With all the world’s diversity, there is perhaps one thing that unites disparate peoples from the furthest reaches of the globe: Chinatown. Yes, unlike us Latinos, the overseas Chinese population has never been too particular about where it puts down roots, with long-established and growing communities across Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, the U.S. and, of course, Latin America. Indeed, the characteristic arcs of the world’s Chinatowns can be found in Barrios Chinos from Havana to Buenos Aires, adding even more color and life to Latin America’s singular brand of cultural mestizaje. But quite often these communities remain a mystery to non-Chinese locals who may frequent the neighborhood’s restaurants and markets without having a deeper understanding of the complex dynamic of assimilation and cultural continuity that plays out behind closed doors.
With Arribeños, Argentine director Marcos Rodriguez has taken the plunge to highlight an often invisible global immigrant community and its particular manifestation in the two blocks that stretch between Juramento and Olazábal streets in Buenos Aires. Here Rodriguez turns his camera to different generations of Chinese immigrants – some struggling to speak Spanish, others struggling to speak Mandarin, some yearning for home after decades overseas, others proudly proclaiming themselves porteños.
Employing testimonies and observational footage of the neighborhood’s comings and goings, Rodriguez uses his documentary to embody the very paradox he sets out to explore: the external and the internal, the public and the private of a neighborhood that guards hundreds of stories behind the walls of its emblematic signs and arches. We see this dynamic at play in Arribeños’ trailer, as Rodriguez cuts back and forth between images of community celebration, religious practices, parochial schools and the touristy “outside” as experienced by everyday porteños. Overall, it seems Arribeños is evidence of a filmmaker breaking down his own preconceptions and using his camera to find deeper meaning.