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Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and one of the 20 largest cities of the world. Its streets are still filled with a crumbling grandeur of early 20th century, the era most Lithuanians immigrated to Argentina.

Among those old buildings stand two Lithuanian centers, a Lithuanian church and small museum, five streets named after Lithuania. As everything had been created ~70 years ago, it also has a grand history.

Some 30 000 Lithuanians have immigrated to Argentina during a very short period in the middle of the interwar period (1925-1930). At that time, Argentina was possibly the second-richest country of the Americas (after the USA) and, unlike the USA at the time, it did not limit immigration.

Afterward, Argentina slowly became comparatively poorer and poorer. Now it is significantly poorer than Lithuania itself. Thus Lithuanians have long stopped migrating there and the current Lithuanians of Buenos Aires are nearly all descendants of the pre-WW2 migrants.

Lithuanian Center of Buenos Aires with a patriotic Columns of Gediminas symbol on the facade[/c

Lithuanian Center of Buenos Aires with a patriotic Columns of Gediminas symbol on the facade

Buenos Aires Lithuanian center

Lithuanian Center of Argentina at Tabaré 6950 1439, Villa Lugano neighborhood, may be one of the most impressive Lithuanian secular buildings in South America.

Its façade is marked with Columns of Gediminas (a Medieval Lithuanian symbol). Inside, it has two floors, with a bar on the first floor and a dance hall above, where the Lithuanian traditional dance troupes rehearse.

 Lithuanian dancers at the Lithuanian Center

Lithuanian dancers at the Lithuanian Center

The interior is full of Lithuanian décor: the coats of arms of Lithuania and Lithuanian cities, artworks representing the Lithuanian national anthem and the Battle of Žalgiris (the largest battle where Lithuania participated, winning against the Teutonic Knights in the Medieval era). A nice symbolic artwork has been created by priest Antanas Lubickas (1981) while the coats of arms were created by Antanas Grigonis.

 Grigonis’s coats of arms in the Lithuanian Center

Grigonis’s coats of arms in the Lithuanian Center

The organization of Lithuanian Center of Argentina has been established in 1926 10 10. At the time, the largest wave of Lithuanian immigration to Argentina was commencing. The center was mostly established by intellectuals and the building itself was erected in 1957-1962.

In 2014, a bas-relief to commemorate Lithuania has been created in the yard of the center.

 Bas-relief of the Lithuanian center

Bas-relief of the Lithuanian center

Lithuanian Center is open on Saturdays when dances and other events are held. At other days of the week, the premises are rented out, allowing it to operate.

Our Lady of Vilnius church complex

Most of Buenos Aires Lithuanians settled in the Avellaneda suburb. There they have opened an Our Lady of Vilnius parish in 1942. It is better known as Our Lady of Mercy as the Spanish name now omits references to Vilnius. Still, right over the church entrance, there is an image of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, the city gate famous for the miraculous Virgin Mary image (Our Lady of Vilnius) that adorns it and that inspired the naming of the church. One of the side altars is also dedicated to this image.

 Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

 Gate of Dawn image over the Buenos Aires Lithuanian church entrance

Gate of Dawn image over the Buenos Aires Lithuanian church entrance

Under each of the stained glass windows, a name and surname of the Lithuanian who helped to fund it are inscribed. Under some stained glass windows US cities are mentioned as well – as the Lithuanian-Argentine community was not as rich as the Lithuanian-American community, the church also received many donations from the USA Lithuanians.

 One of the stained glass windows of the Lithuanian church with a donor’s name

One of the stained glass windows of the Lithuanian church with a donor’s name

Currently, the Mass in the church is Spanish-only but the Lithuanian flag still stands inside.

The interior of the Lithuanian church with the image of Our Lady of Vilnius (another one is behind the altar)

The interior of the Lithuanian church with the image of Our Lady of Vilnius (another one is behind the altar)

Together with the church a Lithuanian Marian Fathers monastery and school were built (1948). Both buildings are still operating although they are no longer Lithuanian. The complex is still cared for by Marian fathers – however, now these fathers are Argentinians whereas the Lithuanian Marian fathers now operate in Lithuania alone. Still, the Marian order would not exist today if not for Lithuanians. At one time, Lithuanian Jurgis Matulaitis was the only remaining active Marian and it was through his charisma that the Marian order expanded once again, attracting Lithuanians, Poles, and now Americans, Argentines as well. For this reason, Jurgis Matulaitis is depicted on one of the church’s stained glass windows. The church also has St. Casimir (Lithuania’s patron saint) and Divine Mercy (a Christian cult centered around a painting that is in Vilnius, Lithuania) altars.

 Lithuanian parish school of Buenos Aires

Lithuanian parish school of Buenos Aires

Lithuanian school building does not have many Lithuanian details, however, Lithuanian religious symbols do exist (Jurgis Matulaitis, Our Lady of Vilnius painting) while the stadium outside is adorned with a cross painted in Lithuanian flag colors. The school is now attended by ~800 pupils, most of them not of Lithuanian ancestry. Initially, the school building (the event hall on the second floor) also served as a Lithuanian club.

 Cross painted in the colors of Lithuania’s flag in the stadium of Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

Cross painted in the colors of Lithuania’s flag in the stadium of Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

Lithuanian monastery also houses a Lithuanian museum which has no regular opening times (one should ask at the sacristy to be allowed inside although that is only possible when the museum’s hall does not double as a parish hall). The museum has been established in 1955. Most of its exhibits are things collected by Lithuanian-Argentines that reminded them of the Homeland they left: traditional Lithuanian wooden crafts, ethnic strips, old Lithuanian books (some dating to the 19th century) and other things. At one time, the museum was larger and had over 1000 exhibits, including sculptures, folk costumes, etc. Later, however, the area was repurposed as a parish hall and thus fewer exhibits remained. Once, the building also housed the publishing house for “Argentinos lietuvių balsas” (the Voice of Lithuanian-Argentines), the major Lithuanian-Argentine newspaper. After it stopped publishing, the printing technics were moved to a Lithuanian museum in Esquel (Patagonia).

Lithuanian museum / parish hall (some half of the room is visible)

Lithuanian museum / parish hall (some half of the room is visible)

A cozy churchyard (closed from outside and accessible only through the sacristy) includes a traditional Lithuanian wooden cross (rebuilt in 2015) and Virgin Mary monument that incorporates Lithuanian Columns of Gediminas and Cross of Vytis symbols (~1960). On the yard side, the church is adorned with memorial plaques for St. Cecilia Lithuanian choir that used to operate in the parish. Both monuments also have numerous Lithuanian memorial plaques.

 Lithuanian cross in the Our Lady of Vilnius church yard of Buenos Aires

Lithuanian cross in the Our Lady of Vilnius church yard of Buenos Aires

 Virgin Mary monument  in the Our Lady of Vilnius church yard of Buenos Aires

Virgin Mary monument in the Our Lady of Vilnius church yard of Buenos Aires

The street in front of the church is named Lithuanian Alley (Pje Lituania). At its end where the passage is nearest to the church, there is a memorial plaque commemorating the fact that the street was named in honor of the Lithuanian community.

 Commemorative plaque of the Lithuanian Alley of Avellaneda

Comemorative plaque of the Lithuanian Alley of Avellaneda

Lithuanian Alliance in Argentina

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina also has its hub in Buenos Aires (Av. San Martin 3175, Lanus Oeste district).

 Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

Externally the building may look simple but it hosts large premises inside. The building has been dedicated to Vincas Kudirka (the author of Lithuanian national anthem), therefore, at its heart lies a rather monumental stairway with a large Vincas Kudirka portrait above and balustrades with Columns of Gediminas symbols.

 Staircase of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

Staircase of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

The second floor includes an interesting small exhibition of old materials representing Lithuania: interwar postcards, caricatures, postmarks and more. A large part of those are things that were used by interwar Lithuania to promote itself among foreigners. There is also some information on the occupation of Lithuania. The information is available in numerous languages – Lithuanian, English, German, Spanish (many of the inscriptions were originally in those languages). Browsing all that you may feel as if you’d be transported into some 1950, see the original texts and images Lithuania then used to introduce itself to the world with little-if-any new commentary. These were collected by Juozas Šiušis.

 Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina gallery of interwar Lithuanian introductions to foreigners

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina gallery of interwar Lithuanian introductions to foreigners

The second floor of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina also hosts a library (according to locals, established by Juozas Pauga who smuggled Lithuanian books into Lithuania at the time they were banned by the occupying Russian Empire). There are also many commemorative plaques to commemorate various important events, such as presidential visits. As the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina is a potent symbol of Lituanity in Argentina, it has been visited by more than a single Lithuanian president, among them Algirdas Brazauskas (1996) and Dalia Grybauskaitė.

 Comemorative plaques in the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

Comemorative plaques in the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

The first floor of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina has an event hall, a pool, a bar, a Lithuanian yard named after its architect Alfredas Stanevičius.

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina is the oldest Lithuanian organization of the greater Buenos Aires (excluding Beriso). It has been established in 1914, still a decade before the main wave of Lithuanian immigration. However, at that time there were just some 5000 Lithuanians in whole Argentina – not enough to own a separate building in Buenos Aires. Therefore, the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina used to rent halls. However, as over 10000 new Lithuanians immigrated to Buenos Aires alone in years 1925-1929, the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina quickly grew in ranks. After the new immigrants found jobs and gained steady income, Lithuanians collected enough money to buy own land lot (1941, a lot of 3779 square meters) and then construct their own building.

The building of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina has been opened in 1952 07 12 (on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of the organization). At the time, Lithuanians also owned the nearby land at the location of the current 25 de Mayo street. Later this land was nationalized by the city in order to build the street; in return, the city gave Lithuanians more land at the other side of the building (northwest), making the lot long.

In 1983, the building was expanded northwestwards by building a pool (architect Kaminskas). It used to be popular to spend time there in summer, however, as time passed, the pool has ceased operations.

 Stanevičius Lithuanian yard in Buenos Aires

Stanevičius Lithuanian yard in Buenos Aires

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina is open on Saturdays and willing accepts Lithuanian guests from elsewhere. In addition to regular Saturdays, there are some 5-10 annual larger festivals, among them the independence days of Lithuania (February 16th, March 11th), Mother’s day, also a now-traditional Beer festival in October. During the main festivals, some 200 people come to the Alliance (some 350 during the Beer festival). The organization has 400-500 members.

 Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina  bar

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina bar

Not far away from the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina, there is the longest one of the Buenos Aires area’s streets named after Lithuania - Lithuania Avenue (Avenida Lithuania).

Other Lithuanian sites of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires (together with the surrounding suburbs) have more streets named after Lithuania than any other city. In addition to the two streets mentioned above (Lithuanian Avenue and Alley), there are also Lithuanian streets in Don Bosco, Temperley and Villa Urquiza neighborhoods. Only the last one of these districts is part of the official city of Buenos Aires – the remaining ones are considered suburbs. In general, in Buenos Aires, it is popular to name streets after various foreign places, especially those places where many immigrants to the city hail from.

Next to its port, Buenos Aires has a Museum of immigration that operated in the same building where immigrants used to stay back in the interwar era after they had arrived from Europe. They stayed there as long as they would find a job. Thousands of Lithuanians spent their first days in Argentina there as well. However, the museum exhibition (which is, in part, a center of modern art) does not have anything particularly related to Lithuanians – yet, it is still possible to learn more about the Lithuanian migration to Argentina.

Recreated lines of bunks that used to be temporary homes for thousand s of Lithuanians in what is now the Buenos Aires museum of immigration

Recreated lines of bunks that used to be temporary homes for thousand s of Lithuanians in what is now the Buenos Aires museum of immigration

Argentina had some Lithuanian immigrants even before the main wave and arguably the most famous among those was Robertas Adolfas Chodasevičius (Roberto Adolfo Chodasewicz) who used a hot air balloon in the war in Argentina for the first time. He is buried in the same crypt as other veterans of the War of Triple Alliance in the famous Recoleta cemetery where Eva Peron is also buried. However, his name is not inscribed on that common grave but it may be seen in the electronic cemetery records system near the entrance, where the fact he had been born in Vilnius is also mentioned.

In 2002 Lithuania opened its embassy in Buenos Aires (relocated from Caracas, Venezuela), which served as sole Lithuania’s embassy in entire South America. It used to organize various cultural activities and, according to the local Lithuanians, it had reignited Lithuanity. However, in 2013, the embassy has been closed down as a cost-saving measure and replaced by a consulate-general in Sao Paulo (Brazil).

There are more Lithuanian places in the cities of Rosario and Beriso that are near Buenos Aires. They are, however, described in separate articles.

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  1. Muziejuje yra ir vien tik lietuviškų dokumentų, ypač susijusių su litvakais, tačiau gali būti, kad jie ne visuomet eksponuojami 🙂

    • Kalbate apie Lietuvių muziejų prie Buenos Airių lietuvių bažnyčios?

      • apie Imigracijos muziejų, nes rašėte, kad “nėra nieko susijusio išskirtinai su Lietuva” 🙂

        • Taip, gali būti, kad ne visada eksponuojami, ekspozicija mums lankantis buvo gana nedidelė, didžioji jos dalis skirta meno kūriniams tik menkai susijusiems su imigracija, dar kažkiek šiuolaikinei nelegalios migracijos problemai, ir tik koks trečdalis istorinei imigracijai į Argentiną, ten daugiausiai – statistika ir nuotraukos. Taip pat yra atskiros ekspozicijos kai kurioms daugiausiai imigrantų davusioms tautoms, bet tarp jų nėra lietuvių.

          Iš esmės “Gabalėliai Lietuvos” koncentruojamės į tai, ką gali pamatyti kiekvienas bet kuriuo metu, daugiausiai – nekilnojamąjį paveldą, o taip pat nuolatines muziejų ekspozicijas, nuolat bažnyčiose kabantį meną ir pan. Tai, kas paprastai yra archyvuose, arba kas yra privačiose patalpose į kurias įleidžiamas ne kiekvienas norintis, kas sudaro laikinas parodas ar laikinus renginius, yra už “Gabalėlių Lietuvos” ribų (nebent, tarkime, tam tikra laikina paroda ar renginys vyktų kasmet, kas mėnesį ar kitokiu prognozuojamu reguliarumu).


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