Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Discussions about the Chinese arch in Chinatown, Buenos Aires.

Construction of the Chinese arch across Arribeños st, in Chinatown Buenos Aires. Picture from

Chinese arch in Buenos Aires Chinatown, almost finished. Picture from

Chinatown Buenos Aires. Internet download.
By middle may 2009, the neighbors of Belgrano, Buenos Aires, living in the area of the train station of Belgrano C, were shocked to see at 3 am containers with the pieces of the new Chinese arch. The construction of the Chinese arch had just begun alike many important cities in the world….

The government of China authorized an investment close to half a million dollars to build a concrete and stone Chinese arch in Belgrano neighborhood, in Buenos Aires.
The arch has 11 meters in height and extends across Arribeños st., from sidewalk to sidewalk.
Transformations in Chinatown in Buenos Aires are not new, they began in the 1980´s, not long after the second wave of Asian immigrants landed in Argentina in the late 1960´s. The first polemic dates from 2003, when the government of Anibal Ibarra began with the experimental pedestrianization of Arribeños st., between Blanco Encalada and Juramento av. In December 2007, the neighborhood special zonification passed from U23 to R2B1, a Zoning Code classification for residential barrios with small retails. But, in the 4th article, approved by the Buenos Aires city government in 2006, the law contemplated the donation of an arch to the Govenment of the Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires by the Chinese Pacific Unification Association in Argentina.
So, the works are part of a process of transformation of the Chinese neighborhood. The neighbors have opposing viewpoints, some of them agree the arch would be the entrance to the Chinatown, but most of them disagree, saying that Chinese are not integrated to Argentine habits and the streets are dirty (well, I have never seen a clean street in Downtown Buenos Aires); Chinese do not express opinions…. Authorities say that the objective is to promote brotherhood between both cultures, -that would be fantastic-, but after living in Belgrano many years, I feel Chinatown in Buenos Aires serves as tourist attractions and not as real, living ethnic community. What reinforces my thought is that Argentine neighbors say that there are only 56 retails and the Chinese inhabitants are less than one hundred. I´m sorry I don´t have the official strict numbers yet.
Chinese immigrants to Argentina number to about 60,000. The Chinese in Argentina came mostly in two waves: the first arrived from Taiwan in the 1980s, while the second came in the 1990s, integrated by a majority of young entrepeneurs people who came often through the illegal smuggling route originating in Fujian Province. Chinatown and the number of Chinese owned business began to flourish. Many Chinese and Asian owned businesses began to open up around the city, mostly dealing in supermarkets, textiles, and buffet-styled restaurants. Recently, there has been a third wave of Chinese immigration: educated members of China’s growing middle-class , young employees of Chinese companies who have recently arrived to work for a two years period.
¨After almost 30 years here, many first-wave Taiwanese have become accustomed to the porteño lifestyle. They tell a story common to Asian immigrants in Latin America arriving around the same time: hoping to reach the United States or Canada, they were met with difficulties securing a visa. Their aspirations were temporarily halted and so they waited. Only waiting led to acculturating; and acculturating eventually led to staying.¨(Nancy Liu, January 13th, 2009)
The last time I have been there, in 2003, the four blocks in question were already considered the Chinese neighborhood. Though, it had not the strength of San Francisco or Los Angeles. It was only dispersed retails with signs in Chinese words, from the first generation of Holo and Mandarin speaking immigrants from Taiwan (, that were completely unintelligible for us. But it was nice to walk around and find exotic food, herbs, candies, noodles...
Now, the main street will be pedestrian, the neighborhood is changing its physiognomy for ever.
The resistance to a different culture has its explanation, that I can assume from the declarations on the newspapers.
“Despertamos y nos encontramos con esa estructura enorme sin que nadie nos avisara nada”, se quejó Carlos Basile, miembro de la Asociación Civil Vecinos de Belgrano, la agrupación barrial que comenzó a movilizarse el año pasado, luego de que la comuna confirmara la transformación de las dos cuadras principales de Arribeños en una peatonal.¨(We woke up and come up with this huge structure without anybody telling us¨. Carlos Basile, a member of the Civil Neighbors of Belgrano Association, a barrio grupping that began mobilizing last year, after the Municipality confirmed the transformation of the two main blocks in Arribeños into a pedestrian street).
The worst Argentine neighbors´ feeling is that Chinese are displacing them, little by little, and the arch is a consolidation of this idea. No need to mention that it was very frustrating that the City´s government never consulted Belgrano inhabitants about the changes. Another issue is the location of the arch. Isabel Baethgen said the problem is not the arch indeed, but to locate it across the street, ¨when it would have been installed in a plaza, respecting laws and Porteño rules for the location of monuments¨. (Isabel Baethgen: “El problema no es el arco, sino que lo pongan en medio del barrio, cuando deberían haberlo instalado en una plaza y respetando las leyes y reglamentos porteños para el emplazamiento de monumentos”.)
Failure to integrate and balance both cultures will be potentially harmful for the barrio inhabitants.
Maybe Argentine neighbors have forgotten that there is a third generation of Chinese in Buenos Aires that speak, dress, eat, live exactly like us. There are ¨middle¨ situations where East can meet the West. I had the opportunity to share those situations, at restaurants, parties, meetings, the strangeness immediately is dissipated in the first approach of a nice civilized conversation. Thanks to the Chinese community for sharing those great moments with me and my family!.

Chinese dancers at party to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Notice they are also celebrating Western New Year. Personal archives.

Same Chinese party, all performers on stage with typical costumes. Beautiful! Personal archives.


  1. Hello Myriam, I was today buenos Aires Chinatown Neighborhood and was amazed by the number of people that visit it. The last time I went there two months ago there weren´t as much retail shops as there are now, the growing is incredible. Your post is very interesting! Best regards, Silvia Calvino

  2. Silvia, gracias. I really would like to come back and see, I follow the story on line. I hope to see it myself again, take my own pictures...I've been in San Francisco and Los Angeles Chinatown, my favourite is San Francisco, it is full of antiques. Un gran saludo!



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