To begin with, I think most people severely underestimate the effects of reverse culture shock. People who haven’t experienced it (including myself before I knew what it was) would expect the return home to be a positive experience, even a relief after being away for a while. This can be the case for some, and a short evaluation of reverse culture shock is that it widely varies per person based on their experiences abroad, their return environment, and their personal context (for a full list of conditions and more information on reverse culture shock go to http://www.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/c56075.htm ), but overall it is overlooked by those around us who haven’t had the experiences themselves. I will not speak for others on my program, although I’m sure that in some aspects we can all relate, but the return back has been far less than easy. After having such incredible experiences, it is natural to want to share them with anyone and everyone, but equally naturally, no one will be as interested in hearing as you will be in telling and that can be hard. It feels a lot like no one understands you, and in many cases, you are expected to be the same, to fit perfectly back into the hole you left vacant for a semester. But not only did your environment change while you were away, you did too. For me these realities have been especially hard to deal with. Like I said, the severity of each case of reverse culture shock will vary per person, but at least for me, as someone who was dreading the return, I’ve dealt especially with withdrawal, lack of motivation, and resistance to this culture. A criticism I have for what I have found on reverse culture shock is that as I was preparing to leave and investigating what I could expect in terms of this shock, they all lacked suggestions for a smoother reentry. In fact, their solution to readjustment was quite simply recognize that many things have changed and adjust to your new surroundings, which is far from a solution, and in fact that is only a restatement of the issue at hand. In certain settings, maybe there is little to nothing to do to ease the transition but in regards to this program, and most study abroad programs, I can think of several great examples to make this transition as easy as it can be. Since a lot of the issues are lacking an outlet for those experiences, stay in contact with the other students who were in your program and the friends you made while abroad. It can be hard to coordinate schedules with our busy lives but sitting down to reminisce on our experiences can be one of the best outlets for the struggles of reverse culture shock. A specific outlet for me has been my Spanish translation class. Although I no longer need to take Spanish classes for my major, I knew it would be a good way to stay connected to Argentina and I am translating a video from the Comisión Provincial por la Memoria as my final project. Finding something you are passionate about from your abroad experience that will help you stay connected with it post-return is crucial for a smooth return, whether that be a Spanish class, Latin American History, an activist group, research for personal or academic purposes, etc. Above all, the struggles of reverse culture shock by no means outweigh the benefits of having the experiences. The best way to think about the return is by recognizing that these changes you see and the difficulties you face only represent that your perspectives have been challenged. You can and will utilize these changes with time to bring in unique thoughts in academic settings, and broadened mindsets when facing the challenges of the world.
As a part of the human rights program with La Comisión Provincial de la Memoria, each of us had a small internship relating to one of the branches of the organization. One of these branches is the archives of la ex-Direccion de la Inteligencia de la Policía de la Provincia de Buenos Aires (the Direction of Police Intelligence of the Province of Buenos Aires), or the ex-DIPBA, which contains the thorough documentation of police vigilance and affairs between 1983 and 2000. During these post-dictatorship years, the country experienced what it calls “gatillo fácil” or “trigger happy” police violence, every case of which varies, but generally involves unnecessarily violent responses to miniscule or imaginary threats. Some, like the massacre of Wilde, include multiple casualties of completely innocent or at least untried civilians, no warning or explanation before firing, and suspiciously vague documentation of the events. Others, like the Sergio Schiavini case, in which a civilian hostage died in a shoot-out between a group of thieves and another of officers, were complicated because it remained undetermined which group, in the end, was directly responsible for the victim’s death. What nearly all of the cases have in common, however, is the minimal punishment or complete pardoning of the police officers involved. Today, the archives function as a point of reference for many of these cases, informing any investigators what information the police had at the time, what stance the media took, what organizations got involved, the kind of protests that followed, the trial details and outcome, etc. For this internship, I looked into the files for the case of Javier Omar Rojas Perez, a 23-year old rock band member who was shot at 3am in a pizzeria on July 23, 1995. Below, I have posted the English version of my report, a detailed example of a unique case of gatillo fácil.
The case of Javier Rojas Perez distinguishes itself from other cases of gatillo fácil or “trigger happy” police violence through its struggle for justice. Although police officer Diego Centurion undeniably killed Rojas Perez, due to his own classification of the act as an accident, there existed a struggle over whether to call it a case of police brutality or a tragic accident.
Javier Omar Rojas Perez, or Colo as his friends called him, was a twenty-three-year-old Chilean immigrant with long hair. With his parents, sister, and niece, he lived in Villa Bonich, a neighborhood in the district of San Martín. For six years, he had been with his girlfriend Paula and was a member of the rock band Extermino which, according to his sister, was going to film a music video in Quilmes the week before he died. However, a team member became sick and the shooting had to be postponed.
The night of July 23rd, 1995, the band was booked to play at a bar in Wilde, but due to its sudden cancellation, Javier and his friends went to a pizzeria called Kadorna. The owner had known him since he was sixteen, so the group went there to drink, eat, and discuss what they wanted to do that evening. While they were in the pizzeria, the band members heard shots fired in the street and several went outside to find out what was going on. According to Javier’s friends, there was a man running away from a small group, but when the scene had passed, they returned inside. The situation they witnessed was Juan Esteban Duarte, 23, trying to escape a gang with which he had a dispute over 20 pesos. A few blocks past the pizzeria, the members of the gang caught up and beat him to death. Shortly thereafter, the police received an anonymous call about the crime, saying that the gang members had gone into the Kadorna pizzeria immediately afterwards. In response, the department sent the sixth commission of Monte Chingolo to the area to investigate, where a taxi driver directed them to the pizzeria.
Around 3:30 in the morning, four policemen arrived at the pizzeria, which at that time held about thirty people. Among the policemen was Diego Centurion, twenty-two years of age, who normally worked administrative tasks. According to all of the witnesses, the police promptly began to remove the band members one by one from the pizzeria without explanation. Some noted that Centurion, with his gun drawn, maintained an aggressive attitude during this process, even gripping the shoulder of each person as he escorted them out. As he accompanied Javier to the door, Centurion held the gun to his head and supposedly gripped his hair as well. According to the testimony of Centurion, Javier made a suspicious movement that Centurion interpreted as an attempt to escape, leading him to fire his weapon and immediately shout that the shot “escaped me,” or was, in other words, accidental. Some of the witnesses recall the police asking them to prepare their documents when the officers entered the pizzeria, but others do not recall being asked to show anything. All those inside, friends of Javier and others, testify that Javier was completely cooperative with the police, showing no signs of resistance. His mother later reflects that due to his long hair, a stereotype often associated with gangs or delinquents, Javier was accustomed to police discrimination and being asked for his documentation, so the “suspicious movement” to which Centurion accredited his shot was most likely Javier attempting to take out his documentation. After being shot, the policemen immediately tossed Javier into the back of the police car, covered him with a jacket, and drove off without another word to the witnesses. Although confused, many of Javier’s friends said they did not do or ask anything at this point because they were afraid that the police were going to kill all of them. From the pizzeria, the police drove Javier to the Hospital Vecinal de Lanús, where he died within minutes.
The following day, Centurion remained in custody for the initial investigation into the events of the night of July 23rd.He declinied to declare before Judge Miguel Angel Navascues, as per the advice of his lawyer Nancy Romero Andino. Whatever doubt that had existed about the innocence of Javier in the Duarte homicide was dismantled that day when the police caught and obtained confessions from two of the gang members, Javier Hernan Ferreyra (sixteen) and Emilio Enrique Vásquez (fourteen), admitting full responsibility for the crime. The mother and sister learned of Javier’s death after receiving a call from the station, letting them know that “they had an accident,” a statement which left unclear the fatal nature of the crime until later that day. Javier’s father heard of his death for the first time listening to the news on the radio driving to work. This same day, the family members established relations with the organization CORREPI (Coordinator against Police and Institutional Repression), the mission of which is “to denounce and patronize all cases in which a member of the police force is accused of acts of repression or violation of human rights.” With the help of this organization and the connections that the sister and father had as journalists, Javier’s case took to the streets in the form of demonstrations and protests. In the following week, newspapers were filled with articles about the case, although the majority focused on the interpretation of the case as a tragic, complicated accident. The rhetoric of the family and friends, portrayed both in interviews and demonstrations, starkly contrasted that depiction, especially Gabriella’s (Javier’s sister), who acted as the leader in the struggle for justice and had quotes in nearly every editorial on the case. According to her and her mother, this had been no accidental act, but an act of discrimination with the intent to kill.
The police documentation contains basic information on every mobilization that there was and their methods of circulating information. Within the universities, notable organizations like la Juventud Peronista (Peronist Youth), la Unión de Juventudes por el Socialismo (the Youth Union for Socialism), and others supported the cause by creating and distributing pamphlets on the case of Javier, “trigger happy” police violence, and the details of the next mobilization. The family used the media more than any other medium and assured that there would be at least several journalists, if not also local/provincial TV stations, at every event. The first notable mobilization had already been planned by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo for the “trigger happy” violence, but when the case of Javier became publicized, the Mothers included his case details in pamphlets and banners. The next important movement was Javier’s funeral on the 31st of July, attended by four hundred people. It included a march from the station ferroviaria Federico Lacroze until the cemetery.
That same day, Centurion declared before the judge Dr. Navascues from the Judicial Department of Lomas de Zomora at ten in the morning. Centurion’s lawyer asked that the Chief of Police recognize that it had been a terrible accident and that public apology be given to the family members, then forgive Centurion of the crime given its accidental nature. This received a very negative response from the audience members, mostly friends and family of Javier. On August 1st, the judge announced that the police would have twenty days to investigate the case and sort it out internally. In the meantime, the family members continued fighting for justice through mobilizations, especially through the medium of rock concerts and protests.
On the 7th of August, the police returned to the scene of the crime to reconstruct and investigate exactly how the events unfolded. During this time, the ballistics expert confirmed the autopsy determination that the gun had been fired within 5cm of Javier’s head, a distance that the judge later said should have “assured a rapid decease”. They also reviewed the behavior of Centurion at the scene of the crime, which according to Dr. Leon Zimmerman, associated with CORREPI, explains Centurion’s “inappropriate use of his weapon”. Centurion’s lawyer Nancy Romero Andino said in contrast that his “concern was valid because it was so close to the other area in which the Duarte crime took place, and therefore dangerous.” As alluded to above with the judge’s comment, on August 22nd, 1995, the judge mandated preventative prison for Centurion, citing his dangerous and aggressive demeanor, the close proximity of the gun to Javier’s head, and new evidence which determined that it required 4 kilos of force to fire his model of pistol, an Astra 9mm, suggesting that accidentally firing would be highly improbable. After this development in the case, the rhetoric of the newspapers began to reflect a clear blame of the policeman, utilizing key phrases such as “the pistol didn’t shoot itself,” “they blame the policeman,” “it was no accident,” “they try a policeman for the assassination of a youth,” and more. Based on the evidence cited by the judge, Javier’s public defender Isabel Rey asked for nine years, charging him with “homocidio simple,” (most closely paralleled to voluntary manslaughter), documented for the first time by the ex-DIPBA on April 19th 1996.
Much later, on May 22nd 1997, they announced that the trial for the case of Javier Rojas Perez would take place on June 30th 1997 by Room III of the Chamber of Crime. Between the first announcement asking nine years for “homicidio simple” and the announcement of the trial, the family exchanged public defender Isabel Rey for Eduardo Tubio who increased the accusation to “homicidio simple con dolo eventual” (most closely paralleled to 2nd degree murder), and he asked for fifteen years. Much of the news around this time contained information about the Rojas Perez case and also that of Sergio Schiavani, a known case of “trigger happy” violence from 1991. His case, in which Schiavani was an innocent victim who died during a shooting between a group of fifteen police officers and four thieves, was tried the week before Javier’s by the same chamber. The police officers were pardoned at the end of their trial and the mothers of Sergio Schiavani and Javier often stood together and told the media to plead for justice for their sons, especially in the time leading up to the trial of the Rojas Perez case.
The oral and public trial of Centurion began at half past nine in the morning on June 30th, 1997. Outside the tribunals, the family and friends of Javier and CORREPI organized a demonstration, attended by around sixty people and several journalists and newscasters. Among the witnesses, there were twelve friends of Javier’s, including the owner of the pizzeria Kadorna, a principal and agent of the commission of Monte Chingolo, and a ballistics expert. The argument for Javier’s side focused on the dangerous conduct of Centurion and the inappropriate use of his weapon, which according to regulation should only have been drawn when there was an immediate threat and should always have been pointed at the chest, never toward the head. On the other side, Centurion argued that he normally did administrative work and his practice with a firearm before that moment consisted of fifteen practice shorts during his training. What won over the judge in the end was the evidence proposed by the ballistics expert, that in such high-tension circumstances, it was possible that less pressure was necessary to fire the pistol and, therefore, it was possible that he could have fired accidentally. With that opinion in mind, the judge took the side of Centurion and on July 3rd at the reading of his verdict, Centurion was found guilty of “homicidio culposo” the United States equivalent of manslaughter. Since he was held in preventative prison for two years, Centurion was allowed to remain in freedom. The audience received this verdict very poorly, forcing the judges and Centurion to be escorted out quickly through a back door as many women in the room yelled insults such as “assassinators,” “trash,” “for how long will you continue killing our children,” and “will they have to kill one of your children to know the pain of losing a child?” To a newspaper group, Página 12, Javier’s sister Gabriela Rojas Perez commented following the reading of the verdict, “From this moment forward, every death by the hands of the police will be also the responsibility of those judges. This Chamber is as much an assassin as Centurion.”
If you like coffee, herbal tea, and all things bitter, mate (pronounced mah-tay) may be your next greatest find. Like many teas, mate is served with hot water, although rather than having a tea bag, water is added directly to the yerba (directly translating to herbs) within the mate. To then drink the mate without taking in the yerba, you use a bombilla – a straw with a filter at its base.
Mate is certainly not for beginners in the field of bitterness, however. Before coming to Argentina, I had no taste for any of the above mentioned drinks and my first experience with mate, mildly put, caused me to cringe from its strength. As an integral cultural tradition, I have had mate almost every day in a variety of settings, allowing me to grow accustomed and even appreciate its distinct flavor.
Normally, mate is a social experience in which the server fills and drinks the first mate, then refills it and passes it to the next person, after which they pass it back to the server, they refill it, pass it to the next person and so on. As possibly the most universal tradition of Argentina, there is almost no setting in which you would not drink mate, explaining the widespread presence of hot water dispensers. In a home setting, mate is a common drink to share with family or guests, and with the use of a termo (thermos), mate is also shared among coworkers and bosses in a work setting, students and professors in a university setting, or individually almost anywhere.
The atmosphere of intimacy and sharing demonstrated in the tradition of mate is a motif within the Argentine culture. The tradition of greeting all persons in a given space with a kiss upon arrival and before departure, including your first encounter with a person, is another key expression of the friendly and relationship-focused Argentine society. Undeniably distinct from the U.S. tendency to individualize and personalize, such communal practices require some adjusting but are nonetheless some of my favorite parts of the Argentine culture.
On March 24th, 1976, a military coup successfully overthrew and replaced the civilian government of Argentina, marking the beginning of a seven-year military regime. Today, like every March 24th since the return of the civilian government, a march through La Plaza de Mayo commemorated the anniversary (this being the 40th) of a regime filled with violence and repression. The story told here by the streets reminds us of the systematic kidnapping, torturing, and assassination of any and all political opponents of the regime, with an estimated total of 30,000 people “disappeared” by the regime.
Remembering this not-so-secretive violence raises many important questions about the conditions under which the military was able to take power. At the time of the coup, a similar concern for violent oppression that united us today at the march inspired the military take-over in 1976. High levels of internal violence led by the far-left was directed towards certain political figures, business leaders, and, if they got in the way, civilians via kidnapping for ransom, assassinations, riots, and destruction of property. In this light, the military justified its culture of fear as the only way to eradicate the chaos and restore the country to peace. While today we especially remember the undeniably excessive violence used to squash all opposition (whether violent or peaceful, regardless of age, and often enough without direct connection to the opposing parties), we must not forget either how it came to be. On March 24th, 2016, we remember not just the 40th anniversary of violence and oppression, but centuries of it, and now loudly as one voice, we declare ¡Nunca más! to dictatorship,
to governments built on fear,
to the inhibition of democracy,
and to turning a blind eye to violations of human rights.
To my fellow direction-impaired readers, I am proud to say that I am successfully learning how to navigate the city of La Plata after three weeks of very creative (and not so efficient) routes. Luckily for us, La Plata is on a grid system, meaning that all of the streets are numbered and go in chronological order. The creativity of navigation comes in when you hit a wonderful road called a diagonal that cuts through the streets, reducing the number of blocks it takes to get from A to B if you know which one to take. Every once in a while a plaza interrupts a street or diagonal, which is great for those who prefer to get around by identifying land marks rather than street numbers, and they are generally nice to walk through. These plazas are effectively very large roundabouts with several streets and sometimes a diagonal running around them, making them probably the most difficult part about navigating the city. In spite of this, the people of La Plata are incredibly friendly and if I am ever unsure about what street I need to turn onto (or even what street I’m on since many are unlabeled) anyone on the street is willing to help. In fact, several times while walking with other William and Mary La Plata students, clearly debating where to turn, people on the streets have stopped and asked us where we needed to go without prompting and kindly pointed us in the right direction. The friendliness of most people also extends beyond appearing helpless or lost. More than once while we’ve been walking to our various homes, we’ve encountered complete strangers walking in the same direction who started a conversation with us. People have often been intrigued by our roots in the U.S. and so far, reactions have varied from giving very useful information about the city to starting a political conversation about the implications of President Obama’s visit on March 24th. In all cases, though, I have felt overwhelmingly welcome as a newcomer in the city.
La Plata is a fairly big city as the capital of the Province of Buenos Aires (the equivalent of a state in the U.S.), but nowhere near the size of Buenos Aires, the country’s capital city. So far, I have only visited once, but in those 14 hours we covered enough ground for me to give a sizeable synopsis. The streets are slightly harder to navigate than La Plata since they are named for important dates, people, and other countries, but it does make giving or receiving directions more amusing. Should someone ask how to get to Honduras while in Buenos Aires, you will now know that this person is not hopelessly lost. On the Sunday that we went as a William and Mary group, the city streets were bustling, especially in the plazas packed tightly with street vendors, tango dancers, and lively people. Much like the United States, Argentina is a country of immigrants, and the physical manifestations of its roots and history stand tall in the form of architecture. La Boca, located in the south eastern part of Buenos Aires, was a typical destination for new immigrants and therefore was one of the more humble areas. For this reason, many families could not afford to buy enough paint to cover their houses at one time and would pick up where they left off with another color when they acquired more paint, leading to the vivid multi-colored buildings that line the streets today. As a Catholic country, there are an abundance of historic Cathedrals demonstrating the many European influences on the country, from Spanish to Italian to Greek. Other buildings, such as La Casa Rosada, embody not only the influence of founding cultures, but also Argentine history itself. Created as a Spanish fort in the beginning of Argentina’s colonial history, the modern-day Casa Rosada is the capital building, and as such, has seen many of the country’s most important events. From political coups to historic protests such as Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, this building and its surrounding plaza hold some of the most sensitive and memorable stories of Argentina’s past.
Special thanks to our tour guide Nacho who provided all information about the architectural history of the city.
Mar del Plata, about four to five hours south of La Plata, is an interesting combination of La Plata, Buenos Aires, and its own beach city spunk. The city is slightly larger than La Plata in population, making it no small town, and is a large tourist destination, especially during the summer months (December-February). Like Buenos Aires, the streets are named for important figures and dates in Argentine and South American history, but the combination of maps and friendly locals made getting around a breeze. The city emits a very energized and upbeat vibe, especially in its plazas and beaches. Among grass and tree lined paths, there are statues, street vendors, and even expressions of modern art. Especially in the south, around this time the weather begins to turn from summer to fall, making the beach much less crowded than in its peak season, but nevertheless full of life. As one of the last definitively nice-weathered weekends, the water was still swimmable but the most common beach activity other than swimming, and really the most common activity no matter where you go, is a game of soccer. Even I, having never played on a soccer team or formally learned the game, thoroughly enjoyed running up and down the beach and occasionally into the water while chasing after our borrowed ball. On top of being incredible exercise, the game is a great way to make all kinds of friends, some invited like our Argentinian friends at the hostel, others like the beach dog who inserted himself into the game (and played a major role in scoring both teams’ only goals). Whether you are dancing down the beach by moonlight or watching the sun rise over the ocean in the early morning, the positively carefree attitude of Mar del Plata surrounds you, leaving absolute contentment, hilarious pictures, and good memories in its wake.
As I stepped off the plane wearing thick pants and carrying my winter coat, I quickly realized how obsolete my winter clothes would be here, at least for a while. The immense heat was the first obvious difference I encountered between the United States and Argentina, one of many I’ve come across in my first week. After making it through the long immigration lines and the taxi ride from Buenos Aires to La Plata, I finally met my host family, whom I will be living with for the next five months. Of the three host families this semester, the Bacci house is the liveliest by far. Although the only true residents are Eliana and her children Fransisca and Isidro, there are always at least five family members here, not including my roommate and myself. Most of the time there are even more than that around. Throughout the day, we have an open door and many family members and friends pop in to chat over a mate (a very bitter tea that is common to share in a group setting). Many nights, the entire family convenes here for dinner, including any combination of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, family friends, and any other familial connection you can think of. Since everything is later here, these gatherings normally start in the evening to begin preparing dinner, which is served sometime between 10pm and 12am. It’s always noisy from loud conversation and laughter, and there is most certainly never a dull moment in this house If I’m not getting pulled into the pool, then I’m learning to make homemade sushi by candlelight because the power is out. The most interesting part of these gatherings is getting to talk with each person and hear their stories, many of them lighthearted and focused on topics such as recent soccer games or general gossip, but others much deeper, dealing with the country’s dark and recent experience with dictatorship. For many Argentine families at the time, the dictatorship pierced permanent holes in the lives of its citizens with the frequent disappearance, torture, and assassination of leftist sympathizers. Other families, such as the one I am staying with, were forced into exile to flee the political violence. What lightens this dark topic is to see that 33 years later, the country is still so alive and bubbly in spite of its gruesome past. The society has been able to recover and move forward while remembering very clearly the events that took place in their country. My host family is always friendly and open to talking about their history, however solemn they may be. Already, from the huge support system I have in the family, as well as their welcoming and patient attitude, I feel like I have found a second home.
Thanks for reading my blog (: I’m so excited to share my experiences here with you all! I’m sure that I will have so many things to say that this amount of space will hardly be enough to hit all the points I want to. For that reason, if you have any questions about one of the topics, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to expand on what I have in my blog.
– Emily Katherine Earls
The main photo shows one of the many Universidad Nacional de La Plata buildings. This particular photo along with more information about the University can be found at http://www.unlp.edu.ar/portal_web.