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BUENOS AIRES—“De donde sos?” What?
It was June 1, and I’d just been dropped into the center of Buenos Aires. I spoke Spanish, but I’ll admit, I didn’t speak much. All the same, this was something different.
At first, host family conversations consisted of tired eyes and vacant smiles until slowly the words started to make sense. Helpful gestures graduated to loving laughs and then to serious warnings.
You’re going out to a concert? Where? Oh, in that neighborhood? Yes, call a cab and watch your back. It did not come as a surprise that iPhones should never be shown in streets where the stoves operate with the help of matches and sometimes the elevators do not work,
All this time a clearer notion of the U.S. arose like an oasis. Security and safety, it seems, had been things I took for granted. Diversity was not, and so the difference hit me hard…
But as did my own ignorance when I learned about many Argentine atrocities of the late 20th century. Over a delicious steak dinner, classmates and I discussed how little we knew, and the limits of what we had learned. Left and right in Buenos Aires, people talk about politics. An American is more likely to know who plays quarterback for the New England Patriots than who quarterbacks the State Department (that’s John Kerry, folks).
After two months, I returned to the U.S., showing not joy or sorrow, for I felt neither. I returned a girl (who now speaks Spanish!), a student, and also an American…just as I had left. But now when someone asks me where I’m from, I will understand my answer, at least a little bit more fully.
Zoe A. Kessler ’17 is a Crimson arts editor in Cabot House.
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