The last couple of days I’ve been “getting in touch” with my Argentine roots. On Friday evening I went to an nice event/talk about Argentine comics and then on Saturday I went to a bar where 200-300 Argentines watched the national team getting trounced 4-0 by Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals. That was fairly disastrous. Still, I got to practise my Spanish and pretend I knew the chants everyone else was singing.
My dad is from Argentina. Born in Buenos Aires, he lived in London between 1969 and 1989, when he moved back to the city of his childhood. He visits Europe when he can.
I was born in London, England. I am English. Growing up, we didn’t speak Spanish at home, except for a couple of words. I remember feeling very English throughout my childhood, even if my name is Gregorio and my father is Juan Carlos. Nowadays I speak pretty fluent Spanish, but that’s thanks to years at university and recent trips to Argentina. My Spanish accent is still a mess of English, Argentine and Castillian Spanish (and American, according to one person).
When we were little kids it was too expensive (and probably too painful for my father) to visit Buenos Aires. I made my first trip there with my parents and sisters, when I was about 12 and from then on I visisted there every 2-3 years to visit my father and see family. There was a period between 1993 and 2000 when I avoided going. I’m not quite sure why. I’ll ask a shrink.
I call myself half-Argentine, but the reality is that I don’t know Argentina, I only know Buenos Aires and of that, mainly the barrio around my father’s place and microcentro. When I am in Buenos Aires I am there to see my father, not be a tourist. There are friends who spend 2 months doing the whole of South America who have seen more of Argentina than I have in my countless visits. They know Cordoba and Mendoza and Iguacu and Bariloche. I know the Linea A subway line. As a teenager my Buenos Aires was wandering the streets of Corrientes and Callao in my leather jacket, smoking cheap cigarettes and hunting through the book and magazine stores for comics and pornography. I loved it.
When I was young, Argentina was an impossibly distant, exotic place. There were few Argentines in London. There was no internet, so contact with my father was limited to occasional letters and phone calls. No-one went on holiday to Argentina. And I liked it like that. Buenos Aires was my playground. It was my Narnia. My secret world.
Now things have changed. I know countless friends who have visited Buenos Aires. It’s a staple part of the middle-class-traveller-seeing-the-world route. I know English people who have fallen in love in Buenos Aires and stayed here. And since the economic crisis of 2001, there are an increasing number of Argentines in London (as evidenced in the bar for the World Cup match). The barriers between England and Argentina have crumbled. I should be happy, but I’m not. It’s like the gates of Narnia have been flung open, and what was once my secret refuge (my secret identity) is now just another place in the world. The world is getting smaller.
Sometimes I’ll be chatting to a stranger and I’ll mention that my dad is Argentine and they’ll say: “Oh, I’ve been to Buenos Aires. It’s amazing, isn’t it?” and I’ll nod and agree, but part of me – a selfish part of me, admittedly – resents them walking through the streets that were once mine alone.