Buenos Aires’ true roots
In the project Memorias del río, Rocío Cárdenas documents the struggle of the indigenous community Tres Ombúes, from Ciudad Evita, to preserve their customs and the memory of their ancestors. It is a work that explores uncomfortable questions about the territorial conflicts that occur in the Buenos Aires suburbs and about the debt of our societies with the original peoples devastated by the Conquest.
By Alonso Almenara
“What do we know about our territory?” asks Argentine photographer Rocío Cárdenas. “Why does the history of Buenos Aires begin with the arrival of the Spaniard Pedro de Mendoza in 1535? Where does the name of the Matanza River come from? And why are there monuments commemorating genocides in Argentina?”
In the photographic project Memorias del río, Cárdenas addresses these questions by documenting the struggle of the indigenous community Tres Ombúes, from Ciudad Evita, in the Buenos Aires suburbs, made up of members of the Kolla, Diaguita, Qom, Aymara, Guaraní, Mapuche, and Quechua native peoples, among others. These people live in a disputed area where the Ezeiza III archaeological site is located, in a remnant of the ancient terraces bordering the meanders of the Matanza River. Ceramic remains and pieces of pottery, tools, and bones have been found there. For the Tres Ombúes community, it is a sacred cemetery.
Today, illegal real estate developments occupy 80% of this territory. The inaction of the municipal authorities is worrying: “The territories of memory are protected by law,” says Rocío. “As are archaeological sites and the rights of native peoples.”
The site is vital, moreover, because “one of the largest unrecognized genocides in Argentine history” took place there, in the photographer’s words. The chronicler Ulrico Schmidl briefly accounts for this event on June 15, 1536, the day of Corpus Christi. At that time, the area was inhabited by the Querandí people, a nomadic people of whom little is known, as the troops of Pedro de Mendoza, the founder of Buenos Aires, annihilated them.
Schmidl describes these people as a nation “of 2,000 men, women, and children, [whose] dress was like that of the Zechurg (Charrúa) from the navel to the knees. […] These Carendies (Querandíes) have no rooms of their own but circle the earth, like the gypsies in our country.”
Rocío finds the lack of interest of Argentine society in preserving the memory of the original inhabitants of these lands disturbing. “The Argentine state is built on massacres and conquests,” she points out.
“There is a concealment or an inability to recognize the dispossession of the native peoples that occurred upon the arrival of the Spaniards. Argentina must be one of the few countries where monuments to Columbus or a figure like Pedro de Mendoza remain intact. I would love to see those monuments disappear.”
How did the Memorias del río project come about?
I am from Tapiales, a town in the district of La Matanza in the province of Buenos Aires. Last year I started working with wetlands in the Ciudad Evita nature reserve in the Matanza River basin. And I started researching this river that crosses a large part of the capital city and the Buenos Aires suburbs. I wondered where its name comes from, and that’s how I met a community called Tres Ombúes. They live in an archaeological site of ancestral memory, which is being occupied by illegal urban constructions.
I started to visit the community to work with them, and that is how I discovered the history of the Querandí people, who settled in what is now the ancestral site of Tres Ombúes. The first battle of the Río de la Plata occurred in 1536. It was a genocide. To such an extent, there were no descendants or much information left of the Querandí people.
Memorias del río is about the history of the territory I inhabit and the Tres Ombúes community’s struggle to keep their beliefs alive, and the memory of the original inhabitants of this place.
What is the current situation of the Tres Ombúes community?
The first time I visited them, I met Delia, my referent in the community. They welcomed me, sat around a fire, drank Mates, and told me about their problems with the other community occupying the area. It is a popular neighborhood called Puente 13. We all know about the housing problem in Argentina and that everyone has the right to a place to live. But it is also essential to preserve this land, which is a sacred site for the Tres Ombúes community.
What they want to do now is to build a museum and a community center where they can develop workshops. I have participated in several of these workshops where they teach pottery, for example, or how to prepare chicha, an ancestral knowledge being lost.
What were you interested in capturing in this photographic series?
Above all, I was interested in capturing the community’s connection with the territory. For example, I have photos of ceremonies to the river and the land. Their connection with this site, which after so many years is still in conflict and resisting, is very intense.
Do you consider that the Argentine State has shown interest in resolving this situation?
The Argentine State needs to provide the tools and give due importance to the memory of the territory. It seems to me that there is a concealment or an incapacity to recognize the dispossession of the native peoples that occurred at the arrival of the Spaniards. Argentina must be one of the few countries where monuments to Columbus or a figure like Pedro de Mendoza remain intact. I would love to see those monuments disappear.
This work is one of the inspirations for E-CO/23], the new edition of our meeting of photographic collectives, which this year will have as its thematic axes: Ecologies, Territories, and Communities.
Through this call, we are interested in gathering stories of sustainable development, community movements, and ways of inhabiting the land in the community to achieve new narratives built from the plurality of collective creation.
Each selected project will receive support of 5,000 euros for its production. The tasks can be presented by existing collectives or by groups of people working in collaboration for this project in an interdisciplinary way.
The selected groups will participate in a collective process of production and reflection that will be accompanied by pedagogical support with specialists in the themes.
Once the production stage is completed, the project results will be presented in one or more exhibitions that may rotate and on the digital platforms of Fundación VIST, the AECID, and the participating Spanish Cultural Centers or the institutions they designate. The aim is to consolidate networks for creating and circulating visual narratives in Ibero-America.