One of every three citizens of our country lives in the suburbs, although the collection is not distributed with that logic. What do we mean by “conurbation”? Who goes by the Pan-American, hand to capital, still in the district of San Isidro, runs into a poster that advertises “Conurbano: land of opportunities” and the face of a man. He is not the host of a bingo casino lost in the cinematic Wild West of an American movie, although the aesthetics suggest it. If we manage to see the logo of the (cable) channel, we guess that he is the host of a program; and if we are more aware of the political sphere, we recognize the mayor of the Tres de Febrero party, Diego Valenzuela. Like any concept, the “conurbano” is also a battlefield. An elitist right-wing conception was opposed by another popular essentialist one that it sought to preserve; but there is another suburb where development and political creativity make a difference.
The first and already installed way of thinking about it is the one that assumes it as ballast, typical of the classic conservative sectors. A bag of sand-counterweight that delays and slows down the ascent of a hot air balloon towards the white progress of a Western society. We are not what we could be because we have this mooring at our feet, this bottleneck, they shout out there. While in the suburbs sewer works are celebrated, here in the center of progress we make bike lanes, the babble continues. This old nineteenth-century idea, which corresponded more to precise historical and epistemological conditions than to real data, far from disappearing, was installed and expanded until today.
The image of the suburbs that is built through hegemonic discourses does not come out of Buenos Aires rock, paper or scissors: drugs, insecurity and poverty. I am going to misquote the Algerian sociologist María José Mondzain when she says that the violence of an image is not given by its content but by what it does to thought. The reduction of 1 out of 3 Argentines to just one image is functional to a reaction with identical and opposite intentions. And when a life form is attacked, it instinctively calls for resistance.
If we came from the ungovernable and they are barbarism itself, we move on to the governable barbarism and the barons are fine and necessary instruments of municipal caudillismo. According to this other way of conceiving it, there is knowledge that eludes both conservatives and progressives: they manage the territory, there is knowledge that you do not know, your books are burned here, and so are set phrases. No truth is absolute, but the intentionality that underlies this positive conception is none other than static, not moving is the task, to monitor and conserve.
I am going to misquote the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro when he says all pride confesses shame and all shame demands its payment. The essentialist position that claims “the conurbano” in identity terms in opposition to “the porteño” carries the danger of its own impotence: we ask for recognition, even with humor and self-parody -Peter Capusotto through- and we enable through an aesthetic / political costumbrista its crystallization. A carved wooden boat inside a bottle, exposed in a safe place so it doesn’t break.
Beyond the fact that, in general terms, these two ways of thinking about the suburbs are opposed on the political surface, they work with a regime of knowledge that assumes a certain essentiality: “this is not” vs. “that is”. Without real contradiction, what remains is a game of affirmations: in the suburbs there are the votes of the poor, backwardness, that which should not be there but is; In the suburbs is what we are, our essence, the clay and to model it, certain hands and tricks are needed. But in addition to those claims, and contradicting any inertia, there is another way of thinking about it. Political creativity does not have to leave Buenos Aires. In fact, it is incredible that after 15 years of systematically voting to the right, there is still an attempt to support the idea of ”the progressive city.” In contrast, in that supposed “speed bump of little shore lights” shines the political base of the most emancipatory project with a real vocation for power in our country since the first Peronism.
The poster of the new Larry King of Tres de Febrero, not his program, is an index of the exhaustion of the paradigm that the right itself knew how to forge. The program itself (which is made up of two interviews conducted by the mayor: the first with a famous person and the second with someone “on the street”) maintains, although it tries to overcome it, the first conception we were talking about. There are opportunities, it seems to say, and here we show them to you. All the life stories that are told are successful and individual. Overcoming, always meritocratic, can be economic (small entrepreneurs who became businessmen) or artistic (from Morón to Colón). Pioneering and family tradition, thus denying, for example, that cultural capital is also capital and is inherited.
Contrary to any cynical mantra of a tired political scientist, as an undeniable hard core of Christian votes, the suburbs not only expresses the limitations of our society but today treasures the possibilities of overcoming them. I am going to misquote Boris Groys when he says that only what is intrinsically contradictory can be considered alive and viable. Nothing that Valenzuela proposes with his program modifies or contradicts the universe of meanings of the first conservative paradigm; of which, in addition, it is a constituent part and promoter. From being or not being to being or being. There, in that same physical and symbolic territory in dispute today there are 15 national universities producing situated knowledge; the municipality of Hurlingham -under the management of Damián Selci- has just recognized with an extra payment the care tasks for all municipal workers, a measure that has no precedent; and the province is governed by a leader who also contradicts the inertia of the second paradigm. The suburbs is the most progressive place in Argentina because there are the votes of the most progressive figure, Cristina. A hypothesis: it is not the neck, it is the bottle that should be released.
* Gabriel Cortiñas is a poet and teacher (UNA).