Digital culture roundup: Inside a mayoral candidate’s feud with a cartoon

Ramiro Marra’s apparent beef with an — imaginary — 8-year-old from Formosa placed historical revisionism under the spotlight

You might have seen the image of a little boy popping up on Argentine social media over the past week. He’s an 8-year-old named Zamba from Clorinda, a town in Formosa, known for his appearances on a popular children’s TV show. He’s also Buenos Aires mayoral candidate Ramiro Marra’s biggest enemy. The thing is, he’s a cartoon.

It all started with an interview Marra gave news channel IP. When asked what he thought should be done with public media broadcasters — namely TV Pública and educational channel Paka Paka — Marra said he would rather they be closed down or sold. Under no circumstances, he insisted, would he support indoctrination paid with state money

To clarify what he meant, he used an example close to home. “My mom says Paka Paka cartoons are politically biased,” said Marra, who is running for Javier Milei’s coalition La Libertad Avanza (LLA). 

Although Marra mentioned Paka Paka, he was apparently confusing the network with Zamba. Zamba was the lead character of a cartoon aired by Paka Paka where he traveled in time to speak to Argentine and Latin American historical figures about different events. The show, called La asombrosa excursión de Zamba, was nominated to the 2014 International Emmy Kids Awards. His claim of indoctrination seemed to be aimed at the historical revisionism of the program.

Marra was inundated by a stream of memes celebrating the fictional character Zamba a few hours after a clip of the interview was posted on X (formerly Twitter).

The backlash was strong enough that it even came up at the BA mayoral debate on Wednesday night. Marra defended himself saying he was the victim of a smear campaign for disliking Paka Paka. He later wrote a post on X signaling out one political force by name. “It feels like Kirchnerism is nervous about me criticizing Paka Paka, we’re on the right track,” he said.

Even Argentine vice president Cristina Kirchner took Zamba’s side. She shared a video on TikTok of an old speech where she said that having content like that in public media was a reason to celebrate. 

“We now have Zamba among [national heroes] Manuel Belgrano and Juana Azurduy, we can see our own heroes transformed into culture for all Argentines.” 

Marra’s claim, however, touches on a debate sparked by the many criticisms Paka Paka and Zamba got after the network’s launch in 2010. Namely, that the character’s revisionist position was perceived as an affiliation to Kirchnerism. 

Former Zamba scriptwriter Guido Segal, however, tells the Herald that the work environment was far from totalitarian. “Every episode was debated, it was a very productive [atmosphere] and didn’t seem dogmatic at all,” says Segal, who teaches at UCLA and currently lives in the United States.

He claims he was never forced to write anything he didn’t want to and that he was free to change historical characters when necessary — even if that meant removing Juan Perón from an episode. In his words, there was a clear intention of making a high-quality product for kids.

If the show seemed biased it was because it went against what most adult Argentines learned in school. For certain audiences, it was a challenge. 

“In a sense, Paka Paka is close to revisionism because it criticizes liberal historiography,” UNDAV History lecturer and journalist Federico Pazos tells the Herald. For some children, Paka Paka might be their first time learning history. That’s the official story for them. 

Paka Paka channel director Cielo Salviolo says that three generations of Argentines have grown up watching the network and Zamba, the channel’s most iconic character. The shows are meant to be an aid for teachers as well as conversation-starters. This is something that was just not there for previous generations.

That might be the reason why Marra was so offended by Zamba’s criticism of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. “I’m Spanish, I have dual citizenship, my grandfather was from Spain, and I’m not a bad guy,” he said when another journalist reminded him that colonization resulted in genocide. 

When asked to explain Zamba’s success, Salviolo points to the features that are most attractive from childrens’ perspective, like the color palette and the characters’ adventures, but also its sense of humor and the fact that it placed school-age children in the midst of the Latin American revolutionary processes.

Zamba co-creator Fernando Salem says he was inspired by every kid he got to know during his previous job as a filmmaker, when he traveled around Argentine schools speaking to boys and girls about their interests. 

These experiences helped him come up with a character just like them who did not talk down to its audience. “Zamba is not lecturing, he’s learning new things all the time, just like kids are in the classroom,” Salem says.

Just like like the people Salem met, Zamba is brown, travels around Argentina, and has an Afro-Argentine friend. He speaks with an Argentine accent. The show might already have more than a decade of airtime under its belt, but its approach and respect for the audience it’s still positively disruptive.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald