If there is one thing here that I have been pleasantly and constantly surprised by, it’s how amazing and fresh all the fruit in Buenos Aires is. Even in peak season at home, I buy some peaches and plums from the grocery store, and still have to let them ripen in a brown bag for three days. Here, you can stroll up to any fruit stand, buy a peach, and eat it for lunch two hours later. All the best peaches and plums that I’ve ever eaten have been here in Buenos Aires. Lately, I’ve been eating up to 2 peaches a day, along with plumbs, kiwis, or apples (however, apples are the exception; they don’t come anywhere near New England standards). It’s a general consensus that the Bolivian fruit stands are the best in town because fruit is shipped in almost every day, due to the fact that they have no way to refrigerate their food. Their prices are also incredibly cheap.
Although the Argentinians admire Bolivian produce, they have nothing nice to say about the Bolivians themselves, nor about immigrants from Paraguay. These two groups get a bad rep because the majority of them are illegal immigrants. It doesn’t help that they have darker skin and hair, and therefore, have a tendency to stand out among the European-looking Argentinians. If you’ve lived near the border in the United States, this story will sound familiar. The current President, Cristina Kirchner, is very good to the poor. There is free universal health care, free public schooling, and aid programs to build housing. That’s great and all, but immigrants, even illegal ones, are allowed to take advantage of it with no repercussions. As a result, illegals are flooding into Buenos Aires to take advantage of these programs, which are funded by the taxpayers in Argentina. We’re in a similar boat when a family comes to the U.S. illegally and takes advantage of our public school system, for example, without paying taxes that help fund it. So you can imagine that the locals aren’t too fond of the Paraguayans and Bolivians, and don’t treat them with much respect.
Many families employ a maid who cooks and cleans, and many of them are Paraguayans. Beatriz, my host mother, has a maid that cleans every Friday. When I asked her what the maid’s name was, was she gave me an odd look and asked, “Why do you want to know…?” My friend Daniel’s home stay has a maid who cooks, and his first night at dinner when she cleared his plate away he said, “Thank you.” The family’s response: “No, you don’t thank her.” This treatment seems very rude to me, but I guess if you think about it, behavior like this still exists in the United States.
It’s so interesting learning about class and race struggles here in the city. Yesterday I learned that Argentina is considered a third world country, and it blew my mind. I was comparing this city to Ghana, which I visited over Christmas vacation, and they’re on a completely different level of development and modernization. But driving by the poorer slums of Buenos Aires on the bus, I can see what they mean. There is much more to this city than meets the eye.
Carolyn Tiernan can be reached for comment at [email protected]