The two dominant topics that are highly contested and arouse strong emotions in Argentina are the fútbol (soccer) team you belong to and whether or not you support the current government or oppose it.
There are twenty Argentine fútbol teams in the First Division, which are the most popular here which means they have the largest fan bases, have the players with the best skill-set, and have the craziest, diehard fans. Fútbol is not just a soccer game here; it is an estilo de vida (lifestyle). Some fans sleep, eat, and breathe their fútbol team. Every loss is taken personally and every win is considered a great victory. Faces and bodies are painted, gigantic flags are flown, chants can be heard from blocks away, teams’ logos are tattooed on various body parts, and plans are cancelled to watch your team’s game.
My Argentine host family is divided between the two most popular teams here: River Plate and Boca Juniors, with an intense but playful rivalry existing. My dad and older brother are River fans, my mom and younger brother are Boca fans, and my sister is a San Lorenzo fan, since she began dating someone who is a fan of San Lorenzo. So one can only imagine how much pressure rested on me, their precious Yanqui (American) from Minnesota, to choose a fútbol team. When I told my family I had made my decision one night over dinner, they stopped eating and looked up at me with wide eyes, nervously awaiting my response. I chose River Plate, the team with the cute red and white jerseys, the most attractive players, the most champion titles (thirty six to be exact) and who happens to be the reigning champs of 2014.
Surprisingly, the majority of the fútbol teams have English names: River Plate, Racing Club, All Boys, Arsenal, Newell’s Old Boys, and Boca Juniors (half in Spanish and half in English). The team you belong to is not necessarily determined by the neighborhood, city or region you are from or live in in Argentina. Interestingly, Pope Francis is a fan of San Lorenzo, a team from the neighborhood of Boedo in Buenos Aires, which is also among one of the five most popular teams here along with River, Boca, Independiente, and Racing.
I have yet to go to a game but I have heard from various people that going to a game in one of the stadiums here will be one of the most surreal experiences in my life. Once I am able to obtain a ticket, which are prized possessions here since they can be very difficult to buy, I will put on my red and white jersey and face paint and cheer for my Argentine team.
The next touchy subject that will stir up a lot of interesting, passion-filled conversation here is that of the current president, Cristina Fernández Kirchner who was elected president in 2007 after her husband, Nestór Kirchner, was president of the country. The supporters of her regime are called “kirchneristas” and the people that belong to the opposition are called “anti-kircheristas.” Basically you either love her or you hate her; there is no middle ground, although I have met a small number of people who have said that they do not really have an opinion or agree and disagree with some of her politics, but they could have been trying to avoid the subject altogether.
When you speak with someone from either point of view, you can tell right away how enraged or happy she can make her citizens. From what I can see since having spoken with friends who live in different home-stays is elderly women, young, single professionals, and families with young and old children for the most part they oppose President Kirchner. On the other hand, my host family would be considered “kirchneristas,” because they are in agreement with the president’s policies and have a very high opinion of her. My experience has been that almost every Argentine you meet will be more than willing to share their political opinions with you. I love getting to hear all sides of the political spectrum, not only because my major is international relations, but because it is fascinating to hear so many diverse opinions from real people who live under this government. Personally, I prefer to stay in the middle because I do not feel that being here for only four months is a sufficient amount of time to know all of the facts of the matter and accurately form a solid opinion.
President Kirchner, who has two more years left of her second term, is seen as a controversial figure both inside and outside of Argentina. She has recently been very outspoken in regard to her position and hard feelings toward the American financial firms who were involved with the country’s huge loan default and the Supreme Court of New York’s unfavorable decision.
Pres. Kirchner has also strengthened her government’s relations in recent years with the governments of Venezuela and Cuba, two countries with whom the United States has complicated bilateral relations with in regard to their human rights abuses and political corruption. If you were to set a relationship status for U.S. – Argentine relations today, “it’s complicated” would be the best selection. Pres. Kirchner remains to be a hotly contested subject here, and will continue to be so until her second term as president comes to an end in 2016. Until then I will wait and see what she says and does next in her role as president.
The advice I would give to anyone coming to Argentina is this: If you want to have a long and engaging conversation, with a few swear words thrown in here and there, talk about fútbol and Cristina Kirchner, but if you want to stay on the safe side and not cause any waves, talk about the sizzling heat or the delicious empanadas you’ll find here.