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Exploring Buenos Aires Through Its History

Jun 23, 2017 12:30:00 PM / by Julie Ritz

CAPA_SaraRountree_BuenosAires_Headshot-1.pngSally Rountree is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2017, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Sociology major and Public Health minor at Simmons College, she is studying abroad in Buenos Aires on a custom program this semester.

In this week's post, Sally tells us what she learned in her first class, and how she observes the city because of it.

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When I first walked into Universidad Austral in Buenos Aires I was amazed that I would be taking classes in such a beautiful building. As soon as you walk in there is a large round entrance way with gold trimmings around multiple paintings. The ceiling is a large dome that doesn’t look like it belongs in a school. Even though I have been here for a whole week I still stop to look at the entranceway every time I walk in. I am studying public health, so classes involve a lot of discussions about culture, economics, politics, history, and health structures. Our very first class at CAPA started off with a guest lecturer who spent three hours talking about Argentina’s history. The class was riveting and I took six pages of handwritten notes.

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Argentina has a rather tumultuous history, with a series of dictatorships and military coupes. Europeans, especially from Spain and Italy, migrated to Argentina in huge numbers, especially in the 1800s. There was a large movement to eradicate indigenous populations, whether it be through absorbing them into European culture or killing them. While this history sounds very violent, it is extremely comparable to colonization of the United States. Native Americans were also eradicated and forced to assimilate or move. European conquest is a common history in the Americas. However, unlike some other Latin countries, there is very little sign of the indigenous population in Argentina.

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The lecture on Argentinian history and culture was very relevant to what I can see walking around Buenos Aires. Everyone in the city looks relatively the same – there is almost no diversity. Indigenous population are not found at all unless you are to venture out into far provinces or possibly the slums outside of the city. People in Buenos Aires tend to be from European ancestry. Just walking around I have seen many people who are proud to show off their European past. The man who works at the flower stand is just one example of European pride. He talked for a while about how he is Italian and his father is from Italy. He only mentioned very shortly that his mother is from Buenos Aires, and then continued to talk about Italy. I have also seen people walking around with “made in Italy” t-shirts that clearly show off Italian pride. Even though people were born and raised in Buenos Aires, there is a very strong emotional connection to Europe.

This can even be seen in the architecture, religion, and styles within Buenos Aires. Many of the universities and buildings look like they could be in Europe. There are many domes, columns, and cobblestone roads. Even the apartments look European.

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Argentina is also strongly Catholic, so there are many churches with extravagant insides. I have visited four churches in Buenos Aires and they are all beautiful. Catholicism was brought to Argentina when Spaniards and Englishmen came. It is now a huge part of Argentinean culture to the point where my classroom has a crucifix on the wall.

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Clothing styles also tend to reflect European fashion. Especially evident is whiteness of ads. Every ad I’ve seen so far pictures a typical white European face or a nuclear white family. During the culture lecture, we were even shown images of ads in areas populated with indigenous peoples that depicted European values and faces.

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While the European influences may not initially seem like they are related to health, culture actually has a huge influence. One of the most important pieces that we learned from the lecture on Argentinean culture is that history is still affecting health care throughout Argentina. Because indigenous people were pushed away, murdered, and assimilated, they live in very poor areas. When Europeans first came to Argentina, they exclude native peoples from any institutions and essentially treated them as slaves. This still affects their position today. Most indigenous people live in provinces that have very little resources, especially in regards to sanitation, nutrition, and employment. As a result, infant mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, and child mortality rates all go up (which is bad). There is also less access to health care in provinces, especially for people living in poverty. Past injustices have tremendously hurt indigenous and poor people, creating a negative effect on their health status that is still evident today. Even within the city, the tension between European pride and Argentinean origin perpetuates the separation of cultures and ethnicities. This divide continues to foster the inequalities within health care. Even though the lecture was about Argentina’s history, I was able to see the effects all around me as I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires.

Thanks Sally!

Sally's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Buenos Aires Program

Topics: International Education, Buenos Aires, Argentina