Editor’s Note: Azul Blaquier is a senior at the University of Michigan majoring in philosophy. She is an intern with CNN Opinion. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.
As a recent immigrant to the United States, I am sometimes on the receiving end of compassionate efforts as people offer me their condolences for having arrived to the US as a student, no less, during such an economically tumultuous time. They’re not wrong—if my American and green-card-holder friends have anecdotally commented on how hard it is to find a job right now, us visa-less hopefuls are at the bottom of the labor market food chain.
In the past 12 months, prices in the US have risen at a brisk pace, a level most Americans – and the Federal Reserve Bank – consider far too high. But for me, despite the gloom of economists, the sun shines just as brightly, spring smells just as sweetly and I wake up just as grateful to live in a country with 5% inflation.
That’s because I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The mention of my country makes people think of wine, steak and Lionel Messi (or Diego Maradona, depending on who you’re asking and how old they are). And while these may indeed be national treasures, to most Argentines our country is also associated with a history of severe economic crises.
Compared to Argentina, the US has nothing to worry about.
Just last month, annual inflation in Argentina eclipsed 100% for the first time since 1991, when the country was recuperating from 3,000% hyperinflation. Consumer prices rose 102.5% in March as the economy contracted much more than expected despite a glorious win in the Qatar World Cup in December.
The government is on its third economic minister since July and is struggling to stay up to date with the conditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for its largest-ever loan ($44 billion). Inflation is so severe that some people have been papering their walls with 10-peso bills because it’s cheaper than buying wallpaper. Even Chat GPT was stumped when trying to analyze Argentina’s economy.
If this wasn’t enough, two statistics put it even more bluntly. Since the 1950s, Argentina has spent more time in a recession than any other country in the world except for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And if you were, like me, born on or after the year 2000 in Argentina, you’ve never lived without severe inflation.
Anyone who steps foot in Argentina has to deal with less-than-alluring hassles. There are 15 different exchange rates for the US dollar (including an exclusive rate for concerts called “Dollar Coldplay,” probably due to that being the only band that dares make regular appearances) and you must always and only be carrying $100 bills (they have a bit more purchasing power than $20s or, God forbid, $5s) because the peso has virtually no value. You must also be prepared to deal with a fluctuating dollar exchange rate. Because the government has a low US dollars reserve, it has exchange controls in place to prevent dollar outflows. This policy gave birth to the infamous “dollar blue,” the illegal and popular parallel dollar rate which has no purchasing limit. When I first submitted this article last week, the dollar blue was at $408 pesos to the dollar. Today, it has surpassed $500.
What was it like growing up with economic chaos as an intrinsic part of my life? As early as primary school, I understood inflation—something most adult Americans struggle with. My friends and I had a running bet of guessing what the price of our recess snacks would be the next week. I, having the most expensive taste, was 12 the first time my $10 peso bill couldn’t buy my favorite Milka Oreo alfajor, which I still remember once purchasing with coins. This made asking our parents for cash almost a daily habit—so much so that we often felt guilty at our parents’ disbelief that we were still asking for more. How could typical teenage activities like going to the movies or to a party cost so much and increase so often?
We quickly understood the very real consequences our country’s economy could have on our lifestyle. We grew up discussing school, dating and politics, and often the latter way more than the others. For many of us, awareness of the feeble thread our economic security rested upon instilled a hustler’s mentality. In my case, after two years of private tutoring, I was paying for my own trip to Europe at 18.
Since the government limits purchasing dollars to $200 dollars a month at the official rate, when traveling abroad most people head to offices that act as a front for the illegal exchange market, also known as cuevas, to get their money’s worth.
The first time I went to one was to change my hard-earned dollars into euros. My friends and I had spent weeks closely following the exchange rates and talking to friends of friends to figure out what was the ideal date (especially if it was close to an election) and location to go to.
I found myself in the cobblestone streets of Microcentro in Buenos Aires—most accurately described by this TripAdvisor comment: “It’s better not to go…” You would never have guessed that that’s where the only overseas branch of Harrods once stood as you made a beeline for the so-called jewelry store closely hugging your coat and not making eye-contact with any of the characters that roam the streets. While officially illegal, the underground economy is so ubiquitous that the policemen escorted me to a cab on my way out—for a bribe, of course.
Living in a country that has, for virtually the last century, been in sociopolitical and economic turmoil shapes a person. Our minds are not structured for permanence. We live in a constant state of uncertainty, always needing to be a few steps ahead of the next ridiculous policy that will send our lives into turmoil.
But for all the stress and frustration it entailed, the constant state of economic instability made me an incredibly adaptable person, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. It’s what’s allowed me to move from Buenos Aires to Edinburgh to Michigan to New York, to make friends from scratch three times in my adult life and to be savvy in choosing what opportunities to pursue. Because when you don’t take anything for granted, you’re always awake, aware, alive.
If you’re currently struggling with the inflation rates in the US, my story is not meant to make you feel bad just because other people have it worse. It’s meant to make you feel hopeful that you’ll weather the storm. Reality for Argentines is always a constant struggle. You never work or save or hustle enough to be done with it, but you never stop trying either. And whether it’s getting the internship of your dreams or working as a server until 1 a.m. (both of which I’ve done), you have no idea where the next opportunity will take you.