Argentina’s Crisis; The Losses and Gains of my Generation

Argentina’s Crisis; The Losses and Gains of my Generation

My country keeps making headlines about its economic and political decline. What’s an insider gotta say? 

( Read the rest of this piece published in Al Jazeera English)

I was a teenager growing up in Argentina when the 2002 crisis punctuated by 41 percent inflation caused millions to be pushed into poverty. Argentina’s economic decline during 1997–2002 was so steep that the United Nations’ United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) named it the lost half-decade. My own generation has been  living amongst this “decline,” most of my high school friends and classmates from the University of Buenos Aires have stayed in the country. They spent their twenties and current thirties in a climate of inflation. What were their decade losses? How did we adapt, grow up, and what have we gained?

This month, the Argentine economic crisis made it to the cover of The New York Times as the peso plunged 15 percent on Jan. 22 and 23, from around 6.9 pesos to the dollar to 8 pesos, according to Bloomberg News, and it has weakened by a total of 19 percent in January. The Economist also released an article titled “A Century of Decline” focusing on Argentina’s “tragic” century of “decline” and government “ineptitude” asserting that 30 years after the last dictatorship, democracy has not yet led to stability; “Argentina is a long way from the turmoil of 2001 but today’s mix of rising prices, wage pressures and the mistrust of the peso have nasty echoes of the past.”
Controlled Prices, Risk or Opportunity? 
precios cuidados

Buenos Aires-Image captured by Manuel Cuaranta, “Sr. can I please get 100 grams of  precio cuidado ham? ( This happened in the bodega around the corner from my house. I heard it, and got a picture of the lady.)

This month, president Cristina Kirchner presented a plan to combat inflation, asking the Argentine people to look out for and control the 500 products in supermarkets with fixed prices. The program called “Precios Cuidados” (“looked out for”- prices) has a website, magazine, and recently released an app which, according to its Facebook page, already received 59,000 downloads. Precios Cuidados is an agreement between the national government and supermarket businesses to secure fixed prices, despite the peso’s instability.

One of the factors that hit Cristina Kirchner’s government and image the hardest is how inflation reflects daily in the high costs of products. The New York Times announced this month how the peso plunged 15 percent on Jan. 22 and 23, from around 6.9 pesos to the dollar to 8 pesos, according to Bloomberg News – and it has weakened by a total of 19 percent in January. On her Facebook page, President Kirchner defended the government campaign with a message suggesting that Argentines help implement the fixed prices agreement. Her message was directed not just to followers, but to the nation as a whole:

“Being united does not mean agreeing with everything, being united does not mean having any differences, but nobody can say that we like to be robbed, after all it took us to get here,” affirmed the president in a post. The last remark after all it took us to get here refers to the years of military dictatorship and dirty war of the 1970s and early eighties when there was no democracy. My mother’s generation, for example, lost 30,000 people to the last “dirty war” and military cues. I grew up in Buenos Aires stumbling into images of missing people in newspapers, black and white photographs of students or activists that would have been my mother’s age today, but had disappeared. This is why many of those living in Argentina are careful when labeling a populist styled government “dictatorship” given that our parents experienced those already, and they are not the same thing.

 On Twitter, Argentine people shared their experiences with the Ok Prices app and with the campaign. Opinions varied, but gasolero remarks and Argentine sarcasm remain.

“The app to control prices was downloaded to 5 thousand iPhones. You really have an iPhone and go around controlling prices?”

“How easy for Japan, Germany, and United States to become rich. It’s clear they don’t have a “yerba” Amanda product which doesn’t respect the fixed prices agreement.” 

“Poor Steve Jobs, who dies without getting to know the “Precios Cuidados” app for Android.” 

“In line at the supermarket someone just bought brie cheese and Pringles. I bought tomato sauce from the “Precios Cuidados” list.”

Another common Argentine measure is the popular protests organized by people and neighbors. This month, thousands of Argentines participated in the Apagón de Consumo, a protest against the unmeasured rise in prices where people were asked not to consume or buy in the supermarket for a full day. On Twitter, images of empty aisles in different supermarkets around the country were posted by those who adhered to the protest. Yet, the question remains, as Argentine economist Mercedes D’ Allessandro asked, “is this the cure for the disease?”

“This plan considers inflation as an independent phenomena isolated from the other symptoms. It allows people to think that the sole cause of inflation is the power that supermarket businesses have over prices. This idea is difficult to sustain” writes D’Allessandro.

Recently, Telam News Agency published an opinion article by Argentine economist Artemio Lopez who argued that, despite opposition’s negative opinions and predictions about the program’s failure, this program has been implemented effectively in the past with president Perón. The tension between government’s temporary solutions, and the prices that go up was captured well in this image by artist Minaverry.

precios vs. Estado

 

A “Gasolero” Lifestyle

 In 1998, as inflation was going up, Argentine producer Adrian Suar created a TV series called Gasoleros. The gasolero is a car that runs on Diesel fuel, spending less money to cover miles. It also stands for those who must live and adapt to the Argentine economy on a daily basis.

The TV show had off-the-charts ratings, and told the story of the Panigasis, an empovrished middle class family who owned an auto-repair shop and survived as gasoleros in Buenos Aires. Many of the classmates and friends I went to high school with used the word gasoleros a lot, and could identify with the song by Argentine musician Vicentico:

Gasoleros, no hay dinero, almas solas vagando por la ciudad

No me dejes solo gasolero, aunque me falte el dinero, tengo un sueño que llevar…

 (“Gasoleros” there is no money, lonely souls lost around the city/ Don’t leave me alone “gasolero” that even when there is no money, I still have a dream to carry…)

All through their twenties, many of my friends and high school classmates have remained in gasolero mode, juggling their salaries in pesos with the inflated prices that prevent social mobility. As the peso devalues, saving alternatives such as buying dollars are not commonly accessible routes for those making average salaries in pesos. Gabriel Ortiz, a 29-year-old free- lance designer from Buenos Aires, explained to me,

“Currently, the government authorizes people with a monthly income of around eight thousand pesos to buy dollars. This is not illogical given that exchange rates are so high. But someone who doesn’t have that salary does not have the option to exchange. A salary of that amount is not very common, so this measurement is mostly benefiting those with higher incomes. Those who make less and want to save in a currency that is not the peso cannot access the exchange.”

Diana D. – a 28-year-old visual artist from Buenos Aires – mentioned how, “some people here buy dollars to save, but most of my friends and I can’t save because we live on a day-to-day basis. I think it reflects on a generation that cannot grow or save. For example, I made some money from a translation job this month, and I feel like it’s better to spend the money than to save it because you never know how much the peso will be worth in the long run.”

Parks and Recreation

It is the summer of 2014, one of the hottest in 53 years, and less than half of the Argentine population can afford to take a vacation anywhere around the country. The study conducted by a National TNS Gallup revealed how public opinion agrees there is no extra money to go anywhere.

I grew up with a sister who is ten years older and was in her twenties when Carlos Menem was president in the nineties. The convertibility of the dollar and the peso was still one to one. I watched her grow up being able to save, find a job that allowed her to travel and move out, pay her own bills and enjoy some economic independence that, I assumed, I would also enjoy in the future. But Menem’s neoliberal approaches were temporary fixes that could not solve the external debt problem, and hyperinflation was right around the corner. While I saw how the ’90s generation got to travel to Europe or around the country when they where in college, my generation makes use of terraces, public parks, and water fountains to beat the heat.

The following image has been circulating through social media. Two young men who decided to call their flooded patio in the neighborhood of Lanus, “Lanus Beach” explains how well some have managed to improvise, remaining sarcastic and critical at the same time.

Lanus beach Argentina crisis

Most of all, it seems important to remain creative. Cultural outlets such as books have been a luxury for years because few have the purchasing power to buy imported literature.  In response to the economic collapse, the Eloisa Cartonera publishing house asked several of Latin America’s most important writers to waive the copyright on some of their books. Their idea was to print books with material bought from cartoneros-“cardboard people.” Cartoneros are people who walk the streets collecting scraps of cardboard and paper from the garbage bins to sell. Many other Argentine editorial houses that got hit by the crisis followed EC’s example of social experimentation, improvisation, and cooperation.

Argentine journalist Santiago García Navarro explained how, after the crisis, “factories started up again, run by shop-floor workers; a barter system evolved, in which millions of people participated; unemployed members of the middle classes and others began to create their own forms of self-government; street artists formed themselves into collectives.”

Belen Ianuzzi, 35, a Literature teacher who graduated from the University of Buenos Aires, tweets about her daily experience with inflation:

Dollar for beginners: even if you don’t have any, it affects you that the value of your currency, the peso, is unappreciated

Through e-mail, Ianuzzi told me how she adapts daily to inflation’s uncertainty, “I can say that, for example, when bottled water goes up, I buy another brand. Or I started buying naturally produced vegetables that are not generic, and snack and yerba products in small work cooperatives, because I think it’s a good time to stimulate small, or community economies.” Belen, like most of my classmates from Argentina, went to college for free thanks to the country’s public education system. “I don’t want a house or jewelry” she says, but also acknowledges “there are many who don’t have access to education, healthcare, or jobs. People in Buenos Aires tend to think that Argentina is Buenos Aires. But the reality is that in the smaller towns there is a lot of poverty and kids do not finish middle school. Sarmiento already warned us that ‘the problem of Argentina is its extension.'”

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Becoming My Own Main Character: Straddling Conservative and Radical Spaces

I love Suey Park, this is her view about having different public and private identities, and her reflections about it…

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Mexico to NYC; Through Photography Immigrant Single Moms and Children Share their Stories of Life in A New Country

 

 seflies 3

Luz Aguirre took a picture of her daughter Eve, taking a picture of her. 

Being a single mother is a challenge. Immigrant mothers face those challenges every day, and they also have extra hurdles to jump; Communicating with their children in Spanish when their sons and daughter speak English, fear of facing deportation, learning a new language, and living in small spaces are some. To document these aspects of their lives, an inter-generational photography workshop organized by Mano a Mano, NYC (Mexican Culture without Borders) gave cameras to immigrant parents and their kids born in the United States.

This Saturday, at The Grady Alexis Gallery in Harlem, Luz Aguirre who grew up in Mexico was there with her daughter Eve Valle, who grew up in NYC. “As a single parent, you know everything about your kid, but you forget to tell them about yourself,” said Aguirre. The project also allowed mother and daughter to further bond. Running her household and holding a full time job, Aguirre told me how stressful it gets, and how little time there is to actually share memories and interests on a daily basis; “As we were taking pictures and displaying them, I was able to tell Eve about my own interests; my love for writing in Spanish, for example. Sometimes you get home and it’s all about your kid, you forget yourself completely. But there were things I got to share with her about myself.”

selfies 6

Luz Aguirre’s daughter Eve, and images they captured in their neighborhood of Jackson Heights, NYC. 

Ms. Aguirre feels very close to her daughter, she speaks to her in Spanish, but her daughter mostly answers in English. What Ms. Aguirre found interesting about the project were the differences in perspectives between herself and her daughter. “For the project we had to photograph a theme about our idea of Mexico and America. When looking at the final images, we saw how my idea of Mexico and her idea of Mexico were completely different.”

 

selfies 5

Luz Aguirre and her daughter Eve Valle. 

The exhibition was presented as the product of an Inter-Generational Photography workshop led by Rafael Gamo Fassi and Susana Arellano Alvarado. The project began with an interest for documenting the cultural differences. “We planned the class after we heard, from a conversation, that one of the biggest problems in the Mexican community is the cultural clash; parents born in Mexico and their children born in the United States” said Gamo Fassi, an architect and photographer.

As the class developed, the visions of parents and those of their children, captured in images, revealed their different perspectives, but it also brought them together. “We asked parents and children to photograph the same subjects, and at the end of the class, parents and children presented their photography. We recorded their dialogues. Children got to hear stories about how their parents came to the United States, and how their lives were in Mexico,” explained Susana Arellano Alvarado, who also implemented this project with children and parents in different parts of India.

 

selfies 2

Children and their parents recognize themselves in the images. 

Rosali Arteaga wants to be a doctor when she grows up, and participated in the project with her mother; Martha Ponce. Rosali, who enjoyed going out to take pictures with her mother, was raised bilingual; “we speak in English more than in Spanish. But sometimes we use Spanish.” Ms. Ponce explained how wonderful it was for her to share time with her daughter through this project; “I learned that you need to make friends with time. This project gave us an advantage because we were able to share experiences. I invite parents to be a part of their children’s lives, because that’s the key to their success,” Ms. Ponce said.

selfies 4

Rosali Arteaga and her mother Martha Ponce. 

The exhibit also included a poetry reading by NYC’s only creative writing group led entirely in Spanish. “Los Lunes,” named after the day the group gets together, is a bilingual group with writers coming from every part of Latin America. Daisy Flores, a member of the writing group who was, also, raised by Mexican immigrant parents, read her piece titled “The Unspoken:”

“I don’t know what it is, but it’s difficult to look at you in the eyes or even your face when I’m in the same elevator as you or when I see you riding your bike with your 10 deliveries or when you pour water on my glass or pick-up my dirty plate. I feel as if I have to pretend I don’t know, as if I’m blind and dumb.   A spectacle for you and myself because I lie. And it’s a mixture of ache and helplessness on my part. Because I do know. I know first hand that I need you to be where you are with your long hours, unfair pay, solitude, and sacrifice to be in my cubicle typing away my stupid memos.

 That’ s what it takes to help out your wife who cleans, babysits, and cooks for a family that is not her own so your kids can have new clothes for school and fit in, on the surface anyways. Because they too see and play dumb. They look every day and see you come home tired to drink a cerveza and forget your day in the blue light of the TV. When you can’t help with their tareas, when they have to translate for you. They know. Your hijos look at this and they will want more, not sure what more, but definitely not this. They will ache too but continue on as best as they can, go to school , graduate , travel forget a little of what they’ve seen so that when they are on the elevator, street, and restaurant they will not look but they will know the fate they escaped.” 

 

A generation of selfies 1 

 A new generation of children, probably sending text messages in English and enjoying the exhibit. 

Flores’ poem is a reminder and a written portrait of those considered first generation immigrants who remain invisible in NYC. They are servers, delivery boys, construction workers, housekeepers. They are mothers and fathers of children who speak English, and raise their kids through their less-visible labor, providing their kids with opportunities they never had; such as attending college or learning english. The exhibit shows how these socio-economic and generational differences are present. As children of immigrants grow, adapt, and face new challenges, this exhibit allows two generations to stop, capture moments, and tell their stories through photography.

 

 

I am a writer and reporter based in Brooklyn, from Argentina. I write things about Latin America and NYC. Follow me on twitter @CarolinaADrake

 

 

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On Social Media, Cubans Speak Up for Feminism and Racial Justice

When I came to the United States from Argentina in 2005, I lived in the South. I remember going to Goodwill and finding a vintage poster from the 1950’s that said, “Cuba: Holiday Isle of the Tropics.” I bought it for 25 cents and hung it near my bed. Besides my touristic poster, and the music from Buena Vista Social Club, the little information I got about Cuba from the United States came from official Cuban websites in Spanish. Most of these outlets were regulated by the Communist party and didn’t mention much about anything besides official agenda news.

But things have changed. Raúl Castro took over for his ailing brother Fidel Castro in 2006 and while the Internet is still slow on the island, it’s now more accessible and censorship has lessened. Fusion Net recently reported that in the past 10 years, the percentage of Cubans using the Internet has raised from about four percent to 25 percent. Journalist Victoria Burnett wrote for the New York Times in December, “In recent years, especially in Havana, Cubans have begun talking more openly about the economy, the political leadership and the restrictions they resent.”

Most Internet content considered “anti-revolutionary” is filtered and blocked, but even the limited access to personal blogs and social media has allowed Cubans to enrich the virtual environment with a diversity of online voices. While the Cuban government denies that discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation is a problem in the country, online Cubans are finally able to make public their experiences dealing with sexism, racism, afro-Latina invisibility, and homophobia.

[Read the rest at Bitch Media]  

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Mutant Patriarchy?  In Latin America, Feminist Activists Are still Cynical About the Idea of Feminist-Men…

 

(Read here

 

 

 

 

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Getting Ready for the World Cup 2014

 

Read my article at Schon Magazine U.K… Performing masculinity with a Pink Soccer T Shirt

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Looking Out From Inside Bars

A new book tells stories about life behind bars for mexican women…Originally published in Bitch media

 

 

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Representing Women’s Roles in Michoacán Autodefensas

Where are the women in Michoacán?…. 

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