Slum baggage

Starting on January 16th, L.A. Gang Tours offers a tourist visit through the most dangerous streets and neighbourhoods of Los Angeles.

L.A. is considered the cradle of American gang culture. The organizers state on their web site that their goal is “saving lives, creating jobs, rebuilding communities”. Nevertheless, the idea gathered supporters and detractors, in and out the city’s zones included in the tour. It is difficult not to see the similarities, at least seemingly, between California gang tourism and slum tourism in our city.

The debate is old. In Los Angeles or in Buenos Aires, some believe that it is a way of denouncing the poverty, the marginality, the violence that a large part of the city–precisely the one avoided by tourism– suffers in silence. Others, just as sincerely as the first group, think that is nothing else that exploitation, the creation of a human zoo.

According to Los Angeles Times, L.A. Gang Tours is a nonprofit organization. Its founders are ex gang members, born and raised in the same streets that they now plan on showing to travellers from around the world.

In Buenos Aires there is an example that seems to be reversed. Heike Thelen was born in Germany, far away from the slums from Buenos Aires south. She visited Argentina in 1994, during her college studies, and in 2000 was one of the proprietors of Boquitas pintadas, one of the first “boutique” hotels in the city. She also pioneered the slum visits for tourists, organized with the necessary participation of the inhabitants of Villa 20, in Lugano, where, later, she started a cultural community project.

Thelen, according to this article in Página 12, thinks that the aforementioned debate ends without even beginning. In her view, tourism brings at the same time money and dignity to the slums, but it must not distract us from the main goal: “I believe that we have to make the slum people know and be sure that they have the same rights than anybody else.”

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