Science, Tango, Hugs: a Profile of Joaquin Canay

by Maximilian Eyle

Joaquin Canay is a professional tango instructor turned biotech-engineer. He hails from Buenos Aires but has lived in New York State for more than 15 years. He is very tall, with lots of curly brown hair and a bubbly personality. Joaquin sat down with me to discuss what he has learned living in the United States and what he feels the United States could learn from Argentina.

You were born in Buenos Aires, how did you come to live in Buffalo, NY?

When I was 18 years old I moved to New York City. I didn’t speak any English but I spent 3 years there. I taught a little tango, took some English classes, and worked odd jobs as a bouncer and promoter in the music scene. Eventually I found an opportunity to teach tango in Ithaca. I did that for 11 years full time. Back in Argentina I had taken one year of med school, so I decided to get my associated degree at Tompkins County Community College in Biotechnology. The teachers were incredible – some of the best I have ever had. I was then accepted into the biotech program at University of Buffalo where I earned by bachelor’s degree.

What type of work do you do now?

I work now for Thermo-Fisher in the research and development group where I help design new products. Right now we are working on developing mediums for cell growth in the lab. When scientists have to growth cells in a petri dish, they have to put the cells in a substance so they grow. We make that substance for laboratories across the world, it’s very exciting.

What do you miss most about life in Argentina?

I miss my friends and family the most, of course. Argentina is a gorgeous country but people are what you miss the most. They have a different attitude toward life. People are much closer in Argentina, in terms of physical space. They touch, they stand closer. Here, they are not used to such contact. When I came here, people were bothered by how close I would stand when I talked to them. In Argentina, we hug and kiss all the time. Here, people are much more distant.

For example, you can just stop by a friend’s house without warning back home. If they are feeling bad, you can just go and take them out. Here, you need to call first. Friends are an extension of the family. In America, the term doesn’t mean quite the same thing. It is hard for people to form those stronger friendships without feeling comfortable being open and close with each other.

I also miss dancing. I used to dance every day but now it is once every week or two. Tango was always my salvation to help me adapt to this culture much faster. In tango, you have so much personal contact, you are hugging the person for the duration of the dance. It grounded me and made this foreign land seem familiar. It is hard to describe the feeling you get when you dance, but I miss it. Even though I like my job very much, after a year of working there, I haven’t touched any of my coworkers. It is a very strange feeling.

What could Americans learn from Argentineans?

We are all animals, and our lives are short and pointless. For this reason we must enjoy it. The “time is money” philosophy reduces people’s ability to enjoy their lives. They have coffee with a friend for an hour but are in a rush because they have to be somewhere else rather than enjoying the moment. Americans need to learn how to enjoy the small moments better, to live within the community and with less pressure.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

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