lyrics by Benjamin Tagle Lara
Where is my neighborhood, my wicked cradle?
Where is the scruffy haven of yesteryear?
With one slap, the paved streets wiped out
that old place where I grew up…
In the suspicious suburban** silence,
on the night of a turbulent love affair,
I became, from then on, everyone’s son
as I roamed through the mud of that arrabal.
Puente Alsina, you used to be my refuge,
but in one fell swoop the city streets reached you…
Old bridge, companion and confidante,
you are the mark left behind
on the face of progress,
the rebellious suburb
until yesterday protected you (fell beneath your feet).
I never knew a mother’s tender touch,
hardship was the only father I had,
and the wicked blood I carry in my veins
shrieks out a serf’s lament with raw rage.
They are taking away my neighborhood, my everything,
so I, son of its mud, have come to look for it…
My neighborhood is my mother, she cannot answer me…
tell me, where are they going to bury her?
Puente Alsina, where is all the grit
of your proud native sons
who always came to your defense?
They rose up in anger
but they were all beat down
as they silently remembered
when, blow by blow, the winds
of those paved streets
tore your life apart.
The italicized verse and line appear only in Rosita Quiroga’s 1926 version. Per usual practice, she does not change the word “hijo” in the Spanish original to “hija” when singing it, thus, she too sings that she was “everyone’s son” and “son of the mud.”
Rosita Quiroga (1926)
Orquesta Típica Victor, Instrumental (1927)
Orquesta Osvaldo Pugliese, singer Jorge Vidal (1949)
Rosita Quiroga (1980s?)
“I’m as old as Methuselah [lit. “older than the Bible”]. I look and act my age. I’m from La Boca. Juan de Dios Filiberto taught me my first chords on the guitar. Quinquela Martín was one of our neighbors. I sang milongas, estilos, zambas, and vidalitas, but then I leaned more towards tango, but tango arrabalero. My biggest hits were “Muchacho,” “Mocosita,” “Pato,” and “Julian.” But can you imagine me singing “Julián” now, where it goes, “Why did you leave me, my handsome Julián?” what bullshit, he’d’ve left me because I’m old and wrinkled! But I can sing this tango.”
*The bridge is named after Valentín Alsina, a 19th century porteño politician who was banished from the country by Juan Manuel de Rosas, but later returned to have a long career in the provinicial and national government. However, the Puente Alsina that currently crosses the Riachuelo, connecting Nueva Pompeya in the Federal Capital of Buenos Aires with Lanús in the Province of Buenos Aires, is not the original bridge. The original structure, built in 1859, was damaged in the 1888 Río de la Plata earthquake and replaced with a temporary iron bridge in 1910. The current neo-colonial bridge was officially opened in 1938, and for many years according to official government documents it was named after General José Félix Uriburu, who led the 1930 coup against President Hipólito Yrigoyen. The bridge was officially renamed “Puente Alsina” by the city government of Buenos Aires in 2002.
**In contemporary American English, the word suburb often connotes a bedroom community at the edge of urban sprawl, composed of identical new construction homes organized into subdivisions and gated communities. The word suburban can be used literally refer to these places, but it is also often used figuratively and pejoratively to mean bland, conformist, bourgeois, pedestrian, etc. In tango lyrics, however the words suburbio (noun) and suburbano (adjective) refer simply to neighborhoods outside the city center, retaining their original sense. As is apparent here, a suburbio of Buenos Aires could, even into the early decades of the twentieth century, be barely tamed pampa, with dirt roads.
In other songs, I have chosen to translate the terms as “outskirts” to avoid the common connotations of the English cognate. In this song, however, I favored the rhythm and alliteration of the more literal translation, and the preserved assonance with “turbulent” in the next line. I also repeated the word “suburb” a few lines down, to preserve internal consistency in the song.
(Spanish original after the jump)
¿Dónde está mi barrio, mi cuna maleva?
¿Adónde la cueva, refugio de ayer?
Borró el asfaltado de una manotada,
la vieja barriada que me vio crecer…
En la sospechosa quietud de un suburbio,
la noche de un turbio drama pasional,
y yo, desde entonces, el hijo de todos,
rodé por el lodo de aquel arrabal.
Puente Alsina, que antes fueras mi regazo,
de un zarpazo la avenida te alcanzó…
Viejo puente, compañero y confidente,
sos la marca que, en la frente,
el progreso te ha dejado
el suburbio rebelado
hasta ayer te defendió (que a tu paso sucumbió).
Yo no he conocido caricias de madre,
tuve un solo padre que fuera el rigor,
y llevo en mis venas, de sangre maleva,
gritando una gleba con crudo rencor.
Porque se lo llevan, mi barrio, mi todo,
yo, el hijo del lodo, lo vengo a buscar…
Mi barrio es mi madre que ya no responde…
¡Que digan adónde la van a enterrar!
Puente Alsina, ¿donde está ese malevaje
y el criollaje
que hasta ayer te defendió?
pero todos se arroyaron
y callados contemplaron
cuando a tajos la avenida
hizo gales en tu vida
que por ahí se desprendió.
Nice, especially together with her intro! Can we translate suburbio as “outskirts”?
Glad you enjoyed Rosita’s words and singing! I was amazed the first time I saw it by how frank she is about her own aging. She treats it like a fact, not anything to be ashamed of.
As I don’t quite say in the footnote, I went back and forth many times between using “outskirts” as I have before in other translations on this site, and using the (nowadays) pseudo-false cognate “suburb.” But you know, with increasing re-urbanization and re-gentrification in so many U.S. inner cities, poorer citizens are being forced out to suburbs again. So while the word still has all the connotations I mentioned, I decided, just for this song, to go ahead and keep it, since it sounded better–and because, perhaps, in 10 years, it will have the same sense for Anglophones in the U.S. as it does here! Of course, the good/bad thing about online publishing is that I could easily change this blog post if I decide to…:)
Derek thanks for your translation. The second chorus (the one you give in italics) is especially interesting, what a pity that Pugliese didn’t keep it in his version – perhaps it was just too risky at the time. I wonder if it is referring to some unknown historical events (apart from the tarmacking of the barrio, that is). Thanks for clarifying the meaning of some of the difficult words.By the way, I believe that “hijo de todo” is an Argentine euphemism for an orphan: having no parents, one is the child of everyone. The lyric would seem to confirm this, as the protagonist has neither mother nor father.
All the best,
Thanks for your thoughts, as always!
I think so many tangos contain references to minor or unrecorded historical events that may have had huge impacts in the barrios where they took place, but escaped notice by wider authorities. Without anecdotes to point us in the right direction, I think we can only imagine what the lyricists are referring to.
Re: “hijo de todos,” you’re absolutely right. In this instance I chose to do a more directly translation of the euphemism to keep its elliptical character in English. Not sure if readers will interpret it correctly, though…