Conventillo refers to an urban tenement in Argentina established during the nineteenth century as thousands began to emigrate from Europe—particularly Spain and Italy. Home to sometimes as many as three to four hundred people during the peak years of immigration to Argentina, these residential structures derived either from subdivided elite family homes or were quickly constructed rental properties located on vacant, side, or back lots.
Conventillos generally had few windows and only a single street entrance that opened onto a patio interior that accessed several small rooms (usually 12 by 12 feet with ceilings somewhere between 9 to 14 feet high). Landlords provided only the most rudimentary access to electricity, heat, furniture, and waste removal. Residents found space for cooking, bathing, and toilet facilities significantly limited. Many single male renters slept in shifts over a twenty-four-hour period while women often worked from home as they did laundry, sewing, cigar rolling, and other piecework while also fulfilling child-care duties.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, the environment of the conventillos gave rise to an especially intimate working-class social culture. Residents constantly had to negotiate with neighbors. Familiarity also fostered cooperation and political solidarity as residents, on occasion, organized for better living conditions and reduced rents. Evidence of this can be seen in 1907 when residents in approximately 2,000 conventillos (out of a total of nearly 120,000) took part in a citywide rent strike. Similarly, the rough-and-tumble working-class culture of Buenos Aires, including early tango music, can be closely associated with the conventillos.
See alsoCities and Urbanization.
Scobie, James. Argentina: A City and a Nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Scobie, James. Buenos Aires: Plaza to Suburb, 1870–1910. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974.
Andrew G. Wood