A View From Argentina

Sarita Alvarez Sanguedolce, MD, Psychiatrist.

Member of the research project "Genetic Factors in Human Diseases"

National University in Tucuman

Student of Logotherapy

How daunting and charming is this thrilling challenge of speaking about my beloved Argentina, the Argentineans and Dr. Frankl! At the very beginning of this invitation a struggle began within my mind and my heart, where my memories and wishes clash while reflecting about my Country and countrymen. You see, as life itself, they are full of contrasts, and it’s hard to simplify in words the mixture that brings to life a most unique way of being. It is, however, worth a try.

Argentina is a country of contrasts, even in its’ landscapes: magnificent waterfalls, breathtaking mountains, wild coastlines, endless pastures, arid deserts, exuberant jungles, Antarctic cold, subtropical heat, ancient glaciers, modern buildings, lonely villages, crowded cities...

We began to exist as a country about 200 years ago. Actually, we had two births: May 25th, 1810 when the first local government was created, and July 9th, 1816, when we declared our independency from Spain. During the early years, a huge portion of native inhabitants were killed and many immigrants came from Europe -mostly from Spain and Italy- and Middle-Eastern countries. More recently, there was another important immigration trend, where people from other Latin American countries -mainly southern South America as well as some from Africa and Asia. They all arrived searching for better working opportunities - adding new challenges and richness into our melting pot (“crisol de razas”).

Surely, a deep and thorough sociological description is beyond my limits, but what I do know is that during these two centuries we have had many struggles and we still have a long way to go until we reach our full potential. We’ve been exercising our democratic government without interruption since 1983, and since then we’ve been divided in reviewing our past (often times in a biased way) and struggling with serious economic and corruption difficulties that hinder our present and future.

Argentineans are very passionate (you can check this undoubtedly at soccer world cups!) and warm people, and we love gathering with family and friends. We even have a national day to celebrate friendship! Moreover, one of our traditional drinks, the mate, is best enjoyed if it’s shared in a circle of friends, whether they are lifelong acquaintances or strangers that just met.

There are two big different realities in Argentina: that of the big cities -mainly, Buenos Aires-, and that of the “interior”, the rest of the country, especially those smaller towns and villages scattered among endless fields of diverse crops and cattle. I have lived in both.

The first ones have every challenge a big city faces: individualism, a fast-paced way of living, bewilderment, excess of artificial things and lack of natural ones, tougher hardships in building strong families, plenty of opportunities to grow professionally, abundant recreational offers… you name it. The running that the big city’s rhythm impose to most people, the spread of relativism, hedonism, the lack of silence to find oneself and develop a rich inner self, and many more difficulties often times lead young (and not so young) people to a meaningless life, to an inner vacuum they try to fill with things that leave them even more empty inside. Those people need someone to remind them there’s a light of hope, that the happiness they pursue will be a consequence they’ll get as a certain “side effect” when they begin to transcend themselves to reach others, to bring their gifts to something or somebody beyond themselves. And they need to know it’s a possible task, even though circumstances may seem absolutely adverse, as it happens frequently in Argentina. There are many people that taught us it’s possible with their own life. Viktor Frankl was one of them and his testimony is still valid nowadays.

Smaller towns have a challenge of their own: to be faithful to their unique cultural identity, despite mass media temptations that often times present foreign values as most desirables. Another challenge is to strengthen their communities, even though many times young people need to move to bigger cities because of better educational opportunities or lack of resources to pursue their dreams. Life in the interior moves at a slower pace; in most of it we even respect the siesta –the early afternoon nap- and have more opportunities to stay in touch with nature, family and friends, which help the well-predisposed person to be more in touch with the inner self. Unfortunately, some people are lacking a guide to help them discover the gifts they have, some have changed their dreams for what is possible here and now, and sometimes, their gossip brings to life the saying “small town, big hell” (“pueblo chico, infierno grande”).

Still, the interior is the guardian of traditional values, of hard-working people, able to make huge sacrifices for those they love, willing to lend a hand whenever they can. Also, in the interior religious beliefs are very alive, whether they are ancient traditions as the veneration of the Pachamama (Mother Earth) or popular manifestations of religiosity, such as pilgrimages and processions. The major religions are Christian (mainly Roman Catholic and Evangelical), but there are also Jewish and Muslim communities, as well as other cults and even agnostics, though the latter are more apparent in the bigger cities. And here’s another important contribution of Dr. Frankl, one that makes Logotherapy unique among the “Psyche” world: the recognition that every human being has a spiritual dimension, regardless of a particular religion, where the values are always alive and ready to be lived, beginning with the one that “makes the world go round” and makes each one of us feel truly alive: love in its true and deepest meaning.

Dr. Frankl visited Argentina for the first time in 1954, and it seems he was kindly impressed by Argentineans. He loved tango, which is a very typical music style mainly from Buenos Aires, to be danced and sang with intensity and passion only. The interior has another huge group of traditional music: folklore. Among chamamés, zambas, chacareras, cuecas and many more, these songs reflect and inspire dreams, sadness, hopes and love stories of countrymen and women. Many Argentineans have worked hard and still do in agriculture and cattle raising, making the most of the generous wealth of our soil. Others have reached top-of-the-world levels in sciences, arts and sports, making us all proud. Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, César Milstein, Bernardo Houssay, Luis Federico Leloir, René Favaloro, Carlos Saavedra Lamas, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Evita and Juan Domingo Perón, Julio Bocca, Maximiliano Guerra, Carlos Gardel, Bruno Gelber, Lalo Schiffrin, Daniel Barenboim, Juan Manuel Fangio, Diego Maradona, César Pelli, are only few among many Argentineans that shine for their achievements.

And there are plenty of those unknown-everyday heroes that make many sacrifices to bring their families what they need, that wake up at dawn to travel miles to reach school, both teachers and students alike, that prefer to lose some unethical wealth rather than their values and good deeds. Unfortunately, there are also some that balance their laziness with a questionable wit (“viveza criolla”) to achieve their selfish goals. Sadly, this is potentiated by the decline of the excellent educational levels we used to have some years ago, which is helped by the mediocrity that has flooded free television and mass media. But, as Dr. Frankl used to say, “if you see somebody as he is, you make him worse, but if you see him as he can be, you make him better”. I strongly believe that my fellow Argentineans have extraordinary richness within that needs to be strengthened, educated and focused. We just need this reminder to raise our eyes and meet the greatness we’re called to reach.

I believe that Alex Vesely’s diffusion of his grandfather’s teachings – beginning with the movie “Viktor & I” can help all Argentineans to realize they are called to this greatness and give us new inspiration to start marrying our freedom with responsibility, hopefully in the near future. . If we succeed, I hope we all will be able to sing with new meaning those touching words from our National Anthem: “Y los libres del mundo responden: al gran pueblo argentino, ¡salud!”, that is: “And the free ones of the world reply: to the great Argentine people, hail!"

42 comments (Add your own)

1. Sandra Geoffroy wrote:
Excellent! For two years I have lived in Argentina, this year I studied psychology at the Catholic University of Buenos Aires, I chose not only Christian training if not also by the presence of the humanistic school and speech therapy. For many years I was traveling the world, Brazil, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal and then Argentina.
In my time in Brazil I worked in slums in Sao Paulo and Alagoinhas (Salvador - Bahia) with the brothers of Taizé, was a very harsh reality, to see small sunk in misery, seemed to be an endless job mainly because it moral and psychological damage that appeared to be irreversible. The invitation was not to despair at not seeing immediate results, for the love brothers in the service is delivered daily, would bear fruit in the future, as a small seed deposited in the depths of being.
In each country I visited I had the grace to know the harsh realities but also of hope, Argentina is not excluded, in my first year very poor neighborhoods frequented, but became more latent concern that to help others is not enough, just, good will, it is also necessary to have tools either academic or spiritual.
Some time ago in Chile, I met a priest who read all the works of Viktor Frankl helps youth in extreme situations, when I mentioned my project to come to study in Buenos Aires told me, Argentina ... They are pioneers in speech therapy, do not waste it!

Mon, February 21, 2011 @ 8:27 AM

2. Horacio Badano wrote:
Great article Sarita! I feel extremely blissful when I read it. I start thinking about all the richness we have as a country, as a society, as a community, even more, AS A FAMILY!, and how much richness we can achive and develope, and it is just inspiring. Viktor Frankl's teachings can enrich and help in such way this developement! We hope to see the movie soon!
Best wishes.

Mon, February 21, 2011 @ 9:44 AM

3. David Hallowell wrote:
Excellent and illuminating post, Dr. Sanguedolce,

Thank you for this sublime window into your culture, and for the thoughtful reflection on the challenge of finding meaning in various settings in an era of change. I love what you said about the people who make sacrifices to provide for their families without losing their ethical integrity, what an inspiration to all of us who have access to such wealth, but who can choose a better way!

Please keep up the excellent work

Mon, February 21, 2011 @ 9:58 AM

4. Mary Cimiluca wrote:
Thank you so very much for sharing this magnificently well-written post. It showcases the heart and soul of a country I long to visit! With your words, we are transported to the heart of a strong, passionate people whose values bring to life all we hope to preserve ....great community, the spirit of love between people, the importance of holding close God, family and friends.

Tue, February 22, 2011 @ 5:57 AM

5. Vicky Watson wrote:
Smart. Brilliant. Excellent x-ray of a country with great potential, great passion, and still... a teenager.
I loved the way you have spread on over a couple of paragraphs, the reality of a country whose people are still singing out loud ¨sean eternos los laureles...¨ still dreaming, still hoping...

Sun, March 13, 2011 @ 8:22 PM

6. Camy wrote:
Janice with more of a sense of directing mlyesf, choosing for mlyesf rather than wandering the very familiar being lost and alone. To understand that I am on a path that is divinely guided. I have touchstones along the way .And as you said Donna, each day offers the sometimes bright, sometimes less bright. I am not alone. Maybe the search is the meaning?Cathy

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