Tag Archives: Argentina

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Have you ever read something that flicked a switch in your brain, that suddenly filled your head with a memory long forgotten or repressed?

Recently my good friend John recounted a story about a visit to Guatemala. You can read it here.

His memory of his first visit to a Central American country was of an official of the army or police pointing an automatic weapon at him.

I have a similar story.

During one of my parents’ trips to our mother country, Argentina, I learned a powerful lesson about not provoking the powerful in charge.

It was the summer of 1979. Summer in the Southern Hemisphere meant Christmas and New Year’s festivities.

Part of the traditional festivities, still observed in the middle and lower class neighborhoods of the Buenos Aires suburbs, was visiting house after house — and eating and drinking at each one — to celebrate the new year.

It was New Year’s Eve 1979, and together with my cousin and a mutual friend, we headed out to uphold old traditions.

We went from house to house and celebrated with people we barely knew. But we ate at every home, and more important to this story, we drank cider at every house.

At age 16 and without the tolerance I have today, I can say I was probably pretty plastered by the time we reached our fourth or fifth house.

All I can remember is that we left a house and started to walk along a main avenue of this depressed neighborhood.

As we walked in a bit of a stupor, I noticed flashing lights up ahead.

Uh-oh! Cops, or worse, I thought.

I told my cousin that we should cut through an alley or double back because we were drunk and under age.

Nah, he said, and gestured most drunkenly. He said that it was just repairs being done on a pharmacy sign on the main road.

Now If I hadn’t been drunk, 16 and stupid, I might have said: “Who the fu#& is gonna be fixing the pharmacy sign on New Year’s Day at 3 in the morning!?!?!?”

But I was 16 and drunk and proceeded on the path.

As we got closer to the flashing lights I felt dread as I could see that this was no sign repair crew. It WAS the cops. Or as they were known in the dictator days of Argentina, the para-police!

I could see multiple vehicles starting to pass us as and I hoped they would let us go because we were only a couple of harmless kids.

Nope.

Brakes squealed, jeeps and cars stopped and all manner of uniformed and non-uniformed authorities came out shouting out orders all at once.

Halt and up against the wall were the ones I heeded.

I slapped the wall and spread my legs.

“Turn around,” I heard a very authoritative voice say.

We all did.

A man in civilian clothes approached the three of us. He held a very large pistol in his hand.

He motioned with the gun and said, let’s see some documents.

In Argentina, at that time, all civilians had to carry a national ID called a Cedula de Identificacion. It was a picture ID with a current address (Lord help you if it wasn’t current) and a seven-digit number.

You better have it memorized too.

As I fumbled for my ID card, I spied the uniformed officers holding automatic weapons forming a perimeter around the man in charge asking for our papers.

My cousin produced his document and walked toward the man. I found mine too and also started to walk toward him.

At the sight of two scared teenagers moving toward him at the same time, documents in hand, this para police jerk must have felt his life was in danger because he leveled his pistol straight at my forehead and said, “I didn’t call you. Back against the wall.”

I got back on that wall like Spiderman! Facing it and back in a spread-eagle position, scared like I had never been before.

I was probably muttering to myself, or possibly crying, when I did not hear the first strongly worded request for me to turn around. At the second shout, I pivoted around and slammed my back up against the wall.

The non-uniformed man in charge beckoned me with his pistol.

I remember him calling me hot shot. I still don’t know why.

So I moved meekly towards him, document in hand straight out as a shield or religious artifact warding off evil.

He snatched it from my hand, glaring at me and still motioning at me with his pistol.

Next came a quick interrogation of name, address and ID number. I blurted everything out, all correctly. Then the question that caught me off guard: “What are you doing here?”

Thankfully I stammered, “Nothing…just visiting friends and family for the New Year.”

My meek response satisfied him because he handed me back my ID, gestured with his head rather than his pistol to disappear.

I ran away, rounded the corner and heard a “psssst” from my cousin huddled behind a car.

I fell in next to him and watched how our friend and another pedestrian who must have somehow been near us when the police descended on us were shuffled into the paddy wagon.

They didn’t have their IDs on them. Holy shit!! Now what?!

Together with my cousin and a clear head that was scared sober from the encounter, we went searching for our friend’s mother who was in one of the houses we had visited earlier.

Fortunately there was a very peaceful ending.

We found our friend’s mom, we all went down to the precinct, getting there before the squad and paddy wagon. Our friend’s mom signed him out and the police asked her to sign out the other minors too.

Our friend recounted his trip to the station in the wagon. He witnessed a few more stops and saw a few individuals tossed into the wagon with bleeding heads.

I am so glad I had my ID — and that I was smart enough to not mouth off.

 

A Soccer Fan of Divided Loyalities

Uh oh! What do I do now?!

I am faced with a conundrum that took more than 30 years to develop.

I am a soccer fan, not only because I played the sport from a very young age, but because as a native Argentine, the religion of soccer is ingrained in my DNA.

We worship at the altar of our favorite professional clubs, but we all set aside our religious sects to venerate the national team.

This worship is not unique to Argentina or Latin America. The fervor of rooting patriotically is in the fabric of every country.

I experienced this firsthand when in 1986 on a June afternoon I made my way to the heart of the downtown district of Buenos Aires.

Halfway around the world in Mexico City, my heroes of the Argentine National Team were about to face Germany in the final game of the FIFA World Cup.

When the final whistle blew, Argentina won 3-2 and I found myself in a large, pulsing living organism for a spontaneous celebration I would never forget. I later found out that the number of fans that converged around me and the giant screens reached more than 200,000.

Even as a naturalized United States citizen I still remained the rabid Argentina soccer fan that my blood cells are stamped with.

Living in a country that did not care for soccer at a league level and even less at a national team level, I had no worries of ever having my love for a foreign nation conflict with my adopted one.

That started to change, however, in the early 90s.

Soccer came to this nation slowly and then suddenly in 1994, the United States hosted the ultimate soccer tournament, the World Cup.

Historically, the U.S. always fielded a weak team, a mere speed bump for the major soccer powers on their way to the top prize.

In that World Cup though, the U.S. Men’s National Team not only held its own, but shocked many by upsetting an overconfident Colombia.

The U.S. team did not get much further and over the next few years its level of play peaked in 2002 by reaching a quarterfinal in the World Cup.

But in the last few years, the team has started to show a level of play that, although still not at the level of historically strong soccer nations, was starting to draw some attention.

Through all this, I was and am a strong supporter of the USA National Team. Fast forward to now.

Once again the USA is hosting a major FIFA tournament. It’s the oldest international competition and it is called La Copa America.

I again have been rabidly following both nations. Now I have my kids and wife joining me at every game, cheering my birth nation, Argentina, and their birth nation, the United States.

Now the conundrum: For the first time in their history, Argentina and the U.S. will match up in a major tournament and at a very high stage, the semifinal game of the Copa America 2016.

I have the conflict of cheering for or against one of the two nations that mean so much to me.

On Tuesday night I will be rooting hard for the nation I grew up rooting for all the while knowing that if my adopted nation pulls off the greatest soccer upset in history, I will not be disappointed.

I will still have the fervor and sincerest desire to see them advance and win it all.

ARGENTINA! ! !  USA! ! ! !

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Friendships That Endured Through Moves and Time

In my youth, going out after school down the block or to the park was where we met up with our friends. Even kids we just met, after a spirited game of war, or tag or anything else, those new acquaintances became friends.

Through my childhood years, I migrated back and forth between the Bronx and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Each of these moves usually had us staying a year or two in a city before packing up and moving back.

This happened a few times during my school years. So I would harvest a circle of friends and then leave them to start anew.

My earliest friends I have pretty much forgotten by name. I remember some activities and a few kids from the block, but nobody that I would contact today.

But in one of my returns to the Bronx, I met a group of guys that I would never forget.

Our moves were always disruptive of the school year.

With the switch from southern to northern hemispheres and of seasons, a migration to the United States usually meant coming in the middle of a grade and being that kid that was introduced to the class as “… joining us from Argentina.”

In sixth grade at PS 36, I did not make any enduring school friends.

Instead I met a kid from around the block who happened to go to the same school but we never interacted there much.

Anyway, Rich and I hit it off pretty well, sharing a love for comic books, Legos, science fiction and classic horror. These similarities bonded us as friends despite being polar opposites in our baseball love. (He is a rabid Mets fan and I am a diehard Yankees fan.)

Regardless, our friendship grew.

We played pickup softball at the schoolyard, sometimes just him and me hitting and catching for what seemed like glorious hours days on end.

When we weren’t outside, it was games, comics and pool — he had a great pool table in his family room. We battled constantly at 8-ball, with him besting me probably 85 percent of the time.

When the next school year started, I went to a Catholic school that was two parishes away from home.

On Day One, the kids in the yard lining up by grade all knew each other.

This was seventh grade and many of these kids knew each other from kindergarten at St. Raymond’s. I had left all of those early friends behind after several relocations, and my friend Rich was at a different public school.

So I scanned the faces for another guy who also looked new. I found him: Pedro. We chatted briefly and said maybe we would get lucky enough to end up in the same class. We did.

Once we were in our class and lined up again, I was standing behind a flattop-haired kid, taller than me and with a jacket with Boy Scout patches. Having enjoyed my Cub Scout years, I tapped his shoulder and asked him about his troop and patches.

We hit it off and Chris and I became friends. He later introduced me to his longtime friend John and a new kid he met that also lived nearby in his neighborhood: Pedro!

We became close friends and I was fortunate to spend some after-school days with them, but my neighborhood was about 14 blocks away, so my after-school days were spent more with Rich.

Through birthday parties and other gatherings at home I introduced both groups and we became five best friends.

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After two full school years I once again whisked off down south, starting high school in Argentina.

Two years later we once again returned.

This time though I had kept in touch with my “bros.” The long-distance friendship back then was through letters, cards and packages. Phone calls were prohibitively expensive and, of course, no one knew what an Internet was yet.

We traded letters, books, photos and cassette tapes. I wish I kept one of those. I still remember the one where Chris recorded latest hits off the radio and had everyone, including his sister and mom, talk up a song. I know I played that tape incessantly

When I returned, and with heavy long-distance help from Chris, I was able to attend the same Catholic high school as John, Pedro and Chris. Rich was at the Bronx High School of Science.

We all again went our separate ways to college, but we were all still in New York City, so again we did everything together, until again I departed.

This time it was of my own accord, testing out my future plans in my native Argentina. Since conscription was still a thing then, I had to complete a year in the Army there.

But the country was still in disarray after regaining democracy, and it stood on the verge of a takeover at any time (two failed coups did occur), so once again I returned to the United States.

Together with my new wife, we moved south again, but this time staying in the northern hemisphere and landing in Orlando, Fla. It would be 16 years before I got back together with the gang.

I located each of my AMR pals and connected through Facebook.

This led to a reintegration with a group of guys with whom I shared so many experiences and an online gathering space allowed us to catch up.

After a while, it’s as if we never went our separate ways.

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Although it’s been harder for me to meet up, I have taken full advantage of trips made to reconnect with one friend at a time or the group as we did for an elementary school reunion.

Now we share our anecdotes in our writings and podcasts. I look forward to those like a kid waiting for Santa.

And this week there will be a full reunion of the original AMR boys in a visit to sunny Florida.

I am so thankful for my friends, the real ones with whom I have shared a childhood and early adulthood.

I now look forward to those middle-age memories still to come. I don’t want to call it a bucket list, but when we get to those formative years, I hope I will still have these AMR brothers to share them with.

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“Hey, Coach…”

“You got a second, Coach?”

Ughhh. The most hated sentence a volunteer parent coach can ever hear.

Why?

Because nothing good ever follows it. It is always some sort of complaint (my daughter didn’t play enough time), unreasonable request (my daughter should play the whole game) or unsolicited “technical” advice (my daughter should play center forward to beef up your weak 4-3-3 formation).

The only thing I can hope for as the coach is that at least the tone is civil.

I have been a sports coach, mostly soccer, since before I had kids of my own. Having been born in Argentina and with a dad who played some professional soccer in his youth, it was a matter of time before I started chasing and kicking “la redonda” (the round one).

I cut my teeth as a coach while as a young adult serving in the Argentine army. Yep, military conscription was still a thing when I was 20. I filled my off hours by volunteering at the Catholic parish youth soccer league.

In Argentina, soccer is an ingrained part of the culture. Children learn to play even before they are able to walk.

Parents rarely are present during formal coaching sessions and many times absent from games entirely. So I had the great opportunity to learn from experienced coaches and to freely coach a team of 9- and 10-year-old boys, all very talented and skillful little players.

After returning to the U.S. and getting married, it wasn’t until we had our own kids that I returned to coaching. It had been 16 years since I had last run a practice, so I signed up as an assistant coach because I wanted to see how things were done in the U.S., now my naturalized home.

By week No. 2 into that, my rookie season, the head coach suddenly had an out-of-town project to work on, and just like the plot of a bad sitcom, I inherited a team of uncoordinated, uninterested first graders to play a game I had learned to play structurally and properly. After setting up some drills to run, it did not take long for bedlam to ensue.

After a few weeks I started to get into the rhythm of the players (know thy audience) and scaled down the drills to more fun games that happened to involve a soccer ball.

Kids were having fun and I managed to sneak in some soccer drills disguised as fun. During their matches the team scored some goals and won some games.

Hurray!

Until…

My first encounter with an upset parent. Fortunately for me, this one didn’t go as it was playing out in my head. I had just finished getting the kids set up for a soccer drill when I saw out of the corner of my eye a mom dragging a red-headed boy by the hand and in my direction with a very determined look on her face.

The boy was one of my talented players but not good at following directions. I was expecting the worst from his mom. What occurred was unexpected but very welcome. After dragging her son, who was struggling against her, in my direction, she stopped short of coming straight up to me.

Instead she dropped to a knee, grabbed her son by the cheeks, pointed at me and without breaking her gaze into his eyes said: “This is your coach and you will listen to and do as he says. Do you understand me?!”

Then she shook my hand without saying anything else and walked away.

In the following years I became very adept at coaching a recreational team of players.

“Recreational” meant that you always had at least four players who were more interested in playing in the dirt, viewing cloud forms or chasing a passing butterfly than in the ball being kicked toward them.

As their coach, my hands were raw from clapping and my throat hoarse from yelling encouragement to a player running in circles far from where that ball was being played.

It is a part of the mantra of recreational sports. All children play regardless of skill, and they should all be encouraged enthusiastically and equally. It can be very tiring for a volunteer coach, but very satisfying as well.

And then it started. “Coach, you got a second?”

Sure, I thought, as I turned with a big smile. What would follow would always be, my kid isn’t receiving enough playing time, etc. etc. In my head I would reply, “How could he? He is too busy digging up ants as the opposing team barrel through your kid’s area on the field!”

Instead, I would smile and think back on that first parental encounter.

Food and Culture Come Together at the Holidays

Coquito y Empanadas!

For the past 23 Christmases I have been able to share the joyous holiday spirit with my lovely wife.

We combine two very different Hispanic cultures and customs.

To outsiders, Hispanics all seem to be the same because we share the same language from the mother country of Spain, Hispanics vary widely in words, customs and traditions.

Caribbean Hispanics differ from Central American Hispanics, and those differ immensely from South American Hispanics.

To compound the issue further, there are smaller subsets of those major groups that also differ from each other. But it is that diversity that strengthens us.

The blend of Hispanic traditions and cultures is huge in my family.

My wife hails from the northern part of Puerto Rico — the Bronx. (I kid.) Yes, she was born in the Bronx, but her Puerto Rican heritage is strong and forged by very many long summer vacations in Puerto Rico.

For my part, I was born in Argentina, the southernmost of Hispanics. I lived many years of my childhood in Argentina.

So through marriage we combined our cultures and traditions and no place is it more apparent than during the holidays.

From the pernil and pasteles at Thanksgiving to the asado on Christmas Eve, foods blend and bring together the cultures.

So this Christmas, like so many before, I proudly make a Coquito recipe entrusted to me by my wife’s aunt from Puerto Rico and I also will indulge in a batch of my Mom’s Argentine empanadas.

But, of course, I will share with friends. It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas y Feliz Navidad!

About Men: Yes, Slappy, it Really is Harassment

This controversial public service announcement video created by Hollaback, an organization dedicated to ending street harassment is intended to be a social experiment highlighting the routine sexual harassment females deal with daily. It features a young woman walking around New York City for 10 hours and the unwanted attention she gets despite not being dressed provocatively or engaging with the men she encounters on the street in any way.

I first saw the video posted by my fellow AMR contributor Pedro on the About Men Radio Facebook newsfeed. Shortly thereafter it had gone, as the hip kids say these days, viral.

Quite frankly I was disgusted more by the YouTube commenters than by the extra creepy guy in the video that follows the girl uncomfortably close and silently for 5 minutes. A typical New Yorker walks a block in a minute so unless my math is off here…this guy shadowed her for 5 blocks!

I am a fiercely proud Argentine and spent my late teens and early twenties in Buenos Aires.  Argentine men (just like Italians, which is also in my blood) are piroperos fond of throwing out piropos, a catcall, to passing women.

In its most traditional sense el piropo is supposed to be a very complimentary, flattering and non-rude line. Sort of like a well crafted pickup. When employed correctly it should be almost poetic. The intended effect is to bring a smile to a woman’s lips. Sadly, most modern piropos are lacking in poetry and too many piroperos in Argentina are just plain rude and harassing.

I recall hanging out with friends in Buenos Aires and some of them throwing out the occasional piropo. I refused to. One day I spoke up against someone in my group who let fly with an especially rude piropo that visibly upset the recipient but titillated the rest of the guys I was with.

I was verbally pounced on after suggesting to the graceless piropero in my group that they should have some respect. Things escalated with harsh words and threats hurled my way by several of the others. Before things became physical I countered (in Spanish), “How would you fu@#ing feel if that was your girlfriend or your mother?”

That certainly defused the situation but I never really hung out with some of those guys again.

I’m not suggesting I wouldn’t take an admiring glance and quietly comment to myself or a buddy on a fine figure walking by. I would.  I just never felt that urge to piropear and I most certainly wouldn’t be pressured into it by some clueless lunkheads.

Some commenters on YouTube felt the woman in the Hollaback video should have felt flattered by the attention and just let it be. Really?!?! Let who be?!?! The creep walking with her for 5 minutes. Or the other guy continually asking her why she didn’t want to be friends? Or any of the other creeps who kept hurling UNSOLICITED comments her way?

It’s all unwelcome and it is most definitely harassment.

But don’t take my word for it, ask your sister.  Ask your wife.  Ask your mom…

Photo: American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin

About Food: A Gaucho Tradition Handed Down…From Mom

In Argentina, manly traditions are generally handed down from father to son. Gaucho traditions such as using a facón (a gauchos’ personal knife), throwing boleadoras (a gaucho’s hunting weapon), or making an asado (a gaucho grilled meat feast) are typically the domain of men.

Not so in the la Frossia household.

I am a man with strong Argentine roots but the art of an asado was passed on to me by Mom, not dad. I learned the process, preparation and grilling techniques of a traditional Argentine asado from her, and display the effectiveness of those lessons on special occasions with family and friends.  My plan is to build a traditional stone Argentine parrilla (grill) for future asados but will bow to tradition.

I’ll be the one teaching my sons and daughter how to prepare the asado for their families.

This multimedia piece was produced for the “Coming to the Table” series from Feet In Two Worlds.