I can’t lie, I’m a little bit homesick.
This is very uncharacteristically Cassie. The last time I remember feeling starved for home was when I was five and left a slumber party early. The following day, I remember feeling immature and embarrassed.
Homesickness in Argentina is different. It’s mild, and it comes and goes. When I was passing through the jungle on my way to Puerto Iguazu, for example, I looked at the lush, rolling greenery and thought about my drives from Louisville to Lexington, Kentucky. But my dreamcloud quickly dispersed when I saw palm trees, vines, or the tierra colorada (red earth).
The traffic, noise, and fumes of the city were an abrupt homecoming that irritated my senses after a weekend in the fresh greenery of the falls. I cursed the cracks on the sidewalks, the cat-calls, and the excessive consumerism.
But, I wouldn’t prefer any other city to experience homesickness. In my time of mild distress, Buenos Aires has offered me solace in profound friendships and thousands of sanctuaries (museums, cafes, & parks) to distract myself.
I’ve noticed, however, that homesickness makes small traces of home more obvious. Through these observations, I’ve concluded that humanity is so much more alike than we realize. My favorite story involves cornbread.
Janet invited me over to her family’s apartment to celebrate her birthday — on the condition that I make a quintessentially American Carrot Cake. No problemo!
While we set the table, Janet’s mother was preparing one of Janet’s favorite Paraguayan dishes. Janet enthusiastically described it and said, “there’s nothing else like it…so rich…so delicious!”
When we sat down to eat, I looked over at a platter of what looked like yellow Jiffy corn bread, fresh from the 1950’s iconic blue box. “That’s it?,” I asked.
Sure enough, it tasted exactly like my Mom’s Jiffy corn bread pudding — without the shame of consuming preservatives and lard (sorry Mom!). Delicious.
Janet couldn’t believe that I had tasted something like it before. We both concluded that Kentuckians and Guarani Paraguayans are related. I promised that next time, I’d bring a batch of chili to accompany the corn bread.
That was purely coincidental, but other signs of home aren’t as unique or pleasant. Advertising is the biggest and most obvious evidence of the U.S. On my daily walks, I pass billboards selling beauty products, electronics, and designer threads — all stamped with English words. It feels like colonialism. There’s nothing Argentine about it. The ads scream “We own this street corner, and you can be cool, elite and sophisticated like us if you speak our language and buy our logo.”
For those who don’t speak English, it’s oppressive. Something almost out of reach, or otherworldly. And English has slipped into conversation in a darkly humorous way. If someone or something is not authentic, they can be described as “light.” For example: “es un hincha de Boca light.” or “he’s a light Boca fan” — meaning he’s not a die-hard Boca Juniors fan (which I have yet to encounter).
Ex-pats, entrepreneurs, tourists, and study abroad students have left behind their footprints as well. A few black holes of cultural enlightenment include: American-owned sports bars (for NCAA and beer pong), ex-pat yoga meet-up groups, Hard Rock Cafe Buenos Aires, and study abroad bar crawls.
My favorite institute of globalization, however, is Pizzeria Kentucky. The bright orange restaurant is adorned with racehorses and photos of the Louisville skyline. The owner, an Argentine, friended a Kentuckian and consequentially named his restaurant after their meeting. The Pizzeria is a “classico espacio Porteno,” and I can’t help but smile when I pass its giant neon sign on the threshold of the Palermo neighborhood’s classic, elegant architecture.
Globalization and technology are changing the way we live and travel abroad. Although I have no desire to go near Hard Rock Cafe for a burger and Bon Jovi, I realize that globalization has made my life here easier. I am so thankful that I can connect with my family and friends, with the click of a mouse, whenever I pine for home.
I’m embarrassed by homesickness, but Rhinesmith’s 10 Stages of Cultural Adjustment reassurres me that it’s normal. I am fully conscious that I have three months left, and once it’s over, Buenos Aires will have passed quicker than a sip of yerba mate.
Life is too short to preoccupy myself with mild frustrations. Buenos Aires has too much to offer for me to be staring at the cracked sidewalk as manifestations of its rich history and culture pass by.