Traveling to new places, I typically dedicate time to researching the culture, a bit of the history, any must-see places or, more importantly, must-eat foods. For my travel to Buenos Aires, and my first time in South America, I dedicated zero time seeking information and my baseline knowledge was little to none. This led to one truly embarrassing moment, perhaps top five in my life. Now, I share this with you because I need to confess to someone and I feel that this is a safe space.
The story goes…
The Recoleta cemetery was established in November 1822, becoming the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires, and the most relevant historical and artistic monument of the country. While visiting Cementerio Recoleta, the most iconic and visited destination in Buenos Aires, I arrived without a plan nor prior familiarity of its existence. The sprawling cemetery comprises of 4,800 vaults across 54,800 square meters, and I could only imagine the fascinating stories and history each one must hold.
At this point, I was craving knowledge and willing to pay, but to my disappointment no tour guides were available on-site. I saw several guides walking around with groups large and small, but I assume they arranged these well beforehand. To top it off, it was my last day in Buenos Aires so I was determined to make the most of it. I devised a plan, like any good traveler has done in his or her time, I’m sure.
My initial tactic was to tag along with the largest group, as to blend in easier. This didn’t work well since the large crowd and talkative tourists made it hard to hear. I couldn’t get closer to the guide without giving myself away and asking others to pipe down would have also been ill-advised. My next approach was to follow a guide leading two people. Again, painfully obvious. I would turn my back to them and take pictures of the surrounding grave sites while he spoke about something else. During this time, I could gather small pieces of information, for instance, the cemetery was not exclusive to a specific religion, but reserved for the high society of Argentina. The hardest part was not asking follow up questions…until I did.
Several groups gathered and a line was formed down a small aisle in a non-discrete area of the cemetery. I stood behind a guide and the American couple he was showing around. As we moved closer to the site, I listened to the conversations around me, trying to understand what it was I was about to see. I knew there were a few famous locations in the cemetery, but could not tell you who or where. No direct answers were given by any of the tour guides who only spoke about her body being stolen, how it was buried here years later, and how important it was to her family and the community that she was returned. “Who was she?” I thought to myself.
“Excuse me?” the tour guide replied.
I guess I had said that out loud. “You don’t know Evita?” he responded to my silence. I apologized for offending him with my ignorance. The American couple laughed, asked if I’ve seen the movie with Madonna, to which I replied no, then they gave up and told me to Wikipedia it. I stood there, an outcast, still with zero answers to what I thought was a simple question.
“I didn’t mean to be rude, I’m just so shocked you don’t know,” the tour guide said to me with as much sass as my 13-year-old cousin. Then he walked away.
I immediately Googled Eva Peron and before I could finish reading the first paragraph I was overcome by a mixture of sensations–regret for speaking my question into the universe, understanding for why the Argentinian man was insulted, and a zealous demand to know more. After binging websites and YouTube videos, here’s a summary of what I’ve learned and why I’m now infatuated by a woman I previously could tell you nothing about:
Eva Duarte Peron, or Evita as she was known, was a famous radio actress, married to President Juan Peron, raised in poverty and ultimately became a powerful figure of Argentina. As the First Lady, she was active in Argentina’s government, serving as Minister of Health and Minister of Labor. She was charitable and a feminist, passionate about giving back to the poor and empowering women. She was progressive in the areas of suffrage, healthcare, and education.
Evita planned to run for Vice President during the next term, but tragically she became ill with cancer and died in 1952. Her legacy lives on, but clearly not in any history books I’ve read, or documentaries I’ve watched. I’ll look forward to learning more about Evita and building upon my new foundation of knowledge for Argentina.
If you’d like to admit you’ve also never heard of Evita prior to reading this post, please do so in the comments below. If you’d like to ridicule my lack of general awareness and understanding, I also give you permission. Be gentle.