Before the advent of the nineteenth century, Argentina, like the rest of the Latin American region, had been under the rule of Spain. As such, its people had no clear cultural identification that would clearly pronounce their difference from their long-term colonizers (Chasteen and Wood 106). As a result of the colonization, many Europeans made permanent settlements in different areas in Buenos Aires and the rest of the country. One of the country’s most well known foreign-dominated communities is a settlement near the Riachuelo River, known as La Boca, of predominantly Italian residents1.
When Argentina gained independence in 1816, social conflicts arising from racial and cultural differences were aplenty. La Boca’s neighborhood exhibited this kind of struggle. Conflict in the community existed between the middle-class Italians and the underclass mestizo tenants of houses owned by the immigrants2. The Europeans were protective of their cultural identity and viewed the influx of a large underclass a threat to their heritage. When football became a popular culture in the country in the early twentieth century, the community gave rise to one of its own, the Club Atletico Boca Juniors3.
This paper will explore how Club Atletico Boca Juniors succeeded in promoting unity and cultural identity within a divided community during Argentina’s search for a unifying, national identity that would eliminate social conflicts before the 1930s economic depression.
1. Emanuela Guano, “A Stroll Through la Boca: The Politics and Poetics of Spatial Experience in a Buenos Aires. ” Space & Culture Vol. 6 2003): 356. 2. Ibid. 357 3. Vic Duke and Liz Crolley, “Futbol, Politicians and the People: Populism and Politics in Argentina.
” International Journal of the History of Sport Vol. 18 (2001): 97 2 La Boca and the Class Struggle Within La Boca, one of the barrios or neighborhood in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, is celebrated for its strong Italian heritage particularly the immigrants’ passion for arts, work ethics, and family traditions and values4. When you hear of these characteristics describing Italians, what comes to mind is a romanticized vision of a quaint neighborhood with smiling people and the smell of food permeating the air.
One wouldn’t imagine an ugly part of the picture. Indeed, when you walk through La Boca, you will see structures three story high and tall sidewalks made to protect the houses from the Riachuelo River floods. The smell of pastry and bread interspersed with the smell of sewage from the river5. What a newcomer wouldn’t know is how the middle-class Italian-Argentine resented the presence of a large group of mestizos in the area, who were poor and often from the rural areas and other countries, seeking better fortune in Buenos Aires, which was then a city with booming trade6.
For the large part, the immigrants distrusted these newcomers, owing to their darker coloring and uncultured ways. The immigrants believed that they pose a threat to La Boca’s Italian identity. Often, the migrants were the subjects of unrelenting discrimination. The boquenses, as these middle-class Italians were called, created ways to define their heritage to draw the line among those who belong and those who do not. One example of which is the boquenses’ characterization of the Italian-Argentine residents as the hardworking, honest lot, while the newcomers were delegated as being the lawless mestizos (Guano 362).
______________ 4. Emanuela Guano, “A Stroll Through la Boca: The Politics and Poetics of Spatial Experience in a Buenos Aires. ” Space & Culture Vol. 6 (2003): 356. 5. Ibid. 360. 6. J. A. Mangan, “The Early Evolution of Modern Sport in Latin America: A Mainly English Middle-Class Inspiration? ” International Journal of the History of Sport Vol. 18 (2001): 21. 3 In the later years, the children of these immigrants strove for assimilation in the society. Instead of just being immigrants, they wanted to become full Argentines.
Although the electoral process was modified to grant them Argentine status, they were still basically outsiders7. This is one of the struggles that the community’s soccer club was able to overcome. The Advent of Soccer and the Search for a National Identity in Argentina To understand better the social conflict in La Boca, it is important to understand how this kind of class division existed in Buenos Aires and all throughout Argentina; and how the nation as a whole found a common anchor not through any political means, but by what started to be a European form of entertainment.
The nineteenth century Latin America was a region of class conflict, diplomatic turmoil, capitalist exploitation, social inequality and political paranoia (Mangan 35). Great Britain was the primary force in Latin America, taking the place of Spain and Portugal but in a different manner. The Britons were no colonizers to these races. Instead, it forged a strong economic relationship with the region. Argentina at that time had a booming enterprise comparable to those of Australia, Canada and the United States (Mangan 12). As a result of Britain and Argentina’s economic ties, some Englishmen settled in the country.
To keep their ties to their motherland, the English started playing their own sports with no other major purpose than for their own enjoyment. Generally, the Britons kept to themselves. It was only during sports activities that they were in close cultural and social contact ______________ 7. Matthew B. Karush, “National Identity in the Sports Pages: Football and the Mass Media in 1920s. ” Academy of American Franciscan History Vol. 60 (2003): 12. 4 with the Argentines. The establishment of English sports in Argentina, in the long run, had significant cultural outcome (Mangan 13).
Argentine soccer had its beginnings in 1867 when the Buenos Aires Football Club was established by Thomas and James Hogg whose father was from Yorkshire, England. The association had its first game in June 20 of the same year, with all the players being British. The Argentine Football Club was founded in 1893, with Alexander Watson Hutton being its first president, later dubbed as the Father of Argentine Soccer (Mangan 26). Boca Junior was formed in 1905 and has held up until the present its base in the Italian barrio of La Boca alongside the port in Buenos Aires (Duke and Crolley 97).
Of all the sports that were introduced in Argentina, it was football that captured the heart of the masses. It gave them the chance to forget their troubles and create opportunities for pleasure and illusion8. In the early years of the sport, there two kinds of associations. One was the all-English clubs that value sportsmanship and fair play, while the other was comprised of local players who played to win. While the English clubs practiced in schools, the other teams practiced in the streets and on wide stretches of vacant lands. This disparity in their learning is perhaps what created the difference in how they play9.
During the 1920s, a new distinctive, urban culture in Buenos Aires emerged. Football and tango transformed into the highest representations of being Argentinidad (Karush 11). Football was seen by the government as the unifying force to create homogeneity among the Argentine masses and the foreign-born working class who, despite their assimilation in the ______________ 8. J. A. Mangan, “The Early Evolution of Modern Sport in Latin America: A Mainly English Middle-Class Inspiration? ” International Journal of the History of Sport Vol. 18 (2001): 35. 9.
Vic Duke and Liz Crolley, “Futbol, Politicians and the People: Populism and Politics in Argentina. ” International Journal of the History of Sport Vol. 18 (2001): 97 5 society, often found themselves not fully belonging. Though football started as a popular culture, it later turned into a stepping-stone for the process of hegemonic nation building10. How Boca Juniors Affected La Boca The national identity images advocated by the new mass culture in the 1920s did not necessarily made Argentina’s population with differing interests turn into a harmonious community11.
But at least in La Boca, the Italian immigrants found something in common with the migrant mestizos. Where once there were distinct boundaries established between the classes, that division did not manifest in the sports club. For once, the Boca Juniors association represented the community as a whole. The sport, being of English origin, made Italians and non-Italians both outsiders, thus fostering a common bond between them. More importantly, the club provided the younger immigrants a chance to fully assimilate in the Argentine society, without being differentiated.
Boca Juniors was not about the diversity in the community, but rather about the community as a whole. Boca Junior became the center of sporting, political and social aspects of the barrio where it was based. It came to represent the community and helped the children of the immigrant population get integrated into mainstream Argentine society (Duke and Crolley 97). The club after rejecting any other name, chose Boca to express the strong affinity they have with their neighborhood. Boca, literally means, mouth of the river. Juniors, on the other hand, showed that
10. Matthew B. Karush, “National Identity in the Sports Pages: Football and the Mass Media in 1920s. ” Academy of American Franciscan History Vol. 60 (2003): 12. 11. Ibid. 32 6 they consider themselves children of the barrio. In short, the Boca Juniors stand for Children of the La Boca neighborhood, dispelling any cultural classification between the middle class Italian immigrants and the lower class rural folks. But not only was Boca Junior a unifying force for its local community, it also established Argentina’s reputation in the world sporting community.
The turning point in the country’s recognition as a football great came in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam when Boca Juniors won a silver12. Before that, Boca Juniors in 1925 made the famous tour of Europe that served as a foundation of Argentina’s reputation in the football field. The team had a goal — to show that they could play without too much violent contact, and at the same time win. Boca Juniors showed and astonished Europeans with their elegant and fluid movements, total control of the ball, masterful dribbling and the acrobatic, spectacular and artistic movements13.
The Argentine football players proved that despite having a reputation of playing to win, it was possible to play and win the game using less physical strength and continuity (Karush 6). 2. Archetti, Eduardo P. “In search of national identity: Argentinian football and Europe. ” International Journal of the History of Sport Vol. 12 (1995): 205 13. Ibid. Works Cited Archetti, Eduardo P. “In search of national identity: Argentinian football and Europe. ” International Journal of the History of Sport Vol. 12(1995): 2, 201 – 219. 9 November 2007 <http://dx.
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