'Contagiosa Alegría' by Marina Monica Medina

Parque Lezama, located in the heart Buenos Aires’ oldest barrio, San Telmo, is a park whose history has been tied up with the City’s immigrant history. From the site of Buenos Aires’ first failed founding (widely believed by historians to have been on the park’s Eastern barranca) to the present day, this charming porteño neighborhood, characterized by cobblestones, tango, and Sunday markets, has housed Argentina’s most recent newcomers for over two centuries now. And in an age where politicians across the globe have taken steps to build walls rather than break them down, the inclusive community that constitutes San Telmo is an example of just how gorgeous a vibrant cultural stew can be.

The plot of land that ended up becoming Parque Lezama, for example, was at one time owned by a number of Anglo-Argentines. Later, after it passed to José Gregario Lezama, Belgian landscaper Charles Veerecke worked on the grounds, planting the tipas and jacarandas that would become emblematic of Buenos Aires. And following the park’s sale to the city by Lezama’s widow, the renowned French-Argentine Carlos Thays, famous for designing the Botanical Gardens, remodeled it.

View from Parque Lezama looking North towards the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.
View from Parque Lezama looking North towards the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.

 

Today, the connection with immigrants is still visible, and includes the park’s surroundings. Visitors can view a stunning Russian Orthodox Church that was inaugurated across the street from Parque Lezama in 1901 (Brasil 315). A landmark that’s just as old is the famous Bar Británico, originally opened at the beginning of the 20th century as a pulpería, or general store, the kind you could have found in the U.S. during its ‘Wild West’ days. The bar received its current name in 1928, when it was frequented by British men who were working on the Argentine railroads. Still popular with expats today, it is located on the corner of Brasil and Defensa — at mere steps from the entrance to the park (Brasil 399).

Considering the international influence that went into creating and designing the park, ‘Transparesencia,’ a photo series honoring Buenos Aires’ immigrant heritage and cultural diversity, could not be exhibited in a better place. A humble offering that seeks to capture essence of humanity, ‘Transparesencia’ can be seen in a few minutes. In the photographs submitted by various artists, one is able to see what immigrants, as humans, have in common — and among these commonalities figure a very human love for music, dance, dress, and even cell phones. By celebrating the ‘mosaic of identities’ that constitute Argentina’s largest city, the porteño government has sent a strong message about the importance of plurality and diversity in Buenos Aires — a sharp rebuke to proponents of isolationism and xenophobia.

‘Transparesencia’ will be on display in the entrance to Parque Lezama located on Brasil and Defensa from now until January ninth. The exhibit — totally free — consists of 26 selected photographs, that after being displayed in Buenos Aires, will be shown in both private and public spaces around the country.