Porteño Corner: Anthropology Student & Drummer, Laura Barrosa

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Laura Barroso
Anthropology student/typist
Age: 20
La Boca






Q: What made you decide to study anthropology and where do you study?

I always wanted to be an archaeologist because it fascinates me. I don’t know — I like mysteries, always have. When I was a kid I would read about Galiano and about the Incas. I’m studying at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA); anthropology is the general subject area I need to complete before I can specialize in archaeology.

• How do you feel about the education you receive at UBA?

I enjoy it, it’s a very good school but the basic materials have a lot of theory, they’re pretty dense. They also try politicize the material to the left. It’s a lot of politics, some of the departments are worse than others, such as the Philosophy and Letters (Humanities) department, but I would prefer it to be a little more practical in the methodology.

• Do you think that would be less of a problem if you were to study at a private university?

Some private schools are more practical but many of them aren’t very good; a lot of people basically purchase their diplomas.

My parents taught at both public and private schools and sometimes the stuff they told me about the private schools surprised me. I mean, I know my parents are good teachers so you can learn a lot, but sometimes the standards at private schools just aren’t as high in the public universities.

• What do you do in your free time?

I play drums. I’m studying African drumming and I’m a member of the neighborhood Candombe group of La Boca.

I love drumming it’s like its own language, especially when you hit it just right and get in the groove – sometimes you can say things with the drum that you wouldn’t say out loud.

• You’ve lived in La Boca your whole life, it’s a neighborhood known for its tango tourism and crime, what was it like to grow up there?

The thing about La Boca is that the neighborhood begins when the tourists go home, at around 6 p.m. or so.

It’s full of conventillos (tenements) so everyone is always on the street. The street is like the patio of the neighborhood — people hang out in the street, eat in the street, everyone pretty much knows each other.

The Caminito – those are the tenements that are fixed up, but if you walk a few blocks away, they’re definitely not like that.

The tourists go to El Caminito, an Proa Museum, which are good, but most people just see those two blocks and that’s it. But there is so much in La Boca — we have festivals, music clinics, a community garden, soup kitchens — there’s a lot going on.

We also have the Firefighters of La Boca, which are fully voluntary and are known to always be the first to respond to a fire in the city.

It’s a neighborhood with a lot of culture. There are still houses made with parts of the old boats. La Boca was known as a neighborhood of immigrants originally and it still is today – there are Paraguayans, Bolivians, Peruvians and some Africans. Mostly Paraguayans though.

• And everyone gets along okay?

Yeah, there’s a lot of teamwork between neighbors. There was recently a fire in one of the buildings in the neighborhood. Usually the government just gives the family a subsidy and they have to move, but we were able to raise enough money so that they could stay.

• Where do you live in La Boca?

I live in a tenement too, with my boyfriend. My parents are in the same building as well, as some other people. We were renting and the owner died, so it’s ours now and it’s a great place. We just have to pay the taxes on the house for 15 years to take over ownership of the property.

• How would you recommend that tourists go about seeing the real La Boca?

It seems like a lot of them pay for a tour where they come on a bus and eat and see a dance show, but they really don’t see the neighborhood.

There should be a better tourist agency that shows off some of the real culture of the neighborhood. (Editor’s note: since this interview we started offering low-key, authentic tours in La Boca.)

• As you know a lot of tourists are robbed in La Boca if they go off the beaten path. What safety tips do you have for independent travelers to see the parts of the neighborhood that they usually don’t get to see?

They should forget about bringing their big camera and 300 Euros. Come with 100 pesos in your pocket and nothing else, or come with nothing at all. You don’t need your cell phone and all that stuff – if you don’t have all that stuff you’re more grounded and you also don’t need to worry.

The neighborhood has a bad reputation for robberies but it could be just a few kids robbing all the time. Sometimes I go around with quite a bit of money but no one bothers me because they know me.

There are definitely some parts of La Boca I don’t recommend anyone go to, such as south La Boca.

• If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Bahia, Brazil. There’s a lot of samba music there. I would like to go there and play drums, but I’ve never been there, so who knows if I would really like it. I’ll have to go there and see.