Sociedad Fotográfica Argentina de Aficionados Inmigrantes bajando de un barco
Harry Grant Olds
Vista de La Boca
Harry Grant Olds
Ateneo Iris Theater during a school act, towards the beginning of XX century
Inhabited mostly by Italian immigrants who arrived in this country during the mid XIX century, La Boca del Riachuelo
starts developing around port related activities. Metal workshops, slaughterhouses, ship yards and other naval establishments grow along both shores of this working class neighborhood. Towards 1870, most of the ships sailing from abroad (as well as those coming from this country), load and unload their cargo at the La Boca
port. You can hear a Genovese dialect in the streets –Xeneise
– and among its first inhabitants we see a mix of shop owners, factory workers, and some free thinkers influenced by Giuseppe Mazzini.
They build their houses out of wood and zinc, and coat them with leftover paint from the ship yards.
As far as local culture is concerned, although the conventillos (large houses shared by many people) are not an exclusive sight of La Boca, they have remained closely associated with this neighborhood. Towards 1887, a fourth of the population in the city of Buenos Aires rented their living space in these huge deteriorated constructions full of rooms that faced big patios or hallways, and shared bathrooms. A journalist of the time refers to conventillos as:
“The people who live here [...] are in perfect harmony with the frame of the house, its winding patios, the cracks in the walls, the grease covered bedroom walls, and the countless pieces of junk that are spread outside…The first room houses an Italian couple, neither too young nor too old, he a cobbler and she a short order cook. The second room shelters a widow with her five children who barely manages to make ends meet, thanks to two of her children who manage to get some kind of work. In the third room we find a would-be chemist with an improvised lab, concocting all sorts of smelly waters [...]. Not far away lives a night guard who can´t stop wondering what the future holds for the likes of him who spend night after night watching over other people’s possessions. The next bedroom cell technically houses three door-to-door Italian salesmen, but the word is that up to eight people sleep, fully dressed, on the only two torn mattresses found in that small space. The sixth room houses three local girls of 'unknown occupation' [...]”
Although a large part of the population lived in what at that time was considered the worst housing of the city, as from the last quarter of the XIX century, La Boca
starts forging its own cultural activity. Publications such as El Ancla
(The Anchor), (1865); Eco de la Boca
(Echoes of La Boca), (1888); El Bohemio
(The bohemian), (1892); Cristóforo Colombo
(Christopher Columbus), (1892); Progreso
(Progress), (1896); and La Unión
(The Union), (1899) give account of the wide range of cultural interests and ideological tendencies of a society right in the making.
From its very origins, the neighborhood accounts for a large number of institutions related to cooperatives and cultural activity. These phenomena would be related to the dynamics of migration, where family and social networks “have considerable weight when it comes to greeting immigrants and helping them become part of the new territory”
The Sociedad Progreso de La Boca
(Progress Association of La Boca
), founded in 1875, is a clear expression of the conjunction of these solidarity filled people. The most representative neighbors gathered here with the objective to coordinate action plans related to improving the quality of life of the Boquenses
: the creation of a market place, the paving of streets, the installation of gas, etc., figure among the most important accomplishments of the afore mentioned association.
Theatrical and lyrical activities stand out in the cultural scene of this neighborhood as of the end of the XIX century. Meeting rooms like the Ateneo Iris –which opens its doors in 1881– and the Dante Alighieri, make up the principal centers of attraction. These places alternate artistic performances with political and social meetings.
“[…] Over the old road, remembers Antonio Bucih, “the Sicily Theater opened its doors, where Vito Cantone worked wonders with his bellicose and lovelorn hand puppets. Music and choir related activities spread in La Boca
[…] two of these centers became famous for their participation in Carnaval
(Carnival) events, taken very seriously back then. The dispute between Unión de La Boca
and José Verdi
, directed by distinguished maestros such as Leonidas Piaggio and Arístides Baragli, left its mark in the neighborhood and beyond its limits [...]”