Monday, August 25, 2008

Uruguay's and Argentina's Tango Over Tango

The BBC recently had a really fascinating story about Uruguay, Argentina, and a brewing battle over Carlos Gardel. For those unfamiliar, Gardel is basically the patron saint of all tango. He was absolutely huge throughout Latin America and Europe.

Argentina has always claimed Gardel as their own, and he's definitely part of the secular holy trinity of Argentina (along with Evita and Maradona). However, the story of his early years is muddy at best; there is evidence to support his birth in France, but he also claimed to be born in Uruguay, and Argentina has always maintained he was born there. While there's no doubt that he lived in Argentina since his childhood, his status as a "born Argentine" is far from certain.

And therein enters the debate. Tensions are actually growing between Argentina and Uruguay over the issue of Gardel's birthplace. Uruguay's recent claims, which it (of course) says it can prove, have rustled enough feathers in Argentina that the latter wants the Uruguayan Parliament to discuss the issue.

Some can argue that it doesn't really matter where Gardel was born; what matters is his music and his legacy. However, this issue goes beyond anything most of us in the U.S. could relate to. I really disagree with how the reporter pooh-poohs Uruguay's claims as illegitimate; if anything, Argentina's claims as the actual, physical birthplace of Gardel are more unlikely than Uruguay's claims are. What is more, while there are important issues of nationalism and geopolitical differentiation going on here, the actual cultural differences between Uruguay and Argentina are nowhere near like the differences between Argentina and Brazil or the U.S. and Mexico. Still, the issue carries a fascinating severity for these two countries, and the reporter isn't far off when mentioning that Uruguay's claims are "like Canadians saying that Sinatra was not really born in Hoboken, New Jersey, but in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Or the British claiming that Edith Piaf really hailed from Basingstoke in southern England." I don't know how it will turn out, and I'm not even sure if, at the end of it all, it will matter, but it is a rather interesting manifestation of some regional rivalries and competing nationalisms in the Southern Cone, and worth checking out. (And if you don't know Gardel's music, give it a listen here - it's not for everybody, but everybody should listen to at least a little Gardel once or twice in their lives).