If you are walking around the San Telmo neighborhood in Buenos Aires, you might be tempted to stop for a few minutes on a bench. There, you might want to have a chat with a small, round-headed, brown-haired girl who might surprise you with her inimitable outspokenness. I say “tempt” because people are lining up to get this privilege. And yes, Mafalda, the little girl in question, is a real icon in Argentina!
Mafalda’s first appearance
Created by Joaquín Salvador Lavado Tejon, alias Quino, she appeared in 1964 in the weekly news magazine Primera Plana. This virtual “daddy” placed his young heroine in a middle-class family of Buenos Aires, in the heart of the San Telmo neighborhood. She is a child who hates soup, knee high to a grasshopper, a knot in her hair and plump cheeks. But make no mistake about it! Lucid and impertinent, she tirelessly denounces the society around her with funny and incomparable remarks.
The universe of Mafalda…
is composed of friends, pretexts for his societal reflections, and a family for which she often feels sorry. In addition, she has a globe that inspires his diatribes on the world and a turtle named … “bureaucracy”. From 1964 till 1973, she has continuously given her opinion on everything, from politics to consumer society, the role of women and education. Her remarks blend childhood and maturity, humor and sagacity. Her inimitable sense of repartee and ingenuous but uncompromising questions have seduced Argentines since her inception. Mafalda has allowed them to face the many upheavals that have shaken their country. She therefore quickly became popular, irresistible and endearing, blowing a wind of freedom and justice that spread to many other countries.
The Tribute in 2009
The park bench is a symbol of exchange, social bonding and conviviality. Placing Mafalda there, among her own people and in the middle of her city’s life, was the most beautiful of all tributes. If she were in flesh and blood she would not be more alive. We so much want to come and sit next to her and ask her opinion on why this world is not much better. In the evening, in the semi-darkness, she is so real and touching that you can almost see her lips moving. By lifting her accusing little finger, she reminds us how important it is to remain critical and vigilant.
This bench is much more than a street furniture. It is a platform for all those who, alongside Mafalda, want to chat with an open heart, say what others keep quiet and believe in freedom of thought.
Text by Claudia Gillet-Meyer; photos Régis Meyer.