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?
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.
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.
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.'”
Since 2008, when Vogue magazine asked Is Fashion Racist? Diversity in the runaway has not changed much. Here is a chart posted this Saturday on Jezebel after fashion week for Fall/Winter 2014. It points to the, still, lack of inclusivity of non-white models showing that around 80% of models who walked the runway were white.
Disappointing indeed, but to take it further, let’s look at how whiteness and classism are linked.
While models of color are excluded from the runaway, there have been numerous cases of stores racially profiling those who might not fit the classist stereotype of a high fashion customer.
Last year, and mostly during the holiday season, lawsuits were filed against the Barneys department store in New York City by two black customers. One case involved a young man who, after spending $349 on a Salvatore Ferragamo belt, was suspected of using a fraudulent credit card (although the credit card and identification used to purchase the belt were his) and was even followed up by the NYCPD outside the store.
Journalist and fashion critic Britt Julios responded to these incidents in her article “For fashion, if it’s all white, it’s all right,”
These are clear cut examples of racial profiling, inherent to the very fabric of the fashion world. Underlying these incidents is the idea that black people cannot possibly participate in the overpriced world of Barneys.
Another case happened with actor Robert Brown, who also filed a suit against Macy’s and the NYCPD for the same reasons, being accused of using a fraudulent credit card According to the Manhattan Supreme Court suit, Brown presented his ID to the cops but “was told that his identification was false and that he could not afford to make such an expensive purchase.”
So, regardless what comes first, not only are non-white models excluded from the fashion runway, here are examples of how non-white fashion consumers also get excluded and racially profiled beyond the runaway. This is one example of how white hegemony over other cultures goes beyond fashion week and how it intersects with classism.
Another common move has been to exclude non-white models, but culturally appropriate whatever trends are traditionally linked to marginalized groups. The most recent cultural appropriation issues I can recall were Paul Frank’s, who served “Rain Dance Refresher” cocktails in his show last fall, and ASOS who debuted a “Go Native” Navajo-inspired line.
Although the difference between appropriation and appreciation has been highlighted by writers and journalists, I am still confused as to why designers don’t care about putting in enough effort to get it right.
The hegemony of whiteness over other cultures in the runaway also extends beyond. Robin James, a philosophy professor who blogs about pop culture from critical-race-feminist perspective shared her views on classism and whiteness in fashion:
Racism and white supremacy in fashion is a huge issue—it extends beyond inclusion and privilege into cultural appropriation and beyond. Another way white supremacy manifests in fashion is in the labor issues involved in fast fashion. Everything from the systematic, global exploitation of non-Western women at just about every level in the supply chain, to the exploitative labor practices common in retail (e.g., the increasing demands on affective labor, part time, flexibilization of the retail labor force, the demand that retail workers maintain a proper “image” for the brand etc).
But fashion is also used to critique white hegemony, “there is a more mundane sense of “fashion” as the stylistic, aesthetic choices people make in their clothing and grooming which can be compatible with feminism and racial diversity” Dr. James added, and mentioned how,
People can use fashion to contest gender norms, as a vehicle for personal expression; people can make clothing and grooming choices that subtly (or not so subtly) critique hegemony. The Afro, for example, was a political choice as well as an aesthetic one; for black women, hair is political. And hairstyling can be a way to be political. Fashion is a key everyday issue for trans* and genderqueer people, people with disabilities, fat people (and I use “fat” in solidarity with critical fat activists, i.e., as a positive not a negative term).
High fashion is still exclusive because it is too white, too classist, too sexist, and this is why a critical perspective is always welcome. Yet fashion is also used to contest white hegemony, classism, gender norms, and as a form resistance and individual expression. This is maybe why one can love fashion remaining critical of it, and why fashion, politics, and feminism can both converge and clash.
Images via Getty
I write and philosophize about pop-culture, latin america, and intersectional feminism. Here is my twitter: https://twitter.com/CarolinaADrake
Here are some humble suggestions for all you manly men in journalism, to help you not write like oppressive, sexist, transphobic jerks.
1) Check your male privilege: During Monday meetings with your sports blogger bros, you could all reflect on questions such as; what does it mean to be a man who works for media platforms? Am I going to ridicule others whom I don’t think are equal to me? Am I going to dehumanize others whom I might feel slightly superior to? If the answer is YES. Go do a workshop! I suggest awareness activities to help you see that as a cis-male subject, you have a position of advantage with respect to women and LGBTQ groups. Once this is clear, have fun reporting!
2) (Not that you ever did, but just in case…) Don’t call yourself a feminist Man: Hugo Schwyzer did, at the expense of women of color. Just, don’t do it. And don’t just assume that women with different opinions and arguments are “angry.” Instead, ask women or LGBTQ people to help you reflect on your sexist practices and how these hinder gender equality.
3) Petition that your Sports Blog hire more women and LGBTQ Editors: This would have saved your reputation, and who knows? maybe a life. They will look at your piece and call you out on your transphobia, homophobia, sexism, etc. etc. They will also suggest you don’t focus on the gender identity of your subject when the story is about SCIENCE, not the SCIENTIST.
4) Reflect on how your hegemonic masculinity harms your own relationship to interview subjects: You, manly journalist, could acknowledge that by focusing on someone’s gender identity as a fake, mysterious one, you are dehumanizing them. This “awkward” relationship to your interview subject, which sent “chills down your spine” is asymmetrical because you take away the subject’s right to a narrative identity and replace it with your own transphobic, biased view.
If you have succesfully understood, acknowledged, and maybe even agreed with these four points, you manly journalist might be able to go out into the world as someone whom LGBTQ groups and women won’t think of as a dick.
I write and do journalist stuff for other feminist blogs, but got really sad reading news today and came here to complain. I tweet here but only for allies: https://twitter.com/CarolinaADrake
I wanted to write a more personal blog about my current life in NYC, specially for my friends who follow me. This image by Tracy Emin titled “Sad Shower in New York” reflects how I’ve been experiencing the cold and harsh punches of life in the city.
In 2013, when I was finishing my teaching year at the Charter School in Queens, my mom got diagnosed with stage 4 Cancer. For those of you who wonder, there are no further stages after stage 4. The magnitude of this news caused me to lose my focus the last month at work, which made the principal decide they weren’t going to renew my contract because “I wasn’t focused” despite how I had informed both principals I would be scheduling some days off to go with my mom to appointments, and despite how anyone in their right mind would have understood the reasons why I “wasn’t focused.”
This summer was filled with confusion about what would happen, and how to accommodate to the situation. For those of you who never thought about this, because I never did, Cancer is really expensive for a family of teachers and immigrants such as my own. My mom for example, could not work, so she doesn’t get paid her usual salary anymore, leaving me and my dad compensating for rent and, most importantly, health insurance and chemotherapy bills ( not all of this gets covered by health insurance). My older sister has been helping out from Argentina, and because I don’t have my teacher salary either, I’ve been hustling a lot. I cannot speak for my mother, but seeing a strong woman having to fight this battle is a lesson in courage but also, a lesson about the limits of strength and will power dragged by the forces of magical thinking.
I met amazing people last year, such as the Spanish writers from Mano a Mano writing workshop, who motivated me to apply to the NYU Creative Writing in Spanish program for next year, and encouraged me to write more in Spanish, and pursue journalism. But I also had conflicts with friends whom I felt have “abandoned me” or chose the wrong moments to start issues or drama with me. I do not blame anyone, and I know we are all busy, but I think a part of me wishes my friends would have stayed in touch more, despite my isolation, which I am responsible for.
The good news is that chemotherapy is stabilizing my mom’s cancer, and hopefully things are under control. I am currently waiting tables at an Italian restaurant and doing a few long term subbing gigs at private schools to pay bills. My NYC friends have been extremely supportive, and thanks to this hardship, I was able to try out one of my fondest dreams, getting paid and published for writing.
Since June, I have been writing personal, journalistic, and critical essays which have been published in different blogs and public platforms and I’m getting some media recognition. Just to brag a little, because I worked for this, I am a weekly contributor to Schon, a fashion magazine in the U.K, where I recently wrote about Latin American soccer trends and the performance of masculinity, in Argentina and have a piece titled On trans-sexy and trans-feminine looks in the Fashion World to be published this month.
I also wrote about Latino immigration related issues for Black Girl Dangerous and Jezebel’s Groupthink blog. This month I wrote an opinion article for Latino Rebels about considering not just the demand, but also the supply side when talking about US weed legalization policies which got highlighted in feministing.com . I currently have a piece to be featured next month in Black Girl Dangerous on the culture of machismo in latin america, and its relationship to domestic violence. I also have a piece to be featured in Bustle this month, titled What’s it Like with The New Gender Identity Law In Argentina, Meet Effy Beth where I interview trans performance artist Effy Beth and talk about the conservative cultural sphere of my country which clashes with the legal advances.
Also, today, two really nice things happened to me: Samantha Escobar, editor of The Gloss replied to an e-mail I sent asking if they needed writers. In her words, she “really digged my writing” and invited me to pitch and submit articles to the magazine.
Finally, Bitch a feminist magazine I’ve been reading since my early twenties when I lived with my friends Elizabeth, Lydia, and Kate in North Carolina will feature an article I wrote titled Looking Out From Behind Bars, The Voices and Words Inside a Women’s Prison in Mexico where I interview Mary Ellen Sanger who wrote a book about her incarceration in Ixcotel State Prison. Again, I will be featured in a magazine I used to read when I was 23, 24, and 25…that’s like a million hairstyles ago, and a million boyfriends ago, and a million odd jobs ago (ok, actually not THAT long ago) except that I will be inside the magazine, instead of reading it. Life is Cray. I give myself credit because I basically taught myself how to make it as a free lance writer, the trial and error way, and would love to help anyone else who is trying to write. so, when it comes to my life in words, I am extremely happy and will take some seconds to rest on my laurels…
Alright, now that I’ve felt the laurel bed, I will add that things are still crazy emotionally and economically over here. NYC is sad in the winter and life does not feel normal but we are making the best of it, with lovely moments of understanding and redemption and mistakes mixed into the struggle. I dream of the day I can escape, just for a few days, to a beach by myself and just dig my feet under the sand and feel some sun, although the waves might have to wait in solitude because this might just be a long winter for me.
Another reason why deconstructing machismo and it’s neoliberal structures in Latin America is an urgent cause. A devastating map of femicide statistics:
La “pandemia” que está matando a la mujer latinoamericana
En las notas publicadas a continuación encontrarán historias que no suelen aparecer en los medios.
Son crónicas de mujeres que han sido asesinadas por el hecho de ser mujer.
Sus casos son ejemplos significativos de un crimen que cada año mata a una enorme cantidad de mujeres en todo el mundo.
Pero a pesar de ser un problema tan grave, no tiene ni nombre ni hay cifras oficiales.
Se le llama “feminicidio” o “femicidio”, según el país, pero cuando se busca en la Real Academia de la Lengua, la respuesta es que esas palabras “no están registradas en el Diccionario”
Pero obviamente existe. Y en América Latina es especialmente grave.
Tanto que un informe de la Comisión Interamericana de Mujeres (CIM) publicado en 2012 indica que en algunos casos alcanza…
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Hello blog friends.
Today, tune it to The Stream, in Aljazeera America for news about the new drug related policies in the US.
The Stream will mention the short article I wrote today in Latino Rebels about how it’s not all about the US stoners and we should consider both the supply and the demand side of the transaction. Basically, I argued how it is important to consider that legalizing weed in the US will help stop the narcotrafficking violence in Mexico, and lessen the amount of money we feed from the US to Mexican drug lords.