NPR logo Argentina's Bicentennial: A Complicated Celebration

Argentina's Bicentennial: A Complicated Celebration

Argentina celebrated its bicentennial this week. Although the May Revolution of 1810 led to independence, the nation has endured a great deal through the years — including periods of dictatorship. So, while throngs spilled into the streets of Buenos Aires for parades, concerts and epic reveling, there was also a more somber side. The government, in fact, sponsored a retrospective look at a period of national horror — with banner-size photos dating from the dictatorship. Photographer Carlos Schroder sent this essay from Buenos Aires.

People hold an enormous Argentine flag in the streets of Buenos Aires in celebration of the bicentennial of the May Revolution, which led to Argentina's independence. Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images/AFP hide caption

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Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images/AFP

By Carlos Schroder:

The view from Schroder's balcony Carlos Schroder hide caption

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Carlos Schroder

With my balcony overlooking the plaza in front of the Argentine Congress, it would have been hard to ignore the country's bicentennial, even if I'd never left my apartment. But of course I did leave it, joining the hundreds of thousands who flocked to a week's worth of parades, concerts, speeches and ecumenical religious ceremonies.

The week's events went well beyond pageantry and patriotism to embrace a wide range of views. The overall effect was optimistic and tolerant, marked by a strong emphasis on Latin American unity, and also on producing a narrative (as you will see in the pictures) that is remarkably different from what had been typical of Argentina until the 1990s.

The week's climax was a gala dinner and opening of a Gallery of Patriots. The gallery included portraits of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Farabundo Marti, Emiliano Zapata and Salvador Allende — artwork donated by some of the national leaders in attendance: Jose Mujica (Uruguay), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Sebastian Pinera (Chile), Lula da Silva (Brazil), Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) and Rafael Correa (Ecuador) — and would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

Not being invited to the dinner, I prowled the streets. Here's what I found.

Carlos Schroder teaches literature and writing at Northern Virginia Community College. He spends several months each year in Buenos Aires.