I’ve never celebrated or noted with any significance the lunar New Year in the past, but it occurs to me that a year ago I was Chennai, India with new friends sharing Indian-Chinese food and this year I found myself wandering around Barrio Chino in Buenos Aires for the big day. I’d read that there was a small Chinatown here and during a walking tour of BA last week our guide told us there has been an influx of Chinese immigrants to Argentina recently. It was also interesting to hear that soybean is one of the major exports from Argentina (to China). I did a little research on Chinese immigration to find out that the first wave came in the 80s from Taiwan, the second wave from the Fujian province in the 90s, and the recent wave has to do with students learning Spanish and professionals working for Chinese companies. It made me chuckle to read that the younger generation of Chinese immigrants is referred to as “ArgenChinos.” But some of the articles I read also mentioned how since Asians in general represent such a small portion in this country made up of European descendents, that they often face discrimination. It may be so but at least for the New Years celebrations in Chinatown yesterday, it looked as if the entire population of Buenos Aires was there to party with the Chinese.
Belgrano is quite a bit away from my apartment but since I’m trying to get the lay of the land here, I decided to walk. I consulted the official Buenos Aires tourism site and the Asociacion Cultural Chino Argentina site, which gave me the full rundown of the day’s events. As it was another sizzling summer day here in BA, I looked for the late afternoon/early evening activities. What interested me the most was the dragon dance and it happened to be at 19:00 (perfect!) so I timed my outing for that.
I knew that Chinatown here covers only about 5 blocks around the Belgrano train station, but there was a large group of people by the park area several blocks away from Chinatown. There were red Chinese lanterns hanging from all the trees in the park and the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves listening to ….. non-Chinese music. I turned to see the outdoor stage and started to laugh. The banner in the back said “Festival del Año Nuevo Chino” but on stage, there were Latin dancers (it wasn’t tango but some kind of Argentine/Latin dance). Ha! I started to look around and saw that there was not a single Chinese person, let alone an Asian person in sight. Huh?
The grassy field and the hill above were completely packed with families, all eating, drinking, and swaying to the non-Chinese music. Some of them were singing along so I’m guessing it was popular Argentine tune song. I walked up to the line of vendors to see what they were cooking up… and saw shawarma, hot dogs, and shish kabobs. There was no Chinese food to be found, not even an egg roll. Slightly confused, I continued walking towards Chinatown. Surely I’d see something Chinese there, right? As I turned the corner onto Avenida Juramento I spotted the ubiquitous Chinatown arch (I say that but the Chinatown in Manhattan is without one and oddly enough, there was an article in the NY Daily News about that a few days ago) and a mob of people trying to jam through it.
Seeing the crowd of people there definitely scared me a bit. They were everywhere; in the shops, in the streets, sitting on the side walk, even on the train tracks. But I’d come this far and now I was really curious to see what 5 blocks of Barrio Chino looked like. So I took a deep breath, clutched my bag tightly to my body, and marched straight in.
And… I almost marched right back out. I’ve always avoided Times Square and kept clear of midtown on New Years Eve for this very reason. It was madness. And it got madder when I started to hear people murmur “dragón, dragón, aqui viene el dragón.” Suddenly I was in the middle of everything, with hundreds of people taking photos and trying to reach over to touch the dragón. Well, I did go to Chinatown on New Years Eve to see the dragon dance so I guess I should say I received exactly what I asked for. Thank you, Universe.
I took mental notes on a couple of Chinese grocery stores and a few restaurants for a future visit, but after I snapped the above photo I got myself out of Chinatown and back onto the open field in the park. The festivities there seemed to have taken a slightly more Chinese turn, with a couple of lions dancers on the stage. A few minutes later the dragon appeared from behind me and zig-zagged his way through the crowd to get on the stage. The MC noted that there were 9 men working together to make this dragon dance and the dragon was 20 meters long. It didn’t look like there were any Chinese performers in the bunch but I actually thought it was cool that this very traditional Chinese dance was performed by Argentinians. I suppose they could have been of Chinese descent but what should it matter whether they are Chinese or German or Indian, as long as they appreciate the culture enough to want to learn and celebrate this day together? Besides, the Lunar New Year doesn’t just belong to the Chinese.
So to everyone, Xin Nian Kuai Le! 新 年 快 乐! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! あけましておめでとうございます! 새해 복 많이 받으세요! ¡ Feliz y Próspero Año Nuevo! Happy New Year!