You may have noticed from my blog that a lot of things here in Argentina are named San Martín. In every city I’ve been in Avenida San Martín is either the main street or is a very busy street, almost every city has a plaza called San Martín, there is a province of Argentina called San Martín de los Andes, and in many provinces of Argentina, including Mendoza Province there is a department (think county) called San Martín, and the major park in the City of Mendoza: Parque San Martín . So who the heck is this San Martín guy?
****If you don’t like history skip to the below asterisks and pick up reading there****
General Don José de San Martín; that’s who. I know, I’d never heard of him either, before I came to Mendoza. He was a contemporary of Simon Bolivar, except in southern Latin America, where as Bolivar was mostly in northern Latin America. For various reasons San Martín doesn’t get as much press, or time in history classes as does Bolivar, so here is a super brief summary. San Martín was born in Argentina but his parents were from Spain. They went back to Spain when San Martín was about 5 years old. He stopped school when he was 12 and entered the military, where is father and big brothers were already serving. He received high quality military training and fought in the Spanish Army (against the French, no less) to help reclaim the Spanish Throne from the Bonapartes. He suffered from poor health his entire life, so after the war he took a few years off to rest before traveling to his birth place of Argentina. In Latin America he fought against the Spanish to free Argentina, then Chile, and finally Perú from Spain. While independence didn’t stick in Chile and Perú it did here in Argentina. They still love San Martín in Chile and Perú but as he was [born] argentine, Argentina has a special love for the man. He is also particularly special to Mendoza because it was from Mendoza that San Martín launched a very special plan to attack the Spanish in Chile by crossing la cordillera de los Andes. That’s right, San Martín and his army crossed the Andes in 1817 for the first time in known history. In our travels, both Janelle and I have notices that the further away you get from Mendoza the slightly less San Martín hero worship there is.
San Martín is really a lot like George Washington in many ways. For my history class I wrote an essay comparing San Martín to the US Founding Fathers. Over half of the essay was spent comparing San Martín and Washington. The big difference I can see, which I also think contributes to the good press the Bolivar gets, is that after the war of independence San Martín went back to Europe. He didn’t stick around to try and start the new government. He did what was, comparatively, easy: he came, he fought, and he left. Despite not really wanting to have much to do with politics, much less be President, Washington accepted and fulfilled his duties as the First US President to the best of his abilities. He set precedents that the US Presidents still use today, over 200 years later. Bolivar, similar to Washington stuck around and tried to form governments and maintain Latin American independence from Spain. I believe this is part of why he get’s better press outside of Latin America. Also San Martín lived to be an old man who died slowly of illness and age in far away France. Bolivar died a relatively young man in Venezuela, after a long fight to form and maintain the governments of various Latin American countries.
What San Martín did was, truly, remarkable, I’m not trying to belittle that. I am trying to be honest about who I feel he is though. If you had heard of him before now, as person who grew up in the US and has never studies Latin American history outside of the classroom, I would be surprised. US public schools teach us very little about Latin American history and certainly not about more modern Latin American history, which the US government played a fairly large role in (but that is it’s own blog, with it’s own associated angry emotions).
****Non-history lovers restart here****
It’s funny because the longer I am here the more I realize how much we, in the US, ignore Latin America in favor of Europe. I also realize that here in Argentina they ignore the US also in favor of Europe as much as they can. The US dominates the global economy, global entertainment, and global politics, so it can only be so ignored, but they do what they can. I believe they also have mixed emotions about the US, the government has done some pretty nasty things to Latin America, but as I said, we are a very dominate country and many people want to be a part of such success. Catch 22, much?
This blog turned into a history lesson, more than anything, but what I meant to write about was how when you go to another country you might have a general understanding of the culture, but until you live there you are missing a lot. You know how in the States, even if you don’t like American Football, you know at least a few teams, you probably still watch the Super Bowl, you might even know who has a serious rivalry with who. When you go another country you don’t know any of that. You know nothing about the soccer teams and who is who or who you should support. You likely don’t know about all of the national heros. The gestures are different or they mean different things. The slang is unique to the country and even the region and you have to ask about words that everyone here uses or for a word that is equivalent to slang you use constantly in the US.
Long story short study abroad is weird and shoves you so far out of your comfort zone you occasionally need a telescope to find it again. It it’s ok, that’s how you grow.