Evita. Gardel. Maradona. The big three. No one in Argentina
can deny these individuals the position on the golden pedestal society
has placed them on. They aren’t just people, these are icons.
Eva Peron to a Peronist who heard her speak and his eyes fill with
tears. Her following was so great, so cult like, that upon her death
she was mummified, preserving her image for all of eternity, and was
sought after by psychotic followers turned lovers. Even today in the
streets of Buenos Aires graffiti makes claim to Evita’s immortality: “Evita Lives!” and followers make diligent visits to her grave in Recoleta Cemetery.
Her political predecessors make use of her image, addressing crowds
carrying flags boasting her image with chesty claims of “Companeros!
Companeras!” Love her as a Peronist, or hate her as an offensive,
manipulative woman, there is no denying the power of Eva Peron. There
is no denying Evita’s iconic status.
Gardel, whose rise and claim to fame came through his perfection of
tango vocals and appearance in films. At a surface glance, his
popularity is comparable to that of America’s
Frank Sinatra. Gardel has not the same cult like following as Evita,
but is recognized by Argentines as an important figure in Argentine
music, Argentine culture, and Argentina’s image in the world.
Maradona… or should I shout “Maradoooo… Maradoooo…?” Maradona has unarguably the most cultish following of any of Argentina’s
icons. Despite his rise and fall from the football pitch, forcing his
departure in his darkest hour, addicted to cocaine, emotionally
unstable, and suffering from eating disorders forcing him to balloon
out to a sweating, walking, and barely talking waddling penguin. Even
during this time he was prayed for, admired, and supported by the
Argentine people. Today, over a decade since his last true football
game and long since his feet and “hand of god” brought
his teams to success in the World Cup, his praises are sung by drunk
(and sober) portenos: “Argentina! Maradona! Nada Mas!” When most
parents would turn their children’s heads and forbid the idealizing of
a drug addict, Argentine parents and children alike took to his
support. After rehabilitation and a remarkable recovery in the public
world, Maradona is today more popular than ever.
may claim themselves to be tragic, fair-weather fans, but their
unending support of these three figures leads to the notion that there
is an additional thread running through Argentina.
There is a need among Argentines to cling desperately to these figures
and to cling so strongly so as to never let go, even after death or
public disgrace. This past May 25th, a holiday equivalent to the United States’ July 4th,
hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the Plaza de Mayo, the
symbolic home of Evita’s outreach to the people, to listen to their
president evoke the image of Evita to a crowd
carrying not national flags, but ones with the symbols of Juan and Eva
Peron. The national pride associated with such a day that leads
Americans to launch fireworks and hold parades was exchanged for the
memory and praise of Evita Peron. The sporting of nationalism in Argentina
appears to come only with the World Cup. And even then, unlike her
northern neighbor’s, Argentines do not decorate their streets with
flags, look up to the apartments that surround you in Buenos Aires and
you’ll see more Brazilian flags hanging off of balconies than those of
Guide books, history
books, and the Argentine will explain to you how these three figures,
Evita, Gardel, and Maradona explain Argentine politics, culture, and
football. But no one will identify what in Argentina
explains the cult following of these three icons. Few countries in the
world have such followed figures from the twentieth century as
Argentina, and those that can begin to compete boast far fewer than
three (Great Britain and her Lady Di, for example). What explains this
insecurity in nationalism that leads to the promotion of individuals
over state in Argentina? What explains the need of the people to cling so dearly onto these individuals? I
know that I am raising questions I only hold hypotheses for, but I
present these questions here for your thought as well as my own. And
while I depart from Argentina
in a few short days, this aspect of the country has made a deep
impression on me, and I will scarce forget these questions upon my
departure or will I end my quest for their answers.