Someone should have reminded me that being French was going to solicit funny responses from the country of World Cup champions I was visiting soon after the exhilarating tournament, because immediately as I entered Argentina I knew this was a country of passion.
My plane, coming from Houston, had many Argentine people in it, and next to me, I was already able to speak in Spanish—albeit with an accent very different from my own Andaluz—with an elderly couple from Mar del Plata next to me, a man behind me from Corrientes, and a woman from Córdoba. They gave me their Whatsapps, and as the plane descended into Buenos Aires, I felt calm and comfortable looking ahead to my first time in South America.
This passion continued as I visited the CPM. Apart from a warm welcome, my start with the local torture prevention mechanism teams made me learn more about Argentina’s economic and social intersections through law and first-hand prison visits than I ever could have read in a book. One of these foremost experiences in my first two weeks was our group visit to the Pozo de Quilmes site of memory, a police station with dictatorship-era torture abuses still in use until, you heard it, 2017.
What struck me about La Plata when I got there was how temperate the July day was—seventy-ish degrees, beautiful skies, gentle warm sun on my skin. My roommate for a couple weeks, Alex, and my host mom, Silvi, said that this would not last but that winters were relatively mild compared to my often-snowy New Jersey. However, as I entered the cells of the former clandestine detention center (CCD in Argentina), I imagined the people—labeled “subversives” in the prominently-displayed mass surveillance documents in the former DIPPBA headquarters at the CPM—eking out their existence in the extreme cold and heat, exposed to the weather’s mercy but not able to even wear different clothes than the ones in which they were kidnapped.
But even then, in the cold, deep depths of human misery, signs of solidarity emanating from human spirit really endured. This is not even an embellishment on a blog post, but my true feelings about the victims of torture during democratic and dictatorship times a like. Walls were filled with messages about love, about loved ones, and about when prisoners could see their partners, their kids, their families, and their friends again. They were just humans, like us, taken on a street while walking to school or doing some other human activity, put into a truck or inconspicuous car, and thrown into one of 800 camps to await their future fate at the hands of a militarized government that thought it was fighting the Third World War.
In between my work for the CPM and the nerding out on human rights in Argentina and the world, the boliche experience, hanging out with my friends, and getting Gimnasia bucket hats while attending a game against Estudiantes crystallized this passion even further. There is nothing more gratifying than a society where enthusiasm radiates across all levels of society. Whether it be the cult of personality of Madonna to my host mom’s family’s long discussions of Peron and Evita, there is just a hype culture in Argentina that knows no boundaries. Even though this can lead to more riot police presence in soccer games due to fighting breaking out, I believe that Argentina expresses its human spirit more than any place I have ever been in, and this explosion of passion has welcomed me and my French loser self to the scene. Ever since the dictatorship, it seems, people have been eager to express themselves and break with the past from eclectic architecture to music and art. As I enter my next few weeks in La Plata, I am bubbling with new ideas and excitement for the friends I have made and the history I am learning.