space.
Europeans learned the history of graffiti in Spanish America thanks to Hernán Cortés—even though he, in the words of Angel Rama, “condemned graffiti because anyone could produce it.” Yet that very condemnation of its popularity is—perhaps ironically—why it is such an effective art form throughout modern Latin America. In Buenos Aires in particular, graffiti has become an art of protest, messaging, and spectacle.
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo serve as evidence regarding graffiti art’s importance and its intersection with protest and public space. The Plaza de Mayo has symbolized Argentina’s urban core space since the early twentieth century. Through a discussion of the Mothers and how others use the Plaza space, we can better understand the strength of their physical protest and their ability to evoke memory
The Plaza de mayo
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, elite leaders sought to control spaces within the city. Influenced by positivist philosophy, they engineered public space to represent their bourgeois ideals of order and progress—and materialized their imagined modernization.  With rising city income from sales of exported cereals and beef, they were able to finance their new city, an “ordered city,” which they envisioned as an architectural urban style and grid that emphasized order and progress. Such a new, ordered city would promote politics, public health, and culture.
The core of this ordered city was a public square, the Plaza de 25 de Mayo, established in 1884. Ironically, though termed a modern square, the Plaza de Mayo appeared similar to a traditional sixteenth-century Spanish plaza, surrounded by the essential buildings of administration, finance, and religion, including the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada Nevertheless, elites perceived that this central area demonstrated their high culture, including beautiful landscapes in geometrical shapes. This architectural landscape of Plaza de Mayo has remained relatively consistent for more than a century
By the mid-twentieth century, the Plaza de Mayo became less a symbol of beauty and modernization, and more of a central, public space for rallies and protests. During the Presidency of Juan Domingo Perón (1946-1955), for instance, his allies often organized pro-government rallies in the Plaza de Mayo, conveniently across from the Casa Rosada, where Perón could wave from the balcony of his office. The political and cultural significance of the Plaza was clear with numerous demonstrations taking place in this space—though the larger, truly mass demonstrations took place near the former building of the national labor organization, Confederation of General Labor (CGT), about a mile south of the Plaza. International audiences likely became aware of the importance of this Plaza through English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita.  In Webber’s version, he placed Evita on the balcony of the Casa Rosada during her iconic speech in which she announced her resignation as the vice-presidential candidate. In reality, her speech took place in front of the CGT building.
Protest and memory of the mothers of the plaza de mayo
During the second half of the twentieth century, mothers whose children had “disappeared” (desaparecidos) used the Plaza as a space of protest against the military dictatorship and its Dirty War (1976-1982). During this period, the military tortured, killed, and disappeared persons that it viewed as subversive. By 1977, fourteen women collectively demanded information regarding their missing children. They eventually called themselves the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. They silently walked around the Plaza every Thursday afternoon—and still do to this day. They wear white head kerchiefs, carry signs of their missing children to recognize each other, and allow onlookers to join them. They intentionally remained visible to be “politically effective” and stay alive during the Dirty War. By the end of the Dirty War in 1982, they held large demonstrations in the Plaza demanding information on their disappeared children.
Though the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo group have split into two, both groups, the Association of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Línea Fundadora, continue to walk around the Plaza every Thursday afternoon. Both groups wear the head kerchief, which was once embroidered with the name and date of their disappeared loved one. Today, the kerchiefs are embroidered with “aparición con vida de los desaparecidos” (making visible the lives of the disappeared). Though most mothers have accepted the death of their loved ones, their weekly march continues to memorialize the living, and most importantly, remind Argentines how their lives were taken during the Dirty War.
The two groups are distinguishable from each other only through their marching banners and followers. The first group, Línea Fundadora (founding mothers), is the smaller of the two and focuses on the original goal of the Mothers, demanding answers as to what happened to the disappeared. The second group, the Association of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, has a much larger following because they march for the disappeared and in support of other social justice issues.
In addition to walking around the Plaza to protest, the mothers evoke memory even when they are not physically present. Through graffiti, they continue to demonstrate their power. In 1999, for instance, they drew outlines of the bodies of the disappeared on the Plaza de Mayo with white paint . Within each body they wrote the name of the disappeared and the date that they went missing. Through the display, the mothers made the disappeared “re-appear” on the Plaza. But the sketches of the bodies slowly faded with time. By 2002, they remained but were clearly fading as expected, having a ghostly appearance, such as an apparition
During the early twentieth century, the mothers varied the symbolic graffiti art painted on the Plaza. The head kerchiefs had become a symbol of the Mothers; hence, their allies painted them in white paint on the Plaza de Mayo in 2002. That same year, there were numerous protests on the Plaza in response to the major economic crisis of December 2001. The piqueteros (protesters) set up signs, posters and audio speakers to demonstrate in the Plaza. They were physically located near the painted head kerchiefs on the Plaza. The synergies of the protests highlighted the importance of creating spectacle to enhance the power of dissent.
By 2016, the Mothers and their allies combined the white outline of the disappeared bodies and the kerchiefs on the Plaza. This time, the bodies were painted in dynamic poses, resembling ghostly figures moving along the plaza, rather than the original drawings of static figures in 2002
Today, the Plaza continues to be a diverse urban core space for protests. In addition to the Mothers, veterans and a host of groups representing social, environmental, and economic justice issues use graffiti or install art in the Plaza. In 2016, a reproductive justice group demanded legal abortions in hospitals to reduce the number of injuries or deaths due to illegal procedures. Painted clearly on the divider fence is “aborto legal en el hospital,” which ironically, is behind the painted kerchiefs of the Mothers (Image 14. Aborto Legal). It is a message for women’s rights to control their own bodies, and that women should have the right to choose whether they want to be mothers or not.
Representations of the mothers across the city
Graffiti in the city includes themes of encouragement, love, identity, soccer, labor, and of course, protest. It is so varied that a few tourist companies specialize solely in graffiti tours in the northern and southern parts of the city. They offer bike, walking and shuttle tours, helping commodify graffiti. The influence of the mothers has been strong in this process across space and time. On graffiti tours, the guide cannot skip the homage to the Mothers. In the upscale Palermo district/neighborhood, the mothers’ white head kerchiefs are painted on the side of a building facing a playground. The kerchiefs float above all the other graffiti on this wall, and appear like powerful ghosts
In the south side of the city, artists in the working-class neighborhood of Boca represent the mothers as powerful indigenous warriors, showing their physical and emotional strength that helped carry the movement of memory and protest.
In the final image, the names of the missing in Boca are listed on the wall, and clearly written is “Ni Olvido, Ni Perdón.” It powerfully conveys the message that the struggle will continue until each and every disappeared person is accounted for.
Dr. Yovanna Pineda is Associate Professor of history at the University of Central Florida. Currently, she is finishing her manuscriptInnovating Technologies: Farm Machinery Invention, Rituals, and Memory in Argentina and its companion documentary The Harvester. She has published works on various topics including industrialization, farm machinery users, development, patent records, and labor. She writes articles about advising and empowering our first generation students. Her courses on the history of South America, science, and the global drug trade focus on how culture, politics and economics intertwine.
 Angel Rama, The Lettered City (Duke University Press, 1996), p. 38. [Italics added].  Auguste Comte, Cours de Philosophie Positive (Paris: Bachelier, Imprimeur-Libraire, 1839); The porteño (as Buenos Aires was known) elite were very much aware of the international Park Movement, and interested in shaping spaces like Georges-Eugène Haussmann had done for Paris. Adrián Gorelik, La grilla y el parque: Espacio público y cultura urbana en Buenos Aires, 1887-1936 (Bernal: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes Editorial, 2010).  Gorelik, Chapter 1, “Ciudad nueva: La Utopía del ‘Pensamiento Argentino’,” La grilla y el parque.  Angel Rama, The Lettered City; Gorelik, La grilla y el parque.  May 25, 1810 is the declaration of independence day. Today, this space is simply known as the Plaza de Mayo.  Regarding the struggle for physical and symbolic space, see Mariano Ben Plotkin, Mañana es San Perón: A Cultural History of Perón’s Argentina, translated by Keith Zahniser (Wilmington, Delaware: SR Books, 2003)  Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the lyrics to “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” depicting Evita Duarte de Perón’s resignation speech of the vice-presidency in his musical Evita (1978).  An estimated 30,000 persons were disappeared during the Dirty War (1976-1982).  Diana Taylor, “Making a Spectacle: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, Volume 3, number 2 (2001): 97-109.  Vikki Bell and Mario Di Paolantonio, “The Haunted Nomos: Activist-Artists and the (Im)possible Politics of Memory in Transitional Argentina,” Cultural Politics, Volume 5, number 2 (2009): 149-178.  Diana Taylor and Juan Villegas, editors, Negotiating Performance: Gender, Sexuality, and Theatricality in Latin/o America (Duke University Press, 1994).
Strolling through Buenos Aires in the twenty-first century, the city might be read as an alternative text to that of established Argentine national history. The streets, walls, and tunnels of the city itself form the backdrop from which passersby create and narrate their own histories of the city from the words and images written upon them. How does the city itself form an urban narrative?
Angel Rama’s The Lettered City (1996) is a key work that shows how Latin American elite use the written word to define and reproduce power in urban centers. For Rama, the naming of city streets “demonstrates how utterly the rational lettered city determines the structures of the material city.” In this blog, I will highlight the ways in which the non-elites recognize and push back against this narrative of power through the naming of streets and the inclusion of names of everyday people in public spaces. The recognition and reclaiming of street, sidewalks, and other public spaces by non-elites reflects a continual movement in literature as well as in human rights work towards an increasing democratization of public space. The city itself is a text—a primary source that urban historians might consider evaluating.
The actual names of streets, as Rama notes, do reflect national history. In the older parts of the city’s center, they often highlight a male elite narrative: (Antonio Luis) Beruti, (Juan José) Castelli, (Domingo) French, and (Manuel) Belgrano, for example, are all names of leaders of the independence movement there. But throughout the popular culture of the city, there has been an awareness of this monolithic view of the powerful elite and the naming of city streets. Alberto Vacarezza’s 1919 play, El Barrio de los Judios (The Neighborhood of the Jews), a sainete (short comedic play of customs) about Jewish immigrants to Buenos Aires is set in the Jewish neighborhood of Once. Mauricio, a recent immigrant, enthusiastically assimilates into Argentina: “Here there is no more religion than that of love, and here, there is nothing more Argentine than Santos Vega, San Martín, Rivadavia, Paseo de Julio, and Belgrano!” Mauricio has listed off the name of a famous gaucho (cowboy), Santos Vega, and three national heroes, San Martín, Rivadavia, and Belgrano, all of whom also have well-known streets named after them. Mauricio’s mentioning of Paseo de Julio, a street only, is a humorous jab at how he has misread the nation’s history by assuming all street names were iconic male war figures.
These comedic plays emphasized lunfardo, the street slang or coded language derived from regional dialects of immigrants transplanted to Buenos Aires. Plays thus transformed the linguistic landscape of the city by moving words from the immigrant community like araca, piñata, ranun, piernun, and bronca from the arrabales, or city outskirts where the words were born, into central Buenos Aires through theater. In El barrio de los Judíos, for example, Samuel verifies his daughter Olga’s Argentine-ness by invoking a specific street intersection which would be easily recognized by a porteño audience: “Yes, indeed she was born at Talcahuano and Lavalia [sic Lavalle] in 1899, at three in the morning.” Plays frequently referred to such locales as the Gathés y Chavez department store, the traditional Café Richmond on Florida Street, Bric y Brac pawn shop, the Parque Japones amusement park, the Tigre river delta, and the local zoo, as well as particular theaters, underscoring the important role that shopping and other leisure time activities played in society. This emphasis on specific geographic locations served to emphasize the urban identity of audience members, while it also educated non-porteños about Buenos Aires during an era of massive immigration, when three out of four adult members of the city were foreign-born.
Jorge Luis Borges’ (1899-1986) mentor, Macedonio Fernández (1874-1952), was an urban novelist who wrestled with concepts of self and identity in the twentieth century. He also critiqued this monolithic naming device where masculine ‘heroes’ were almost always behind the city’s street names. In his novel, Museo, a character, the President, muses that streets and monuments ought to be named for virtues rather than for people:
Cities with better taste would have streets called Rain, Awakening, Mother, Brother, The Call, Live Without Never, You Shall Return, Farewell, Wait for Me Always, Homecoming, Loving Family, Kiss, Friend, Greeting, Dream, Yet Again, Insomnia, Perhaps, Makeover, Forgetfulness, Endeavor, Come Back to Me, Gathering, Live in Fantasy, Fantasy Pin, Flowering Hedge, … 
In such a masculine urban context, it might seem almost as unlikely that streets might be named after women as they would for emotions, but that is what happened with the mid-1990s renovation of the former port district, Puerto Madero. In all of Buenos Aires, only fifty-nine streets are named after women, the majority of them located here. The naming system of city streets deliberately calls attention to the historical absence of women on the city’s streets and in the city’s history. The port area fell into disuse in the 1940s and was revived in the 1990s. In 1994, the city council voted to name the streets after women in an attempt to re-orient the political power of the nation towards that half of the population who had been invisible in the public sites of the city. The neighborhood now highlights the name of pioneering women such as Cecilia Grierson, a doctor and female rights activist, and the first woman in South America to earn a medical degree (1889); Azucena Villaflor, one of the original mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who was arrested, imprisoned, and killed in the notorious night-flights that the military carried out from the Naval Mechanics Officers School (or ESMA, as it is known by its Spanish initials); filmmaker Maria Luisa Bemberg; and many others. The famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s Bridge of the Woman, (Puente de la Mujer) also resulted from this urban renovation.
If women have been historically neglected in urban narratives, with perhaps the exception of their role as prostitutes who quite literally walk the streets, street art has embraced both the iconic human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less), the new social movement that campaigns against gender based violence.
Buenos Aires is one of the few cities in the world where graffiti—or, more to the point, street art—is legal. Since the return to democracy in 1984, the nation has eschewed censorship because it was one of the primary tools of repression exerted over the population during the last military dictatorship. Throughout the city there are visual murals that pay homage to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. In particular, murals in the neighborhood of La Boca give testament to the power and strength of the first social group to confront the military dictatorship in 1976.
Historically referred to as the “Dirty War,” human rights activists and scholars now apply the terms ‘state terrorism’ and ‘genocide’ to the period of military rule from 1976-1983. [insert photo of the names of state terrorism here] Taking a lesson from Chile, where Augusto Pinochet drew both international condemnation for his violent suppression of dissent and Cold War era support from the United States, Argentina’s military avoided public displays of power and violence when they overthrew the crumbling government of Isabel Peron on March 24, 1976, while also earning U.S. backing. The military junta carried out arrests clandestinely and suspended the right to habeas corpus. Thus, the idea that people could be ‘disappeared’ entered the Spanish lexicon. Marguerite Feitlowitz writes, “The terrorist state [of Argentina] created two worlds—one public and one clandestine, each with its own encoded discourse.”
Who was disappeared? Primarily students, union leaders, and supporters of Juan Domingo Perón. Perónism, as Perón’s political style of populism came to be known, advocated a Third Way of trying to carve out a space between socialism and capitalism. While Perón came to power via the military in 1943 as one of a Group of United Officers, in 1955 he was overthrown by the military. He returned to power in 1973 and died in office in 1974. These were fractious years in the political history of Argentina.
Students on the left in the 1970s (and most students were on the left) embraced Peronism’s promise of social justice. They were also drawn to Marxist ideas and Peronist organizations, like the Montoñeros, that engaged in urban guerrilla warfare tactics. The military attempted to portray the “Dirty War” as one in which they were fighting against leftist guerrilla organizations. Most scholarship has dismissed this “theory of the two demons” arguing that by the time Perón returned from exile in Spain, the urban guerrilla movement had already been defeated. Contemporarily, the Argentine military has been viewed as an agency that carried out state-sponsored terror on the Argentine left.
The radicalization of students and the popularity of Peronism with young people explains why students were often the targets of disappearances by the military regime. Stay-at-home mothers who adhered to a traditional patriarchal family structure were the first members of civil society to politically and publically organize against the regime, as they tried to find out what had happened to their children who had simply not come home one day—they had disappeared. The first mothers began to recognize one another as they regularly visited hospitals, police commissaries, and even jails, in desperate attempts to locate their children.
On April 30, 1977, a group of mothers, led by Azucena Villaflor, met on the Plaza de Mayo, which faced the Casa Rosada, the seat of the government, to demand information about their children. Embracing the very public space of the city’s principal plaza, the mothers walked in order to avoid being detained for loitering or for public assembly, which was illegal at the time. The mothers at first wore pañales, diapers made of gauze, on their heads to symbolize their roles as mothers. They later changed the flimsy pañal for a sturdier but still symbolic white pañuelo, or headscarf, and also carried posters of their missing children and the date on which they were “disappeared.” Villaflor’s daughter disappeared in 1977. In 2005, the Argentine Forensic Association identified her body and that of four other women who had been victims of the infamous ‘night flights’ where a helicopter dropped drugged detainees from ESMA (Naval Mechanics Officer School) into the Río de la Plata. Once they washed ashore dead, locals buried them.
In 1986 the group splintered into two with the Línea Fundadora remaining focused on finding out what happened to their disappeared family members, and the Association of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo evolving into a larger and more politically radical social justice movement headed by Hebe de Bonafini. Human rights activists estimate that anywhere between 15,000 and 30,000 people were killed during the military dictatorship. While the military dismissed the mothers as Las Locas (the crazy ones), they remain icons of resistance to many Argentines. The image of their headscarves can be seen throughout the city.
If in the nineteenth century urban street names were dedicated to glorifying an elite citizenry, in the 21st century human rights activists are invoking the forgotten names of victims of events like Argentina’s military. The human rights activist group Barrios x La Memoria y Justicia (Neighborhoods for Memory and Justice) have been laying memory tiles throughout Buenos Aires; already over 500 have been set into the capital’s streets. In the neighborhood of Palermo, a plaque reminds passersby that Carlos Prats, a Chilean general who was also the Vice President of Chile under Salvador Allende, and his wife, Sofia, were killed there by a radio-controlled car bomb on September 30, 1974.
The block in downtown Buenos Aires surrounded by Perú, Moreno, Bolívar and Adolfo Alsina Streets has traditionally been known as Manzana de las Luces—which stands for “The Block of Enlightenment” in Spanish. With the city’s first university and a Jesuit church located there, it served as the educational and religious center during the colonial era,.. The remnants of this Block of Enlightenment remain, including the city’s famous prep school, Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires. Passersby will see one of the most visceral reminders in the city regarding the political chaos unleashed during the era of military rule. Name plaques were placed there in 2014 to pay homage to the 108 students from the highly respected Argentine prep school Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires, who were disappeared and/or killed between 1973 and 1976.
Other public spaces that pay homage to the marginalized voices of Buenos Aires include new stations of the city’s underground metro system, known as the subte in Spanish [an abbreviation for subteraneo or underground]. In March 2017, the long awaited north-south extension of the subte opened. The station at Santa Fe and Pueyrredon, is one of the only, if not the only, subway station to be named after a gay activist, Carlos Jáuregui (1957-1996). Jáuregui worked tirelessly to support the rights of and gain equality for the LGBT community in Argentina, and headed several organizations dedicated to these pursuits. In 1992 he organized the first gay pride march in Buenos Aires. He was also a historian who specialized in Medieval Studies. He died of AIDS in 1996. The subway station contains murals of Jáuregui and celebrates the LGBT community as just another community in Buenos Aires. The stairs to the subway stop are rainbow colors.
The subte also memorializes other tragedies in the nation’s history. For example, Line H also has a station dedicated to the 164 youth who were killed on December 30, 2004 at a rock concert. That night a rock group, Callejeros, had barely begun its concert at the nightclub República de Cromañón when pyrotechnics from its light show jumped from the stage to the walls and ceilings of the venue. Cromañón was overcrowded and its emergency exits were insufficient to rapidly evacuation of audience members. The subte station dedicates art to the memory of the youth who died. They are symbolized by the depiction of tennis shoes that were found in the remains of the fire. Right next to the station are the burnt out remains of the nightclub, left open like an archaeological site, where passers-by can be witness to the tragedy.
Parque de la Memoria (Memory Park), located near the University of Buenos Aires, displays the names of the thousands of Argentines who were killed or disappeared during the military dictatorship for all to see. The name plaques are deliberately moveable so that when new victims are identified they can be included in the public space devoted to remembering the victims of state terror. [insert photo here]
Just like the history of the nation itself, Argentina’s streets and public spaces offer a changing view of history—one which demands that all voices are included. In 2018, the city of Buenos Aires is dedicating a park in its center (at the meeting of Rivadavia and Esmeralda streets) named after Roberto Arlt, the city’s great urban author of the early twentieth century, to the theme of sexual diversity, celebrating people who are bi, gay and trans.
Kristen McCleary is an Associate Professor of history at James Madison University. She is currently finishing her book manuscript, “Engendering the Urban Sphere: Theater and Society in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1880-1920.” She has published a number of articles about popular culture in Argentina on topics ranging from the transformation of carnival celebrations in Buenos Aires, to the performance of masculinity on the city’s stages, to narratives of theater fires as a way in which to understand processes of urban modernization in Buenos Aires. Her courses on Latin America focus on visual and popular culture, gender, and social change. She has co-directed a study abroad program to Buenos Aires, Argentina since 2008.
 Angel Rama, The Lettered City, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996, pp. 26-7.
 Athos Espíndola, Diccionario del lunfardo, Buenos Aires: Planeta, 2002.
La Unión, April 26, 1919. The term araca is a word of alert or alarm. It was often juxtaposed with cana, slang for cop, and the term was viewed as particularly derogative. Piñata was a diminutive of the word piña, which meant “slap” or “punch.” According to the Diccionario del lunfardo, ranun derived from the word rana, a person with street smarts who was also full of life and fun; the “un” ending shows the word has a Genovese influence. While a piernun usually referred to a woman with exceptionally nice legs, pierna [literally “leg”] referred to a person who also had great street smarts and was cool under pressure. Bronca remains a common Argentine expression referring to anger: Me da bronca is the equivalent of “It makes me angry.”
 Todd S. Garth, The Self of the City: Macedonio Fernández, the Argentine Avant-Garde and Modernity in Buenos Aires, Lewisberg: Bucknell University Press, 2005, 164-165.
 Marguerite Feitlowitz, Lexicon of Terror : Argentina and the Legacies of Torture (Revised and Updated with a New Epilogue), Oxford University Press, USA, 2011, p. 2.
 Daniel Feierstein and Douglas Andrew Town. “Explaining Genocidal Social Practices in Argentina: The Problem of Causation.” In Genocide as Social Practice: Reorganizing Society under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas, 131-60. New Brunswick, New Jersey; London: Rutgers University Press, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wq9vn.13. The theory of the two demons is explained here where the Argentine military u
When South Americans first laid eyes on British immigrants playing the game that they called football (and residents of the United States came to call soccer), they were, historian David Goldblatt writes, “genuinely bemused.” A Brazilian observer described a scrum of English men hoofing “something that looks like a bull’s bladder” about as “a bunch of maniacs” who seemed to simultaneously be filled with “great satisfaction” and “sorrow when this kind of yellowish bladder enters a rectangle formed by wooden posts.”
Porteños, as Buenos Aires residents are known, initially shared similar impressions. Argentine journalist Juan José de Soiza Reilly recalled his father’s reaction to similar scenes of towheaded British boys knocking a ball around in Buenos Aires: “Crazy people … Crazy English.”
Yet, by the late twentieth century, Diego Maradona— undeniably an international soccer legend—nearly single-handedly defeated the British in one of the most famous games ever at the 1986 World Cup as the Argentine national team steamed toward their second World Cup championship. Argentina’s first World Cup triumph occurred in 1978 when the team hosted and bested a supremely talented Dutch side at Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires; the despotic military junta running Argentina at the time deployed the tournament and the national team’s victory as a symbol of its steady hand at the helm even as it imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands of political dissidents. Eventually, Argentina returned to a more democratic path, even if troubled by political scandal and economic depressions. Today Lionel Messi, arguably the world’s greatest football player, continues this tradition as Argentina prepares for this summer’s Copa Mundial in Russia. Obviously the sport has come to occupy a central place in the Argentine identity, and Buenos Aires played a critical role in such developments.
First introduced by British workers in the 1860s, the emergence of football in Argentina in the 1880s provides a useful window and inflection point regarding the longer history of the nation’s capital, Buenos Aires. Soccer’s place in Argentina was secured by larger economic and political forces, namely immigration, a growing international economy, and industrialization; its burgeoning popularity in the late nineteenth century is emblematic of shifts in Buenos Aires’ own economic, political, and social history.
Early Buenos Aires
Founded under orders of the Spanish crown by Pedro de Mendoza in 1536, Buenos Aires would remain a sleepy port town for two centuries. However, due to its location at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, geography ensured that the city would play a large economic role in the region. By the late sixteenth century, the city had developed an economy based on the trade of contraband, largely with the city of Potosí. As historian Eul-Soo Pang noted in a 1983 review essay for the Journal of Urban History, such “illicit commercial intercourse gave rise to other economic activities in the River Plate region and was still functioning in 1860.” Agricultural products also flowed down from Las Pampas to the city. From “food stuffs to manufactured goods,” by the late 1700s the dependency on contraband as a trading asset expanded; Buenos Aires slowly displaced Lima, Peru as a popular entrepôt in this regard. Chosen as the seat of the viceroy of the Rio de la Plata, which included modern day Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uraguay, in 1776, Buenos Aires’s economic and political power only grew. By the 1790s, the port city handled sixty ships annually and had emerged as an important South American trading post.
With the decimation of indigenous groups by disease and colonial conquest, Buenos Aires needed workers. As a result, Colonial Spain introduced slavery to the city beginning in 1587. While many would be sent elsewhere, such as Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, numerous other enslaved people remained in city. When Buenos Aires emerged as the “commercial and political center of the Platine region,” it experienced a “rapid population growth,” notes historian Lyman Johnson. Greater number of bureaucrats, along with an expanded military and naval presence, increased demand for “goods and services” and thereby attracted laborers to the city and lead to an even larger dependence on enslaved people for unskilled labor. Over time Buenos Aires’ enslaved population also competed with European immigrant craftsmen.
During the viceregal period, black and mulatto enslaved people made up roughly one third of the urban population and were deeply integrated into the Buenos Aires economy. “Only at the highest levels of the urban occupational hierarchy were [blacks] and mulattos effectively excluded from full participation in the colonial period,” Johnson argues. Between 1776 and 1810, 1,482 manumissions were recorded by notaries in the city; approximately sixty percent of these had been purchased by the individual freed person or his or her family, thereby creating a substantial free black and mulatto population.
Near the end of the eighteenth century, African descendants of enslaved people occupied a critical place in “the guild system and other levels of corporate identity.” This established in Buenos Aires a racially and ethnically mixed public sphere. “Port cities such as Buenos Aires,” writes historian Erika Edwards, “had a unique milieu in which slaves, free people of color, whites, sailors, artisans, and merchants interacted on a daily basis.”
In a burst of Argentine nationalism, Buenos Aires declared its independence from Spain in 1810. Six years later the provinces followed, and Buenos Aires was named capital of the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata. The British, who had trade interests in the region, soon rushed in to secure their investments; some 55 British mercantile houses operated in Buenos Aires by 1820. The British conducted two unsuccessful invasions of Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807, but some observers in Britain, in this case the BBC, maintain these failed military adventures sparked an increased sense of nationalism among Argentines, and specifically, porteños.
Regardless the validity of such arguments, Britons maintained an enduring economic force. Still, in the early years of independence foreign commercial interests, though influential, did not yet dominate the Argentine economy. Great numbers of Northern Spanish merchants who had settled in Argentina established strong commercial ties within Latin America and Europe. Indeed, Buenos Aires would eventually be home to “the third largest urban concentration of Spaniards other than Madrid and Barcelona,” notes Anton Rosenthal. Many settled in downtown Buenos Aires.
The British invasion did lead to a loosening of slavery. Many enslaved people had fought valiantly against the British, and so in 1813 the Free Womb Act was passed to grant freedom to children born to enslaved mothers. Later the 1853 Constitution of Argentina abolished slavery, but it was not until 1861 when Buenos Aires formally joined the Confederation that the institution was fully eliminated. Despite rapid economic and demographic growth, the city’s black population shrunk from 15,000 Afro-Argentines out of a population of 63,000 in 1838 to 8,000 out of a total population of 433,000 in 1887.
During the 1820s, the economy diversified and the demand for raw materials due to the spread of industrialization made for a healthy business in exports. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Buenos Aires’ merchant class, many with connections to Northern Spain, wielded political and economic clout. Wholesalers in particular dominated and stood as equals with “high colonial bureaucrats, military officers, and judges.”
However, in the second of half of the century, the rise of the wheat and cattle industries shifted economic dominance to land owners. Under Spanish rule, the economy of Buenos Aires funneled mineral extraction to the Crown; with independence, the city provided grain and meat from the Argentine interior to Europe. One need not shed many tears for the once dominant merchant class, because as historian Susan Soclow points out, “The sons of eighteenth century comerciantes became the estanciero-merchants of the nineteenth century.” In 1862, the Bank of London and River Plate opened in the city; within a year, British merchant houses accounted for over 1/3 of the nearly 74 individual and partnered firms of eight nations working in Buenos Aires. British merchants dominated by deploying the skills they developed as colonial businessmen and officials while also exploiting the nation’s naval power, thereby furthering Anglo roots in Buenos Aires.
British capital helped to shape the city’s standing nationally. The Baring Brothers invested heavily in the Argentine central railway; they funded both the Great Southern and the Central rail lines. As the hub of the two east-west lines, and because no north-south lines were constructed during the 1800s, Buenos Aires secured its status as the commercial and bureaucratic capital of Argentina. In 1880, when Buenos Aires was formally named the capital of Argentina, British influence in the national economy seemed legion. “It almost seems that the English have the preference in everything pertaining to the business and business interests of the country,” the U.S. consul wrote to Washington, “they are in everything, except politics, as intimately as though it were a British colony.”
By 1880, 40,000 Britons lived in Buenos Aires and in addition to capital and trade they brought something else. “[S]occer became an export as typically British as Manchester cloth, railroads, loans from Barings, or the doctrine of free trade,” writes Eduardo Gallendo. “It arrived on the feet of sailors who played by the dikes of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, while Her Majesty’s ships unloaded blankets, boots, and flour, and took on wool, hides, and wheat to make more blankets, boots, and flour on the other side of the world.”
Under the influence of “football evangelist” and Scottish schoolteacher Alexander Watson Hutton, football became ensconced in elite English and Argentine schools all over the city. In the first decade of the twentieth century two of the nation’s leading football clubs opened, River Plate (1901) and Boca Juniors (1905), both established by “immigrants in and around the docks of Buenos Aires,” writes Goldblatt. Sport, like carnival, enabled immigrants to claim a sense of place in the new nation, particularly as the city boomed with a more decentralized version of industrialization consisting of family-run workshops and factories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Having eliminated indigenous peoples and discriminated against its shrinking black population, Argentine leaders and writers advocated for European immigration. “Argentina, like the United States, is a settler-colonial country,” points out historian James Shrader in an email to The Metropole. Argentine leaders wanted to think of themselves as bringing civilization to a benighted land occupied by inferior races “so its pro-immigration policy was meant as a means to populate an imagined empty land and civilize the front, expropriating it from barbarous unproductive peoples.” Historians like Laura Podalsky, Shrader notes, have made compelling arguments that the image of Buenos Aires as the Paris of South America was very much an “ideological project” meant to convey modernity and civilization.
Ultimately, the new arrivals competed with the diminishing Afro-Argentine population for both work and housing. From 1880 to 1914, Argentina absorbed four million European immigrants with roughly 60 percent settling in Buenos Aires. Nearly two million of the four million new arrivals from Europe hailed from Italy. In addition, from 1936 to 1947, one million Argentines migrated to cities as industrialization continued a pace. By 1947, 3 million people lived in the nation’s capital. Unlike many U.S. cities, ethnic enclaves and ghettos never took shape in a systematic way, though mutual aid societies, immigrant associations and similar institutions played a key role in the lives of newly arrived porteños.
Of course, culture in the Argentine capital unfolded in numerous ways besides football, and like sport, other avenues of cultural expression intersected with issues of class and immigration. For example, in 1896 Buenos Aires established a thriving electric street car system. Across Latin America, the streetcar embodied modernity, lent cities a European flavor, and served as an arbiter of respectability. Even dockworkers dressed up when taking the streetcar to work, only to change into “grubby overalls” once arriving at their place of employment. The streetcar, to paraphrase the American poet Walt Whitman, contained multitudes. “The trolley provided a mobile balcony from which passengers could observe changes in urban fashion and street behavior, the array of consumer goods displayed in shop windows, and the increasingly frequent strikes generated by the imposition of industrial work regimens,” writes Rosenthal. For many, the streetcar operated as a “mobile salon,” enabling residents to traverse the city while reading the newspaper and observing daily life. One Buenos Aires magazine suggested that the inability of pedestrians to deal with trolleys paralleled the struggle to adapt to modern times: “[m]etaphorically speaking, being run over and crushed by a streetcar means to be incapable of keeping up with modernity.”
Then again, for all the trappings of modernity, plenty of observers believed the streetcar represented something far from civilized; in Buenos Aires critics labeled the trolleys “cockroaches.” Overcrowded conditions created chaos, leading another magazine to ask, “Why do we travel on the Trolley?” Foreign ownership of the system did not endear the trolley to many residents, either. Based in London, the Anglo-Argentine Tramway Company dominated not only Buenos Aires, but much of Latin America. “The manufacture and control of the new technology by foreign companies established a distance and a dependency which Latin American cities wrestled with for decades,” Rosenthal points out. Indeed, streetcar workers could exploit this ambivalence in labor disputes. They expressed solidarity with other laborers by depicting trolleys as conveyors of “ruthless exploitation and dehumanization.”
While the streetcar gained prominence as a mode of transportation, symbol of modernity, and a site of public gathering, another Buenos Aires tradition faded from public view. Once a “popular unrestrained street celebration during the colonial era” writes historian Kristen McCleary, in the early twentieth century carnival became increasingly commercialized and regulated. If electric streetcars symbolized civilization, to its critics carnival suggested barbarism. After all, Buenos Aires was meant to be the “Paris of South America”; city planners even tried to replicate the wide-open avenues of Haussmann’s French capital. Public officials argued that carnival threatened to “unleash urban disorder” and undermined public hygiene and safety while also interfering with the city’s economy. Between 1880 and 1910, police surveillance and municipal regulation of the event increased markedly.
The celebration of carnival and other religiously affiliated festivals had originally been promoted because Spanish and Portuguese slave owners saw it as a means to acculturate persons of African descent into the society’s dominant mores. While slavery might not have played as large a role in Argentina as compared with Brazil, it clearly exerted a significant influence on Buenos Aires. Even with declining numbers, during the second half of the nineteenth century, Afro-Argentines enjoyed a very vocal public sphere including some 15 weekly newspapers. Religious celebrations more generally “provided a social space in which local African traditions could also be incorporated, resulting in a syncretic mixture of African and Christian rituals,” writes McCleary. Though she notes that periodic repression of Afro-Argentine practices did also occur during the first half of the eighteenth century, the festival routinely featured African cultural expressions. However, as immigration expanded, the black population diminished, and the nation’s desire to depict itself as European deepened, “continental” figures and themes wove themselves into the event, whereas previously it had functioned more as synergetic expression of African and European culture. Over time, the state more generally and systematically repressed African cultural expressions; their diminishing presence in carnival serves as just one example. Such developments worked to erase blackness in the Buenos Aires public sphere.
Much as with football, the influx of European immigrants helped to further this shift. For European newcomers, carnival offered a similar opportunity to immigrants and the rising middle and upper classes—a space in which to make “manifest and [consolidate] their social status.” However, municipal regulations hamstrung public festivities and carnival increasing took place in interior spaces such as theaters and social clubs. The ever-growing commercial nature of the celebrations represented the larger turn toward the consumerist aspects of leisure.
Post-World War II Buenos Aires: From Streetcars and Carnival to the Home
Much as with concerns about carnival, municipal leaders, socialists, and the Catholic Church began to focus on housing articulating concerns about hygiene, morality, and political radicalism. European immigration had contributed to a crisis in housing. In response, the passage of the Irigoyan Law of 1905 enabled the city government to build public housing. These early efforts delivered very modest numbers of single-family homes. The creation of the National Commission of Low Cost Houses (CNCB) in 1915 expanded efforts; the CNCB constructed, both single family homes and multifamily units, the former for sale, the latter for rent. The two most prominent housing forms prior to such reforms, were multi room homes known as casa chorizos and large tenement like structures referred to as conventillos. Through the 1920s and 1930s, these efforts amounted to modest numbers of completed homes and units, just under 1,100 over the course of 30 years, however, during the 1940s housing construction came to be seen not only as a means to create new homes but also as a tool for job creation. The “california style” of single family homes emerged as the favored mode of housing construction.
Following World War II, a greater acceptance of government intervention arose such that when Juan Peron assumed power from 1946 -1955, his populist message managed to channel contradictory political impulses and ideologies. On the one hand, the Peronist government built single families homes that promoted homeownership and conservative Catholic values, which were seen as upholding traditional, gender roles, the nuclear family and the sanctity of marriage. On the other, the Peronist administration also erected worker’s neighborhoods that adhered to the Central European workers’ model “constructed on open pavilions” notes historian Rosa Aboy, with each block inhabited by different families sharing access, hallways, and the outside areas with the idea of emphasizing social equality and interaction between classes. For the former see communities like 1° de Marzo and Juan Peron; for the latter, Las Perales serves as one example.
Modernist architects, many having worked for the Municipal Office of Architecture or having collaborated with Le Corbusier on his urban plan for the city, designed the new communities and housing as part of the administration. In many of the neighborhoods designed according to the European model, residents mostly rented though in 1948 legislation passed that enabled for the purchase of individual units by renters over a 30 year period. Whichever design prevailed, these newer homes featured better infrastructure with running water, sanitation systems, gas connections and hot water in both bathrooms and kitchens; a clear improvement over earlier public housing efforts. “When we moved here it was a palace to us,” noted one resident of Las Perales years later. In total, from 1946-1955, eight new communities arose consisting of over 5,000 new houses.
A 1955 military coup would oust Peron, an ironic turn of events considering Peron’s own rise to power had been aided by similar events. He would return to power in the early 1970s before dying in office in 1974, succeeded by a brutal military dictatorship. Some historians have argued that Peron himself had contributed to the authoritarian regime that followed him but so too did internal divisions within Argentina. An expert on Cold War era Argentina, Shrader agrees. Such arguments miss “a fundamental point–rather than being an historical aberration,” he argues. “Peron was very much a continuation of an authoritarian trend that cut across political ideologies and parties, and stretched back to the founding of the country itself in the nineteenth century. Authoritariranism was not the sole domain of ‘caudillos,’ but also liberal thinkers and statesmen, like Domingo Sarmiento, Juan Alberdi, and Bartolome Mitre.”
If anything, notes Shrader both Peron and the junta sought to divide Argentines into rival camps. The military dictatorship rose to power on the fault line of a society struggling with violence of both right wing paramilitaries and left wing communist guerillas. “If anything, one could look at the ways in which Peronism and the Junta divided the population into Argentines and non-Argentines (the latter seen as traitors because of their political affiliation), but the roots of that go back too,” he asserts.
Argentina would host the 1978 World Cup, a moment in time now seen to be “the apogee of both its power and cruelty,” writes journalist Wright Thompson. The dictatorship tortured and murdered thousands of Argentines. During the June 25, 1978 final, political prisoners could hear fans celebrating the nation’s victory in their cells. Some 30,000 people disappeared – referred to as los desaparecidos—“the disappeared” – during what has become known as “The Dirty War.”
For many Argentines, the ’78 competition provided “a measure of psychic relief to a population that had created the dictatorship with its fear.” However, in the decades that have passed, many Argentines choose to remember the 1986 championship, rather than its 1978 victory. Rumors persist that the junta, with the aid of regime supporter Henry Kissinger, arranged to fix the match with Peru. Peru allowed six goals against Argentina, as the fourth goal hit the back of the net, a bomb exploded at the home of a government official who had been critical of expenditures toward the competition. At a thirtieth anniversary celebration, that also doubled as a memorial to all those who perished under the military junta, held at Estadio Monumental in 2008, “wide swaths of empty seats swallowing groups of people” predominated; only 19 players of the 22 from the 1978 roster attended. For survivors, the 1978 World Cup and every one after, dredges up nothing but pain. “Survivors live in a city of scars,” noted Thompson.
Yet, some historians question Wright’s argument. “While the dictatorship is now in disrepute, human rights isn’t the real reason,” Shrader suggested. “1986 is celebrated more because of Maradona. Pure and simple.” Maradona gave Argentina its “own Pele” and he ascended to popularity “when the country’s democracy was fragile, divisions lingered, and wounds were still very much fresh.”
The 1982 Falkland Islands controversy with Britain helped to bring an end to the junta’s rule. The combination of a failing economy, an ill advised attempt to wrest the Falkand and Marina Islands from Britain, and U.S. pressure for the regime to stand down (after supporting it for years) conspired to pry them from power. A more democratic government followed. While things have not been easy for the South American power or porteños, conditions improved.
Even with political drama and economic instability, Buenos Aires, has always and will always be a dynamic, compelling city. “No matter how soap-opera-like its politics, or exaggerated its inflation, Argentina’s capital never loses its charm,” New York Times travel writer Nell McShane Wulfhart reflected in 2015. Between its ever evolving restaurants and art spaces, “its century-old cafes and gorgeous tree-lined streets”, and “gimmicky yet ineffably cool speakeasies”, the city exudes a chic, cosmopolitan sensibility. When La Albiceleste, or in English, the white and sky blue as the national team is sometimes referred, take to the fields in Russia, porteños will occupy these same restaurants and speakeasies as they dream of the 2018 World Cup ending in joy so that they might spill into the night street and celebrate in one of South America’s greatest cities.
As always, the bibliography provided below is only our cursory attempt to sketch out a reading list for interested readers. Regrettably, it does not include Spanish language histories. We hope that you’ll make your own suggestions in the comments or tweet at us @UrbanHistoryA. The editors would like to extend special thanks to Anton Rosenthal, Daniel Alex Richter, and especially, Kristen McCleary for their help with organizing our May Metropolis of the Month and its bibliography.
—–. Business Imperialism 1840-1930: An Inquiry on British Experience in Latin America. Ed. D.C.M. Platt. (Claredon Press, 1977).
—–. Memories of Buenos Aires: Signs of State Terrorism in Argentina. Ed. Max Page. (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013).
Rosa Aboy. “’The Right to a Home’: Public Housing in Post-World War II Buenos Aires.” Journal of Urban History 33.3 (March 2007): 495-518.
Jeremy Adelman. Republic of Capital: Buenos Aires and the Legal Transformation of the Atlantic World. (Stanford University Press, 1999).
George Reid Andrew. “Race Versus Class Association: The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1850-1900.” Journal of Latin American Studies 11.1 (May 1979): 19-39.
Javier Auyero. Poor People’s Politics: Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita. (Duke University Press, 2001).
Adriana Bergero. Intersecting Tango: Cultural Geographies of Buenos Aires, 1900-1930.(University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008).
Jonathan C. Brown. A Socioeconomic History of Argentina, 1776-1860. (Cambridge University Press, 1979).
Lila Caimari. While the City Sleeps: A History of Pistoleros, Policemen and the Crime Beat in Buenos Aires before Perón. (University of California Press, 2016).
Marcela Cerrutti and Alejandro Grimson. “Neoliberal Reforms and Protest in Buenos Aires” in Neoliberalism, Interrupted. Eds. Mark Goodale and Nancy Postero. (Stanford University Press, 2013).
Christine Ehrick. Radio and the Gendered Soundscape: Women and Broadcasting in Argentina and Uruguay, 1930-1950. (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
David William Foster. Buenos Aires: Perspectives on the City and Cultural Production. (University Press of Florida, 1998).
Adrián Gorelik. “A Metropolis in the Pampas: Buenos Aires 1890-1940.” In Cruelty and Utopia: Cities and Landscapes in Latin America. Ed. Jean-Francois Lejeune. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006)
Donna Guy. Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires. (University of Nebraska Press, 1990).
Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. (Stanford University Press, 2003)
Gabriela Ippolito-O’Donnell. The Right to the City: Popular Contention in Contemporary Buenos Aires.(University of Notre Dame Press, 2011).
Daniel James. Doña Maria’s Story: Life, History, Memory, and Political Identity. (Duke University Press, 2000).
Lyman L. Johnson. “Manumission in Buenos Aires, 1776-1810.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 59.2 (May 1979): 258-279.
Lyman L. Johnson. Workshop of Revolution: Plebian Buenos Aires and the Atlantic World, 1776-1810. (Duke University Press, 2011).
Lyman L. Johnson and Zephyr Frank. “Cities and Wealth in the South Atlantic: Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro before 1860.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 48.3 (July 2006): 634-668.
Temma Kaplan. Taking Back the Streets: Women, Youth, and Direct Democracy.(University of California Press, 2004).
Kristen McCleary. “Mass, Popular, and Elite Culture? The Spanish Zarzuela in Buenos Aires, 1890-1900.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture Vol. 21 (2002): 1-27.
Kristen McCleary. “Papás, malevos, and patotas: ‘Character’izing Masculinity on the Stages and in the Audiences of Buenos Aires, 1880-1920.” In Muy Machos: Modern Argentine Masculinities. Ed. Carolina Rocha (London: Intellect Books), 2013
Kristen McCleary, “Ethnic identity and elite idyll: a comparison of carnival in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay, 1900-1920.” Social Identities 16.4 (July 2010): 497 – 517.
Jessica Stites More and Daniel Alex Richter. “Immigrant Cosmopolitanism: The Political Culture of Argentine Early Sound Cinema of the 1930s.” In Latin America and Caribbean Studies 9.1 (2014): 65-88.
Jose. C. Moya. Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850-1930. (University of California Press, 2001).
Laura Podalsky. Specular City: Transforming Culture, Consumption and Space in Buenos Aires, 1955-1973. (Temple University Press, 2004).
Vera Blinn Reber. British Mercantile Houses in Buenos Aires 1810-1880. (Harvard University Press, 1979.
Anton Rosenthal. “The Streetcar in the Urban Imaginary of Latin America.” Journal of Urban History 42.1: 162-179.
Charles Sargent. The Spatial Evolution of Buenos Aires: 1870-1930. (Arizona State University Center for Latin Studies, 1974).
Beatriz Sarlo. “Cultural Landscapes: Buenos Aires from Integration to Fracture.” In Other Cities, Other Worlds: Urban Imaginaries in a Globalizing Age. Ed. Andreas Huyssen. (Duke University Press, 2008).
Jason Scobie. Buenos Aires: From Plaza to Suburb, 1870-1910. (Oxford University Press, 1971).
Susan M. Socolow. The Merchants of Buenos Aires 1778-1810: Family and Commerce. (Cambridge University Press, 1978).
James Scorer. City in Common: Culture and Community in Buenos Aires.(SUNY Press, 2016).
Brigitte Sion. Memorials in Berlin and Buenos Aires: Balancing Memory, Architecture, and Tourism.(Lexington Books, 2015).
Juan Suriano. Paradoxes of Utopia: Anarchist Culture and Politics in Buenos Aires 1890-1910.(AK Press, 2010).
Tomás Eloy Martínez. The Tango Singer (Bloomsbury, 2004).
Nine Queens. Director Fabián Bielinsky, 2000.
Featured Image (at top): Buenos Aires, between 1908 and 1919, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
 David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football, Riverhead Books, 2006, 126-127.
 Eul-Soo Pang, “Buenos Aires and the Argentine Economy in World Perspective, 1776 – 1930,” Journal of Urban History 9.3 (May 1983): 366-67.
 Lyman L. Johnson, “Manumission in Buenos Aires, 1776-1810,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 59.2 (May 1979): 259-260.
 Erika Edwards, “Urban History, the Slave Trade, and the Atlantic World 1500-1900,” Journal of Urban History 42.2 (2016): 447.
 Anton Rosenthal, “Urban Networks, Global Processes, and the Construction of Public Life in Nineteenth Century Buenos Aires,” Journal of Urban History 29.6 (September 2003): 760.
 George Reid Andrew, “Race Versus Class Association: The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1850-1900,” Journal of Latin American Studies 11.1 (May 1979): 21.
 Eul-Soo Pang, “Buenos Aires and the Argentine Economy in World Perspective, 1776 – 1930,” 368.
 Rosenthal, “Urban Networks, Global Processes, and the Construction of Public Life in Nineteenth Century Buenos Aires,” 764.
 Susan Socolow, The Merchants of Buenos Aires 1778-1810: Family and Commerce, Cambridge University Press, 1978, 177.
 Eul-Soo Pang, “Buenos Aires and the Argentine Economy in World Perspective, 1776 – 1930,” 370.
 Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, 126; Eul-Soo Pang, Buenos Aires and the Argentine Economy in World Perspective, 1776 – 1930, 370.
 Rosenthal, “Urban Networks, Global Processes, and the Construction of Public Life in Nineteenth Century Buenos Aires,” 764.
 Rosa Aboy, “’The Right to a Home’: Public Housing in Post-World War II Buenos Aires,” Journal of Urban History 33.3 (March 2007): 494-495
 Anton Rosenthal, “The Streetcar in the Urban Imaginary of Latin America,” Journal of Urban History 42.1: 162-163, 165, 167, 172.
 Reid Andrew, “Race Versus Class Association: The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1850-1900,” 22.
 Kristin McCleary, “Ethnic identity and elite idyll: a comparison of carnival in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay, 1900-1920,” Social Identities 16.4 (July 2010): 501-502, 504-506, 513.
 Rosa Aboy, “’The Right to a Home’: Public Housing in Post-World War II Buenos Aires,” 497, 499, 500-502.
 Rosa Aboy, “’The Right to a Home’: Public Housing in Post-World War II Buenos Aires,” 503-506, 509.
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