martes, 11 de marzo de 2014

Y Seguí Cantando

I chose to name this blog post after part of the lyrics of an Argentinian song that I heard for the first time on Friday night (it means "I continued singing"). It’s called “Como la cigarra” (like the cicada) and it is such a beautiful song. It’s been playing on repeat in my head ever since and it’s one that I believe I will carry with me throughout my time here in Argentina. Before I go too much into the meaning and cultural significance of the song, let me first start by explaining how I was lucky enough to hear it.
Impulsive Joan Baez Ticket Buying Adventure
In case you haven’t been keeping up with my adventures via facebook, I’ll begin with the fact that I went to a Joan Baez concert on Friday night!! As you may or may not know, Joan Baez is one of my absolute absolute favorite singer/songwriters ever. She’s such an incredible musician and activist and it was a dream come true to get the chance to see her in concert. My friends and I were actually extremely lucky that we even found out about it because that same afternoon we just happened upon an advertisement for it as we were looking through the newspaper as part of a Spanish assignment. It was very much an impulsive decision. We just couldn't pass up the opportunity to see her, so we went and bought tickets immediately after our Spanish class. I don’t regret it one bit. The songs she chose to sing were wonderful (among them: “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Imagine,” and “Blowin’in the Wind”) and her voice is still strong and beautiful.

My friends and I at the concert
In addition to getting to hear her sing, we also had the great fortune of hearing León Gieco, a really famous Argentine folk singer/songwriter/activist, sing along with her. We actually didn’t know who he was when we were at the concert, but I did some research on him afterwards and he is truly an amazing man. He has done so much in terms of activism for human rights, especially in regards to the military dictatorship and in removing the stigma surrounding physical and mental disability. Some people call him the “Bob Dylan of Argentina,” but as much as I love the songwriting of Bob Dylan, after what I’ve discovered about León Gieco, I would say that it would be an even greater honor for Bob Dylan to be referred to as the “León Gieco of the United States.” It was after León Gieco arrived on stage that my favorite part of the entire concert happened: “Como la cigarra.” Once again, at the time we did not know this song or him or anything, but it was clear that the crowd knew exactly who he was and had this song etched upon their hearts. From this came the most beautiful of moments. Unfortunately, it's not letting me upload the video of this song from the concert. :( However, I have uploaded it to facebook, so if you're friends with me you can see it. Once it gets to the chorus, you can hear the whole room come alive with music. Like a chorus of angels, truly. It was incredible. Below I've translated the lyrics of the chorus.  

Cantando al sol como la cigarra                              Singing to the sun like a cicada
después de un año bajo la tierra,                             after a year underground,
igual que sobreviviente                                           just like a survivor
que vuelve de la guerra.                                         returning from war.

Literally every single Argentinian that I’ve shown this video to has started singing along to it. If you have the time, I definitely recommend looking up versions of it on youtube. My personal favorite is the version by Mercedes Sosa, another singer and activist who has since passed away. This song is so engrained in Argentine culture because it was used as a protest song during the military dictatorship and has since been used in remembrance of those who were “disappeared” by the government (kidnapped by the government-I’ll write more on this in another post). At its very core, this song is about determination and the strength of the people to continue even in the face of death. No matter what the government or anyone else tries to do to the people, they can’t extinguish the flame of the resistance or destroy the spirit of the people. Even if they are out of sight for a while, the people will ultimately emerge, continuing to sing.  

The fact that this song has been adopted as a major theme for Argentina fills me with awe and admiration. It is incredible to me the power that music has to bring so many people together and to empower them to do amazing things together as one. This experience has inspired me to focus my future research project on empowerment through music, specifically for children. The academic director has informed me of a possible volunteer opportunity for me in which I would help with a music and art school for children from a poorer neighborhood in Buenos Aires. This specific school was founded by young people from the neighborhood, which is both fantastic and intriguing to me. My job would most likely be really similar to what I did when I went to Bolivia last summer, but as of right now I do not have many details. I would love to get the opportunity to meet the people who started and continue to run this school as well as the children who attend it. It is really truly the best of everything: working with children, learning about the lives of those in disadvantaged situations, meeting an incredible group of people who believe in the power of music, researching more about the benefits and detriments of music education, and simply playing guitar and singing for hours. What more could I ask for?

I have been here in Buenos Aires for almost two weeks and I have definitely had my share of challenges. What this song has reminded me is that the important thing is to not be afraid to face them, to know that no matter what comes my way or brings me down, I can and I will rise up again. Like a cicada, singing songs to the sun.      

sábado, 1 de marzo de 2014

Hello, Buenos Aires!

Finally I have arrived in Buenos Aires and I have had time to sit down and write this blog post! Yay! Thank you everyone for your patience. Things have been a bit crazy, and it’s hard for me to even know where to begin!

In case you don’t know what I’m doing in Argentina, I’ll start by explaining why I’m here. I am currently studying abroad through SIT in a Social Movements and Human Rights program in Buenos Aires (however, we are going to go on a couple excursions outside of Buenos Aires as well). This study abroad program will fulfill some of the requirements for my Latin American Studies major (the big one being that we are required to study abroad). I chose this specific program for many reasons: 

1. I love learning about social movements and human rights. Just as social movements drew me to Cochabamba, Bolivia, social movements have led me to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The history of Argentina is filled with fascinating accounts of the people fighting for their human rights, and even adding to the international definition of human rights. When I first read about this program, I became extremely excited about having the opportunity to get to know people who are part of this strong culture of social activism. 

2. Homestays! This program offered the amazing experience of individual homestays which I felt to be a crucial part of my stay in Bolivia last summer. The homestay really forces you to immerse yourself in the culture and gives you someone who can offer you support and advice from the local perspective. (Also! Fun fact: my host mom here in Argentina KNOWS POPE FRANCIS. Yes, I fangirled for a little bit when she told me. I am officially one degree away from Pope Francis. Boo Yah!)

3. The research component. After years of science fair (which I don’t regret at all and have many awesome memories from! I just have to put that in there before what I’m going to say next), I got kinda burnt out from research and decided that that was definitely not what I wanted to do with my life. For that reason, I avoided it for most of my college career except for the required labs, some more bearable than others. However, when I started thinking about the type of research that I could do within social movements and human rights, I got really really excited. Volunteering in Cochabamba, Bolivia was an intense experience that had a great impact on me and my life’s direction (to read more on the ups and downs of that experience, see After returning from Cochabamba, I felt a bit lost. I felt helpless. I felt this need to do more, but I felt so powerless to do anything. After talking with my wonderful Loewenstern advisor, I realized that one thing I could do is research more on the topic of childcare. Having the opportunity to return to Latin America and conduct some sort of research regarding childcare, from children’s health to education to the system itself, is something that I am really excited to do.   

4. Community service. In the description for the program, they emphasized the importance of community involvement and service to the community. I’ve already talked with the director about it, and she said that she would help me find out how I can volunteer in an orphanage here. I’m really excited to get the opportunity to work with children again and to be able to compare the system here in Buenos Aires to what I experienced in Cochabamba. It might be a little tight to fit into my schedule, but I really want to be as active in the community as I can be. This is especially important to me since I am planning on doing my research in this area. I don’t want to just be the random North American who bops into an orphanage for a couple days to do some interviews and then leaves. I really want to try to get to know the community well, to know them on a personal level that will not only help me have more perspectives to draw from in my research, but it will also be more respectful than simply barging in one day and asking un montón de (a bunch of) questions.   
There are many other things that ultimately influenced my decision, but those are the main ones. 

Rather than going through my schedule from the past week, I’ll just end this first blog post with my favorite part of Buenos Aires culture thus far: the closeness of the people. By that I don’t just mean literal closeness, although the subways and buses can get pretty crowded. I actually mean the affection between the people. From the friendly kisses on the cheek to people’s willingness to help a poor extranjera (foreigner) with directions to the familial love that is so strong, Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) have a special closeness about them and the way they interact with people. Apparently it’s really common here for people to live near their parents once they move out so that they can still participate in family functions. Sundays are evidently days of family reunions where everyone comes together and has a barbecue that lasts until 4:00 PM which gets them so full of love and food that they are too stuffed for dinner. This weekend, my host mom has actually invited me to go to a barbecue at her daughter’s house, and I am super excited to meet everyone. As soon as I got to the house on Thursday, my host mom sat me down and showed me all of the pictures of her family on facebook. You can really tell that her life is driven by her love for her family which is something that I really appreciate and admire. And that’s not something that’s unique to my host mom. It’s something that I’ve seen so much of already, and I’ve been here less than a week. I’m really excited to start classes next week and get to know the people and culture even more!

That’s all I will put for now, but don’t worry, there is plenty more to write about! Thank you everyone for all of your thoughts and prayers. Know that I’m thinking about and praying for you as well  :)

Laurel Bingman