Is it ever too early to teach children how to adopt the disgruntled attitude of a paunch-bellied, middle-aged man muddling through a bank loan application? Must we wait for the left and right hemispheres of the brain to fully fuse before encouraging children to vigorously debate the inner workings of a democratic society? And should there be an age limit on visiting a jail cell and a traditional countryside bar within the same hour? Not according to Eva Perón.
Sprawled across 130 acres of a former golf club in La Plata Partido, Argentina, La República de los Niños (The Children’s Republic) is a proportionally-sized children’s theme park that represents the entire workings of a democratic city.
The park, which opened in 1951, was built in the early years of Perónism under President Juan Domingo Perón; the ideological pillars of the movement include social justice, economic independence, and political sovereignty. Current proponents applaud the former administration’s anti-imperialist, nationalist stance, as well as the implementation of social measures such as paid vacation, low-income housing, and social security. Critics condemn the regime’s capitalist tendencies, arbitrariness, and dictatorial characteristics bordering on fascism. Perón was, after all, a fan of Mussolini.
The president’s wife, Eva Perón, built the park through the Eva Perón Foundation, which focused on children’s issues. La República de los Niños was to be a place where children would learn the values, rights, and obligations of a Perón democracy, all for an entrance fee of 20 pesos (about USD $2). Education is the park’s current focus— although open to the public on weekends, La República mostly partners with students at local schools.
Children can exercise their democratic rights in the Municipal Bank (modeled to look like the Doge’s Palace in Venice), the Palace of Culture (inspired by the Taj Mahal), and the Legislature, which houses the Chamber of Duties and the Government of the Children’s Republic (a near copy of the British Parliament). Kids can sit in on a mock public trial, observe traffic patterns in a closed circuit, and learn the hows and whys of becoming indebted to one’s bank through loan applications.
It’s all in the name of “Learning to be an Adult,” as the Visit Argentina website extols. Should the staggering monotony of adulthood become too much, children can also learn to knock one back at the Children's Republic pulpería, a traditional countryside bar.
Photo by Fernando Gandolfi
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