Italy’s Echo in Argentina: Politics & Fashion

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A picture of the Buenos Aires obelisk leaning like the Tower of Pisa
Argentine Political Leanings: like the Tower of Pisa

If Argentina was psychoanalyzed it might be uncovered that its almost constant state of political turmoil has its roots in Italy.

Parallels can easily be drawn between Italy’s perennial game of Prime Minister swap and Argentina’s sometimes wildly fluctuating political landscape.

Italy is infamous for having 60 changes of government since the Second World War, and Argentines cringe when they recall five presidents in little more than a week amidst the economic crisis in late 2001.

In the years before and after World War II, many Italians with extreme left wing or anarchist political leanings fled the country and came to Argentina, bringing with them their radical ideas and really stirring up the pot in neighborhoods such as La Boca.

Mutual Political Influence

Assembly of San Telmo Community Center, San Telmo Buenos Aires
‘Long live socialism and liberty’ Assembly of San Telmo, Buenos Aires

The unfortunate existence of institutionalized corruption and senseless bureaucracy in both countries draws further comparison, and affects everything from the police force to the postal service and tax department.

One curiosity is that due to the large numbers of Argentines who retain Italian citizenship, there are political candidates in the Italian elections who campaign for the South American vote. Argentine Italians are sometimes able to win seats in Italian parliament on the back of promises to look after the interests (such as generous pensions from the Italian state) of dual-citizen Argentines.

It is also worth noting that Argentina’s single most influential political movement since the 1960s, Peronism, was greatly inspired by the fascism of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Perón was an open admirer of ‘Il Duce’ and took on many of his political traits. To this day, Peronism remains the primary political party in Argentina.

European Style in Argentina

Aside from food, language and politics, Argentines also, unwittingly or otherwise, mimic Italians in matters of behavior and style. Their reputation throughout the rest of South America as slightly arrogant may have something to do with the view of themselves as quasi-Europeans rather than out and out Latin Americans.

This is most evident on the fashion-conscious streets of Buenos Aires. Ignoring the indigenous influence, which is predominant in most of South America, or the bright colors of Brazilian fashion, Argentines prefer to dress more in the sophisticated European style of the Italians.

Impeccable high-heeled women, roguishly handsome men, lots of leather and dark colors – the streets of some Buenos Aires neighborhoods could be mistaken for those of Milan or Rome.

Similar lifestyle habits further enhance the likeness. Just like Italians, Argentines enjoy pit-stops at the local café for a strong coffee whenever they have the time, big family dinners, driving around like demons, stylish soccer teams, conspiracy theories, kissing everybody hello and goodbye, and talking at the top of their voices almost all the time, whether it is appropriate or not.

Their peculiar and contradictory blend of pride and self-depreciation mirrors that of the southern Italians perfectly, and likewise their often gloomy cynicism somehow doesn’t detract from their passionate enjoyment of life.

In the end, la dolce vita and la dulce vida are pretty much the same thing, just on different continents.

–by Dan Colasimone

(←continued from: Italians in Argentina)