By: Adam Eckstein '16
My name is Adam Eckstein and I am a junior at Johns Hopkins and a second-year member of the FAS Development Committee. I am currently studying in Buenos Aires, where I chose to spend the semester because I wanted to experience life in a Latin American city with a unique and vibrant culture. In Argentina I am also able to study Spanish, history and, most importantly for me, learn about politics from a new perspective. Having obtained a basic understanding of Latin American politics and history at Hopkins, I knew that Argentina would be a fascinating place to study these topics. What I underestimated, however, was the fundamental role that economic and political issues of past and present play in the everyday consciousness of Argentines, and particularly of Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires).
Though I have been in this country for only two months, I have come to realize the enormous differences between the way that I (from an American perspective), and Argentines are accustomed to approaching political discourse. Over the last sixty or seventy years, since the rise and fall of the Peronist movement, Argentina has gone through an extremely turbulent period. Constant military intervention, flip-flopping between liberalism and protectionism, and political corruption have created a truly volatile political and economic climate. Betrayal of labor interests, egregious human rights violations of the 1970s and 1980s military dictatorship, and horrible mismanagement of neoliberal reform in the 1990s, among other irreversible miscues, have caused utter mistrust of the government, political institutions and of authority in general.
Studying Argentina while living in Buenos Aires has been fascinating. I have become acutely aware of peoples’ opinions and the extent to which they are shaped by this history of perceived betrayal and subsequent mistrust. The fundamental lack of stability caused by this history has taught me a lot about how I can and should approach political discourse. If I were born in 1993 in Argentina, I would have grown up hearing my parents’ stories of their friends and classmates being kidnapped and murdered by the military government. I would distinctly remember the massive default and recession of 2001-2002 when unemployment was four times its historical average and poverty reached nearly half of the country while a new elite class grew out of neoliberal reform. These events would be a part of me and would be embedded in my thoughts and opinions. The same is true in countries across the world.
I am humbled by my opportunity to study abroad and for the perspective I have begun to gain from it. While I may never fully understand how my 21-year old Argentine contemporaries view domestic and international politics, I have a far greater understanding of the importance of context in stimulating productive discourse. Empathy is not always possible, but we must try if we ever hope to promote productive discourse.