Tango ~ La Boca
La Boca is one of Buenos Aires’s 48 barrios or neighborhoods. It is located at the southeastern part of the city, near the old port in the mouth (boca in Spanish) of the Rio de la Plata. Nearby barrios are Barracas in the west, and San Telmo and Puerto Madero to the north. Many of the district’s residents are of European descent. This is because the old port was where the Italian, Spanish, Basque, French, and German immigrants arrived.
Inside La Boca, one will feel as if they had stepped back in time as the neighborhood still retains its Genoese look with traditional colorful wooden houses. While some inhabitants still spoke the Genoese dialect in the late 20th century, use of the dialect has been in recent decline. Presently, La Boca is part artist colony and part working class neighborhood.
Tourists visiting Buenos Aires always make a point to visit La Boca. The colorful houses, pedestrian-friendly walkways, little shops and restaurants make for a pleasant day of sightseeing and shopping. The street of Caminito is the center of tourist activity in the barrio, and of particular interest for people who are into the dancing the tango. Here, tango artists perform in the many tango clubs found on the street. Tango-related memorabilia is sold in most shops.
Aside from tango, La Boca is also the home of the Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s biggest soccer teams. To experience the unique flavor of an Argentine soccer match, grab a ticket and watch the games at the La Boca soccer stadium, La Bombonera.
For those who are more into art than sports, there is the Fine Arts Museum of La Boca. It is also called the Museo de Bellas Artes Quinquela Martin as it used to be the residence and studio of the artist.
Around 6 million foreign immigrants poured into Argentina between the years 1880 and 1930, in which time Buenos Aires quickly turned from small town to heaving city. About 50% of these people were Italian, and many of those were from the port town of Genoa, Italy. Genoa was a port, La Boca was a port… things seemed familiar, and so the Italian immigrants did not move far from the immediate area where they first stepped onto Argentine soil, the port of La Boca (which means ‘the mouth’, as in the mouth of the Riachuelo river).
What has all this got to do with colorful Caminito, you ask? Well, the majority of these Italian immigrants in La Boca worked in the port, just as they had done in Genoa. The Genoese proudly brought their unique identity to La Boca, and one of their old traditions was to paint the outside of their homes with the leftover paint from the shipyard – as nothing else was available or could be afforded.
However, they took things one step further in La Boca, and actually built the houses almost completely from materials found or discarded in the shipyard. This was because of the huge population explosion due to the immigration at the turn of the 20th century – there just was not enough homes for all of the people in Buenos Aires.
The answer to this problem was conventillo (tenement / shared) housing. Conventillos were long houses with small rooms that opened out onto a central outdoor common patio. Whereas in somewhere like San Telmo, for example, conventillos were generally old converted mansions large houses, in La Boca they had to be more inventive. Here the conventillos were hastily constructed from scrap corrugated metal and wood from old ships, and to spruce them up a little, the façades, doors and windows were then decorated in the famous bright color combinations with the leftover paint from the port, that tradition brought from Genoa.