Place Essentialism in Argentina: La Boca

la boca


Judging by its frequent inclusion in tourist websites and travel blogs, the neighbourhood of La Boca is among the most notable representations of Argentina. It is not hard to see why: its brightly coloured houses are a physical manifestation of the country’s colourful and vibrant atmosphere. Add to that the football stadium of ‘’La Bombonera’’, home of the Boca Juniors, and El Caminito, a charming, cobblestone street frequented by local artists, it would appear that La Boca is a place which combines all the elements needed to experience Argentina at its most authentic.

In truth, this ‘’authenticity’’ is in fact constructed to enhance the more savoury, tourist –friendly elements of Argentina. Below the thin layers of purifying paint exists a darker, seedier and arguably more authentic picture of La Boca and Argentina.

La Boca is a rough, working-class neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. It began as a shipyard and shanty town for immigrants who worked in nearby tanneries and meat plants. These immigrants constructed their houses from scrap metal, using leftover marine paint to give their dwellings some colour. This was not for artistic purposes, but rather a way for immigrants to make life more bearable. This is equally true of the tango, developed by immigrants to distract themselves from daily life. However, the only women willing to engage in such a sensual dance were prostitutes, so tango was confined to brothels and other seedy establishments. Later, when the tango was introduced to Europe, it was cleaned up to make it more mainstream, evolving into the dance we know today.

Contrary to what conventional tourist representations suggest, the colourful houses and cultural features of La Boca are but one layer of the neighbourhood’s history. To believe otherwise is to overlook the true essence of La Boca and Argentina.


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