Argentine Culture: Enigmatic and Eclectic
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Argentina is a country unlike many others in Latin America: it combines a menu of cultural influences which few other nations on the continent can boast. With a heavy European flavor dominating the culture in areas like Patagonia and the central region surrounding Buenos Aires, the capital city, and a plethora of indigenous tribal cultures permeating the culture of the northern and western reaches of the nation, the specific balance of cultural influences can be difficult to discern for even the most educated sociologist or anthropologist.
Argentina’s native communities were not of the size of those of Peru or Mexico, yet nonetheless some of the stiffest resistance to Spanish colonization came from within what today is Argentine national territory. This spirit of resistance and defiance is a main element of national culture to have been passed down across the generations, proudly touted by the descendants of indigenous and immigrant communities alike. However, the Spaniards did effectively conquer the area from Buenos Aires northward and westward to the borders of Bolivia and Paraguay, and therefore Spanish culture is a major legacy in Argentina. Arab and Moorish immigration came hand in hand with Spanish immigration, and the Argentine gaucho—who might otherwise be called a cowboy—is the specimen in whom these three cultural influences crystallize (indigenous, Spanish, and Arab, that is).
During the 1800s, there were significant influxes of Italian immigrants, the last wave of which culminated roughly in the 1930s. Within Buenos Aires, it is common to hear colloquial Italian dialects, with many a grandparent having come across the Atlantic as a child to set themselves up in this intriguing land. In lesser numbers, there were English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and German immigrants, many of whom ventured into the far south, to Patagonia, and set up communities that preserved their original languages and customs well into the 20th century. The Brits were particularly successful in Argentina, and it was a common expression to be heard in the 19th century that Argentina was an extra-official crown jewel of the British Empire: the rail system, for example, was almost entirely developed with Anglo capital, and the upper-crust of Argentine socioeconomic circles retains a strong dose of Anglophilia to this day, with rugby and polo being particularly popular.
Nonetheless, Argentina is more than just the sum of its parts. All of these diverse contributions to the national identity do not fully represent what it means to be Argentine; the unique blend of flavors had to inevitably yield a few original innovations. Take tango music, for example: developed in the late 19th century in the brothels of the port neighborhoods of San Telmo and La Boca in Buenos Aires, this melancholic and aggressive music is 100% uniquely Argentine. There is perhaps no better testament to the originality of Argentine culture than this superb musical style, which set out from Buenos Aires to conquer the entire world with its bittersweet notes and its provocative dance.
The cultural aspects that will most impress first-time visitors to the shores of Argentina, in addition to tango, would have to be: the incessant consumption of mate, a drink enjoyed in a unique gourd-shaped cup with metal straw, similar to tea; the fabulous meats and grill-outs, known as asados in Argentina. You can also check for the food and drink in this Argentina travel guide. The excellent literary tradition, handed down from such brilliant talents like Borges and Cortazar; the ubiquitous guitar-playing, handed down from the Spaniards; and the fanatical obsession with soccer, which achieved a national zenith in the 1986 World Cup victory protagonized by Maradona, one of the finest players ever to play the sport. Yet, as always, there is more to be had, and when visiting the interior of the country there is a plethora of cultural peculiarities and proud traditions to be observed, all of which make this country a veritable melting pot. Don’t miss the chance to get to know some (or all!) of it when you have the opportunity.