February 27, 2018 by ingridiswriting
So what’s it like to be a salvadoreña in Buenos Aires?
So what's it like to be a salvadoreña in Buenos Aires? Click To TweetFour and half years is a long time to live anywhere. But that’s how long I went without living with Central Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and many other immigrant groups I was used to.
Buenos Aires’ immigrant community is large and diverse*, and many foreigners end up staying here much longer than they plan. Unlike other countries that have different educational and health systems for locals and foreigners, Buenos Aires has a public health system that many of us come to depend on, and public universities are free to international students. Private universities usually charge foreigners the same rate as locals.
(*This diversity doesn’t include Salvadorans or Central Americans though).
So what was it like to be a salvadoreña in Buenos Aires?
- Legalities. I travel with a US passport because I was naturalized in 2011, so unlike other Salvadorans, I met here I had to abide by tourist rules meant for Americans. I don’t even know how hard it is for Salvadorans to obtain legal status here, but it’s not hard for most people.
- You have to answer a lot of questions about MS-13 here too. a lot of news about El Salvador is filtered through US media, so people ask a lot of questions about maras, the drug trade, and other annoying matters. Luckily, people here are more understanding about this, but they are quite direct!
- You end up giving locals pupusas for the first time in their lives. I gave my friends pupusas for the first time in their lives. Yep. Colombian an Venezuelan cuisine is basically local here because they’re some of the largest immigrant groups. I kept describing them as “kind of like arepas, but everything is already sealed in there, and you eat it with this sauce thing.” Then I had to use Korean BBQ as a way to describe the curtido because I didn’t know what else to do.
- You may end up using some really crappy harina to make said pupusas until you figure out a smuggling system. The first time I made pupusas I used some yellow corn flour (the heresy!) until I learned that Harina PAN is a decent substitute. When Mexican or American friends would visit, I’d beg them for some Maseca. After I got my hands on some I made my friends eat pupusas all over again so they’d get a better experience.
- Pollo encebollado is also always a hit. The good thing about pollo encebollado is that you can find ingredients to make it almost anywhere in the world. I made it here a few times and everyone loved it! (No pictures included because I was always too hungry to eat it after I finished making it).
- Usted isn’t a thing. Argentina, especially Buenos Aires, is all about using VOS, which is great news for anyone reclaiming voseo. Remember, I spent four years here so using vos is now natural to me. Using usted lets people know you’re not from around here. 99% of Argentinians are nice to foreigners and they love hearing stories, but they flinch a bit when you use usted, and some older people even insist that you speak to them in vos because it sounds more natural to them.
- People understand your pain. Argentina had a Dirty War between 1976-1983, and they’re aware of the dictatorships in nearby countries such as Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil, among others. One of the things I had in common with many porteños was the trauma of Civil War and disappearances. March here is mes de la memoria and there used to be extensive city-wide festivals on 24th March. Several years ago I saw an art exhibit about countries in which the CIA interfered. I was able to read through tons of documents, and there was a dossier for nearly every country in Latin America—El Salvador included. Most people here are well-informed, and happen to be aware of the TPS/DACA struggle, or they may have heard of it.
- Some people may erroneously think you’re from…. Brazil?! When I recently came here and tell people I was from the US, people always asked me the ever-annoying, “but where are you really from?” There’s no PC culture and I know most Argentinians here don’t mean to offend. If I was at a party or somewhere loud and I’d say El Salvador, they wouldn’t hear the “El” and think I was talking about Salvador Bahía, Brazil. Even a few Brazilians thought this sometimes, and this friendly confusion was one of my main reasons for learning some Portuguese phrases. That’s because there are so few of us here. I only met one other Salvadoran my entire time here, and only one person from Guatemala.
- Being here is a breath of fresh air. This is especially the case for women. Even though there are many great things about El Salvador, I recognize that one of the reasons why I wasn’t raised there was because my mother wanted me to be safe. There are catcallers and machistas in every culture, and the #NiUnaMenos movement is quite active here. There’s still a lot of work to do but most parts of Buenos Aires are safe for women to be in at night, and the type of chauvinism that is common in El Salvador is widely frowned upon here. You can wear some jewelry, short shorts, and skirts (and you probably should over the summer here unless you want to get dehydrated!), and the city is LGBT friendly.
- But you’ll miss your seasonings, fruits, and vegetables. Argentina has some good steak, empanadas, pasta, and wine, but they’re not known for eating too many spices. My first month here I thought I was condemned to eating bland food until I left, but eventually, I discovered barrio chino, which saved my life. I learned I should never eat Mexican food here, but I’d get some Peruvian food when I wanted something spicy. There is a large Syrian community here, so I’d get some shawarma often. There are also large Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Armenian communities, and you can find good Indian food if you know the two good restaurants (I don’t approve of the rest). Plus, most health food stores sold plenty of spices that you can’t find in regular supermarkets. However, Argentina is so far away from North American countries in Latin America that it’s easier to find Chinese and Japanese spices (sesame seed oil, togarashi, soy sauce, and others), than Mexican spices or black plátanos.
This is only a small summary of what life was like for me. Don’t worry though! I plan on writing more about what it was like for me to live here.