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Strolling through Buenos Aires in the twenty-first century, the city might be read as an alternative text to that of established Argentine national history. The streets, walls, and tunnels of the city itself form the backdrop from which passersby create and narrate their own histories of the city from the words and images written upon them. How does the city itself form an urban narrative? The recognition and reclaiming of street, sidewalks, and other public spaces by non-elites reflects a continual movement in literature as well as in human rights work towards an increasing democratization of public space.
The city itself is a text—a primary source that urban historians might consider evaluating. The actual names of streets, as Rama notes, do reflect national history. But throughout the popular culture of the city, there has been an awareness of this monolithic view of the powerful elite and the naming of city streets.
These comedic plays emphasized lunfardo , the street slang or coded language derived from regional dialects of immigrants transplanted to Buenos Aires. In his novel, Museo , a character, the President, muses that streets and monuments ought to be named for virtues rather than for people:.
In such a masculine urban context, it might seem almost as unlikely that streets might be named after women as they would for emotions, but that is what happened with the mids renovation of the former port district, Puerto Madero. In all of Buenos Aires, only fifty-nine streets are named after women, the majority of them located here. The port area fell into disuse in the s and was revived in the s.
In , the city council voted to name the streets after women in an attempt to re-orient the political power of the nation towards that half of the population who had been invisible in the public sites of the city. The neighborhood now highlights the name of pioneering women such as Cecilia Grierson, a doctor and female rights activist, and the first woman in South America to earn a medical degree ; Azucena Villaflor, one of the original mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who was arrested, imprisoned, and killed in the notorious night-flights that the military carried out from the Naval Mechanics Officers School or ESMA, as it is known by its Spanish initials ; filmmaker Maria Luisa Bemberg; and many others.