Monday, December 14, 2009

class issues

Inequality of income distribution is a huge problem in Latin America.

Up until this semester, that idea for me was completely academic. Income distribution has to do with social equality, economic stability, political stability and development...but none of that really meant a whole lot to me beyond a political science measurement. 

Now I am facing the ways in which what I've seen in BA has affected me when we talking about income distribution. 
First, some things to be taken into consideration. 

While there is definitely poverty in Argentina, Buenos Aires is the richest province. What I see daily is nothing compared to other parts of the country, nor other parts of the world. 

And, my relationship and experience with poverty is extremely limited. I see the Cartoneros (people who got totally swallowed by the crisis of 2001 and now make money sorting trash to sell to the recycling companies) and little kids drugged up in the train station, but I am so far from truly understanding its depth. 

More than becoming more intimate with poverty issues, I've gotten really confused by the attitudes of the advantaged. 

It is interesting how much class issues have become a part of my thinking here. It has a lot to do with understanding where I am in this whole upper class thing. I am a white girl. Rosy cheeks, blue eyes, fancy glasses. This is a standard look of a person with money in this country. It has to do with this history of immigration in Argentina--German or English descent is pretty common. You can usually assume that more European looking a person is, the further up they are in the social spectrum. So, the Argentines that take interest in me, whether romantically or as a peer generally come from some money. I'm talking about "polo families," people with a lot of property in the countryside, people who live in the zona norte (where the president lives), and drive nice cars. I don't have any friends that live in shitty fact, they all live in the nicest neighborhoods around with bomb apartments. Certainly not everyone I hang out with is of this breed, but enough to give me a strange impression of Argentina and the extent of its wealth. And being surrounded by this and certainly affected me.

It all started when Inés explained her family's role in the history of the oligarchy. Once upon a time, Argentina was completely dominated by about 200 landowning families who had immigrated early on. They were ousted in a coup d'etat that led to the first attempt at democracy. (tangent: the current democratic regime holds the record for longest uninterrupted period of democratic rule--2009 marked it at 25 years..). But many symbols still exist. Ines jokes because at one point her family did have a lot of money and property but the only thing left is her Dad's Jockey Club pin that he put on his jacket--and now she lives in Once..what shame!! Her family felt a lot of turbulence during the Peron years when "old families" were targeted again in search of a more popular movement. But Ines still can tell me about which last names are "important" and she knows how to distinguish the cheto accent lexicon and we laugh about it. Much more than symbols however is the pervasive attitude among Argentines that perpetuates the sense of inequality. Alejandro explained that the Old family types are constantly bitch about "new money," who seem to completely resent those fools in the middle class, who of course hate on the lower class...and the lower class..well they despise immigrants--namely Bolivians, Peruvians, and Paraguayans. (Nobody hates on the asian immigrants because apparently everyone thinks they are a big ninja mafia...or so one taxi driver explained to us). But everybody is constantly thinking about where they stand, wishing they belonged to a different group, or trying to pass of as a different group. It's messed up and a completely self-fulfilling social definition. 

Being constantly surrounded with issues of class and money has confused me. Living in Boulder is weird because it's a bubble of people who are more or less of the same economic background, and relative deprivation is minimal. Or so, I've always felt. I've never felt like I have sooo much less than everyone I know nor have I felt weird about having waaay more. Class bullshit was just not on my radar, except as an academic concept. 

Not to say some of these issues don't exist in the states. I hear the East Coast is kinda messed up...and the whole investment banking industry probably has a lot of the daddy's money-politics involved. But whatever. 
The point is, coming here has made me a lot more aware of it--but not in an "omg poverty exists!" kind of way. I talk a lot of shit about "rich" people and afterward always feel like a dumbass because I have a lot more in common with the chetos I make fun of than I realize. Or do I? And if I do...what do I do with my advantage?

Amy and I talked about the poor kids that wander up to cafes and through subway stations trying to sell little trinkets or just begging. I mean, should I give 50 cents to every kid who asks? And then there's that whole thing about the pimp-like guy who runs these gangs of grade-school kids through the city...where exactly does that 50 cents go? Straight to the belly of that hungry 8 year old with dirty clothes? I have no clue, but I kind of doubt it. And in Brazil, income inequality is an even bigger problem, so Amy has dealt with this stuff a lot as well. 

Hanging out with righty rich latin kids has fucked with me.

When I took my oral final at UCA (the private catholic university...), my professor was trying to help me out on a question I was stumped on and he tried to use an example with yanqui politics..he asks if I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I just make an "eeiiieeuuu" sound because while technically I'm a registered Democrat, I'm not really big into either party and I don't like putting myself inside the box. The other assistant professor smiles and says in a stating the obvious tone of voice, "ella es republicana." I started laughing. Do I really come across as Republican, and if so, does that mean anything? And what does it mean coming from a Latin American political science professor who teaches at a right-leaning private school? And what the hell is right-leaning in this country anyway? NOT socialist? Cuz that leaves a whole lot of room. 

What I'm starting to wrestle with now, more than identifying something that is probably not necessary is getting my priorities in order. I've liked being exposed to a little latin luxury, and sometimes I start know, I sould just get my shit together, find a nice paying job and live like this. It's lovely. Maybe I'll buy a horse. 

But the bubble those fuckers create is so out of touch with so many problems in the world that I care about. So then when I have a reality check...I think, well the last think I need to focus on is living a fancy lifestyle and get moving on solving some of these problems. Buuuuut, there is a reason people want to make a lot of's really nice to not be limited financially....
sooo here is where priorities are in need of some serious investigation because it's going to matter when i start making legitimate decisions for the direction my life is going to go..

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