K Pride International

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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When I think about South America, Asians are not what come to mind. I think of the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, wine, dancing, and architecture. Consequently, I was very surprised to learn that Argentina hosts a huge population of Korean immigrants. When I found this out, I decided that I had to go down to Once and visit “my people.”

            I arrived in the garment district, Once, on a Saturday afternoon and wandered aimlessly. At first, I did not see any traces of Asia, let alone my fellow Koreans. However I kept wandering and pretty soon I started to see signs in Korean. I gleefully started to look for people that I could talk to. For some reason, I thought that Koreans would see me and ask what a Korean-American was doing in Argentina. However, I did not realize that by just looking at me, these people probably thought I was just another Porteño. I mean how could they tell that I was an American? Anyways, I ventured into a local gift shop and looked around. I was happy to see that I recognized all the merchandise. They were the same Korean imports that I have always seen in every Korean neighborhood in the United States. As I was looking, the storekeeper looked up at me and asked in Spanish if I needed any help. When I heard this, I just stared back at her with a dumb look. I was absolutely floored to hear Spanish coming out of the mouth of a Korean. I had never experienced this. I was used to hearing Korean or English, but never Spanish. After giving me a strange look, she moved on to ask me in Korean if I needed any help. Then she came over to me and asked me if I was all right. Finally, I found the ability to speak again and I told her in Korean that I was okay and I was just looking. She asked me if I was visiting from another country and I nodded yes. I asked her how she knew and she laughed and told me that she could tell I was from the US because of my dumb founded look when she spoke Spanish to me. We started a conversation and then finally I got the courage to ask her the question I had wanted to ask all along. I asked her, “how did you end up in Buenos Aires, Argentina?!” I wondered if these Koreans just had taken a wrong turn or something when trying to get to America. She looked at me and simply replied, “why not Argentina?”

            My adventure to the Argentine Koreatown made me realize that America is not the only country that people immigrate to. There are plenty of other countries that entice foreigners to try their luck and build a life in a different country. Living my whole life in the United States has somewhat brainwashed me into thinking that if people were to leave their home country, it was to come to the United States. I had never thought about them moving to Canada, Spain, South Africa or Argentina. To me, the United States is the greatest place and the land of opportunity and thus sometimes I have a hard time figuring out why people wouldn’t want to come here. Nevertheless, I continued my conversation and found out that there were Koreans everywhere. The shop keeper told me that she had relatives in Paraguay and that she had heard of Koreans in South Africa, Australia and Russia. Hearing this, I was absolutely shocked. I could not imagine running into a Korean that spoke English to me with an Australian accent or a Korean that spoke only Korean and Russian.

            This encounter also made me think about how language is such a unifier. People who speak the same language do really have somewhat of an alliance with one another. Perhaps this partially helps explain our good relations with our fellow English speaking neighbor Canada. I realized that although the shop keeper and I totally lived separate lives and that we really didn’t have much in common, we spoke the same language. More than that, our families were from the same country. Consequently we were able to chat about common Korean interests and characteristics.

            My adventure to Once was truly a blessing. Being so far away from my family and home, it really was good to talk to someone who understood my native language and who shared somewhat of the same cultural identity. My trip also made me want to travel to more “exotic” countries to see if I can find more Koreans who have been displaced to countries other than the United States. 
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