a foot in the door

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

When I landed in Buenos Aires, I didn't realize how much studying community building would lead to a study of myself. But when no one knows who you are, you start to develop this definition of yourself to present to your new neighbors. I have a lot of half-formed thoughts about how communities work right now, but the last almost six months has led me to place a lot more emphasis on the individual. No one is part of only one community and all of our networks affect each other.

I started playing jazz in middle school. Our school district in Western New York has these two angel music teachers who guided me through my first solo transcription (Diana Krall's Let's Fall in Love will always be special to me), taught me about what a chord change even was, and set up a lot of opportunities for all of us. When I went to university, I felt like I couldn't just stop playing jazz. But I was personally always a little at odds with the genre. Playing more tango has helped me figure out why.

There's a lot of similarities in the structure behind tango and jazz. The same rhythmic base was shipped over on slave ships from Africa and the Milonga became the Porteño Blues. But from the get-go, violin has been a traditional tango instrument. This means when you say you play tango violin, no one does a double take. This means you can find a violinist to give you lessons, instead of translating from another instrument. This means there's music written specifically for your instrument. This means just by playing violin, I had a foot in the door to learn. (I also acknowledge that my jazz studies gave me a lot of technical insight into tango that I would not have known otherwise - thank you WEHS!)

This concept of "having an in" is the first big step to joining or building a community. We're all sort of doing our own hustle every day, and to take a pause from that to do something else, we have to hold some sort of belief that we'll be accepted in that something else.

In this move, I've found different aspects of my identity coming to the fore-front of my personality. While we will default to places we feel we belong, we sometimes find these by figuring out what makes us different. Never before have I felt like I've been so Chinese. Even among Americans, I've become the representation for the Argentine/Asian experience which feels very odd. Sometimes I wonder if I'm even exoticizing myself for the sake of standing out. Almost all of the grocery stores and laundromats are run by Chinese families and the ladies I see every week there insist on speaking Mandarin with me. (I can say "hello," "I am called Teagan," "you are my teacher," and "I'm hungry" in a poor accent but nothing else). They have identified me as Chinese because of my face, but is adopting an entire identity because of coincidental ethnicity a form of self-appropriation? Or is that my foot in the door to join this community?

I'll be marinating on this and a lot more...until next time!

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