cecilia madrid

She is Argentinean, but she has lived in Paraguay, Bolivia, Sudan, Chad, Sweden. And the Netherlands. How did that come about? 

‘During my studies in Buenos Aires, I wanted to know other countries and gain experience abroad. I wanted to see Europe first and I ended up in the Netherlands, which seemed a good place to explore Europe from, as for me it was the heart of Europe, the entry point. It was convenient because of some kind of agreement with Dutch universities. Leiden was a bit boring, so I moved to Amsterdam.’

Leiden boring!? My alma mater!  I may have to excuse myself for a short cooling-off period.

Cecilia is 35, and in most of the countries – the exotic ones – she’s been there in connection with her work as a humanitarian development worker. ‘But my hometown is Lavapies, I have been coming here since I first set foot in Spain in 2001.’ Lavapies, until recently a slum, is now the hippest area in Madrid. It is here that we meet, in the cafeteria of the Lavapies cultural centre, which is full of progressive people listening to progressive rock.

‘What are the differences between Argentina and Spain?’
‘For example the way we view friendship. In Argentina we are very committed to our friends, they are sacred and you tell them everything. Every detail. And you don’t have to arrange to meet them in advance, just ring the bell. You drink a mate and you eat some croissants or medialunas. The sense of family is important too, more than in Spain. The whole family goes out on Sundays, they enjoy food, a nice lunch or dinner. And when we go out we move from one bar to another, have a drink here and there. You don’t just stand in one spot. It’s light, it flows.’

Tea is ordered, organic and green, of course.
‘Another difference,’ Cecilia says, ‘is that we accept change easier than here in Spain, we are interested in new things. And we have learnt to live with the new, with uncertainty: in Argentina you can lose all your money in the bank from one day to the next. People know that there’s a crisis every 10 years. But the relationship between Argentina and Spain is very tight. There has been immigration both ways for a long time and most Spaniards have an Argentinean relative, an uncle or something. And we have had the same kind of leadership for decades: dictators. We both returned to democracy just recently, in the 70s in Spain and in Argentina in the 80s.’

She talks about the way the junta was brought to justice, judged and dealt with by the country’s own people, and clearly she is moved by it.

‘Can they hear you’re Argentinean?’
‘Yes, my pronunciation is different. And we speak more softly, not as passionately.’

‘How bad is the current crisis?’
‘It’s bad and recovery is not easy. There’s another difference with my home country, where there is a combination of family network plus some government protection. Here, as in the rest of Europe, the Scandinavian model was used: the state would take care of you when you needed it. But this is being dismantled due to the crisis, in favour of the companies and banks, and there’s not much left to help people who have lost their job, the 25%. Under this right wing government the concept is becoming ‘lose or change’, but what happens to the rest? If you’re not a winner? How many winners can a society have? You’re not garbage then, are you?’ she says not so softly, but quite passionately.

‘How is it affecting you?’
‘Well, I’m unemployed at the moment, but I’m kind of used to that: that comes with the nature of my job, you start a new assignment and when it’s finished you have to try to get a new one. I live a normal life, no luxury, but I manage.’

‘When do you expect to work again?’
I don’t know, I ask that myself, maybe I should change career, find something else to do, making clothes for example,’ she says half jokingly.

‘Do you experience more difficulties now, because you’re Argentinean?’
‘Not in my area, I guess because it is international.

‘And your friends?’
‘No, most of my friends are Argentinean, and they’re all working…’

‘Have you ever felt unwelcome here?’
‘No, well, only once. I remember one taxi driver in 2005 in Bilbao telling me I should go home.’

‘Are you considered equal to the Spanish? Could an Argentinean girl have married prince Felipe?’
‘I don’t think so, not in the short term. It was quite special that Laetitia was a professional, previously married, and not noble – but she was Spanish.’

‘And as an outsider, what is your impression of Europe?’
‘It occurs to me that even in times of crisis people take care of their own. And well, it’s sill the land of opportunities, of education, but now with the crisis it’s changing – the crisis challenges everything. I hope it will be all right…’