Posted by: pascoesabido | January 1, 2008

The Argentine Invasion

Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona’s Argentine starlet, encapsulates the Argentine’s relationship with Barcelona. Already spotted In Argentina as a prodigious talent at 11, Messi needed expensive treatment for his growth hormone deficiency which Barcelona offered to pay if he moved to Spain. Like many other Argentines who have moved to Barcelona, he now has the opportunity to achieve his potential alongside an international cast including Catalans.

Argentines had settled here before Messi set off for Spain, but many have arrived since. The opportunities offered abroad compared to in their native Argentina have spurred many on, and more so since the 2000 economic crisis. Dan Peisajovish, 32 from Buenos Aires and his wife Yvonne, 37 from Rosario came to Barcelona in 2000 and now run their own creative-media school in Raval – something unimaginable in Argentina. Others such as Manuel Herrero, a 24-year-old Porteño – from Buenos Aires, have come in search of adventure. Carolina Gastadi, 28, a restaurant manager from Mar del Plata, is here saving money to move back and buy a house for their family. This bucks the trend of the early 20th Century, when European immigrants flooded the Argentine ports and pamplas in search of work.

Despite not being as numerous as other immigrant populations, Argentines still appear to have conquered this fair city. Rather than remaining a distinct entity, like many other immigrant communities, they have dispersed to every corner of the city and to every area of opportunity – from dentists to graphic designers. This invasion has created a new market force, and according to Silvia Pisani, who writes for La Nación, Argentine products such as Dulce de Leche (a caramelised form of condensed milk extremely popular in Argentina) are now common place in most supermarkets. One supermarket in Gracia even sells specially imported salt.

The Argentine is easily recognisable in Barcelona, even to those without a Spanish ear. Instead of ‘y’ (also ‘ll’ in Spanish), Argentines say ‘sh’ – rather confusing to those not adept in dialects; while to those with a more trained ear, you can easily tell if an Argentine is asking how they can serve you when they say ‘qué le sirvo’ instead of ‘qué le pongo’. The service and tourist industries attract many young Argentines as they are both seasonal and informal, ideal for those like Manuel Herrero who lack the official papers. However, Argentines are to be found in all walks of life throughout Barcelona. Tito Tellos, 28 from Cordoba, runs a yacht harboured in Barceloneta, while Johana Zohler is hoping to be Argentina’s answer to Alicia Keys. The 23-year-old Porteña was returning from Ibiza to catch a flight home, but despite only having 100€ in her pocket realised the opportunity Barcelona offered musicians compared to her native Argentina.

The Argentine influence in the arts is particularly striking, as Catalonian theatre, music, and literature are all benefiting. Argentine actors are leading the invasion, while respected Argentine writers such as Lázaro Covado have taken up residency. Last year La Vanguardia, a highly respected Catalan broad-sheet, dedicated an issue of its cultural supplement to the Argentine influence. Argentina has always been aligned with European culture, seen clearly through the European Surrealist movements in the 1920s. Perhaps this is why most Argentines have found the transition to Barcelona so smooth.

Barcelona’s cosmopolitan feel – as well as a somewhat lax attitude towards illegal-workers – make it more attractive to Argentines than Madrid, and according to Nacho Palladino, not unlike the Argentine Capital. The 22-year-old Porteño believes “both have that ‘European’/’International’ feel”. But Johana ‘Alicia Keys’ Zohler thinks Barcelona might just have the edge thanks to its beaches. Lázaro Covadlo commented: “I walk down las Ramblas and it’s the same as walking through Buenos Aires”.

The other reason Argentines fit so well into Barcelona is their willingness. Matias Sanangelo, a 27-year-old cook from Mar del Plata who now runs a successful kitchen, rightly points out “I did not come to Spain to be in Argentina”. Dan and Yvonne Peisajovish have a distinctly international friendship group, and when most interviewees were asked their opinion of the stereo-typical Argentine it was a negative one that they were hoping to escape.

But this is not to say the best bits of Argentina have not been exported. Their world-renowned meat can be found throughout Barcelona. For a sample, try el Foro in el Borne, which not only provides great food but an authentic Argentine experience with Flamenco shows every Sunday. The Casal Argentino even offers lessons, preparing you for the end of month Puña (traditional party) in which you can show off those newly learnt Latin moves. However, the real Argentina is in the Asado (BBQ). An institution in itself, it involves spit-roasting the better-part of a cow for hours on end to provide a scintillating feast. And of course a great excuse for friends to get together.

As Lionel Messi knows the only other thing guaranteed to bring Argentines together is football – both playing and watching. Head down to La Boca in Barceloneta for match-day and the blue-and-white stripes will be pouring from every window. But on most other occasions, the Argentine is as much a part of the city of Barcelona as Messi is of the football team.

Published in Barcelona Connect, January 2008

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