Digital culture roundup: public university pride born online spills into the streets

From a rising clothing brand to a coat of arms that became a symbol of national unity, the internet is fueling massive outspoken support for universities

Javier Milei supporters like to think they’re internet savvy. They call it tener calle online, referencing the idea that they’re street-smart, albeit in cyberspace. There is some evidence to back their claim. After all, their leader went from political debutant to president in only 2 years, thanks in no small part to social media. The thing is, no matter how mighty someone may be, everyone eventually runs into a foe that gives them a run for their money.

For the libertarians, the challenge to their status as online agenda-setting kings is coming from none other than public university members and supporters. In the face of steep slashes in university funding, pride in these institutions has sparked on the internet and spilled over into the streets. 

The most vivid example was the massive April 23 march in Buenos Aires and other major cities, where thousands of people protested against budget cuts to public universities. In the middle of all the banners, flags, and chants, one particular item stood out: a coat of arms plastered on signs and T-shirts stating that universities are “free, open, and federal.”

The design was done by Pilar Veiga, a 23 year-old graphic design student at University of Buenos Aires who goes by the artistic name Pilar Dibujito. Veiga’s been rising in popularity recently with her illustrations of Argentine icons grouped into a collection called Filatelia. 

She designed the public university coat of arms together with her partner Jeremías Madrazo just in time for the national march. It all started with a post on X where Pilar asked if there was any existing symbol that grouped the dozens of Argentine public universities together. 

Although a University of General San Martín representative sent her a recently approved logo, she said she would work on something new. 

The result was an illustration that became the most viral image of the week. It was shared online by cultural icons like Charly García, Indio Solari, Lali Espósito, and Natalia Oreiro. On Instagram alone, the publication garnered more than 500,000 public interactions.

The meaning behind the coat of arms

Veiga and Madrazo shared part of the creative process and the reasoning behind every chosen element on social media. The coat of arms included Palas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, just war, and strategic intelligence, wearing a native owl — called a Ñacurutú — on her helmet, that symbolizes vigilance and protection in war. 

In the background behind the greek goddess is the Crux, a celestial constellation of four bright stars in a cross-shaped asterism known as the Southern Cross. There is a lit torch on her hand meant to represent hope, enlightenment, and the passing down of knowledge through generations.

The illustration includes an open book as a symbol of learning and science development; the Argentine national flag; a traditional Argentine geometric design known as Guarda Pampa that native people of the Pampas region use in textiles and art; laurel leaves to symbolize triumph; and oak leaves as a representation of strength and resistance for centuries. 

The drawing, which also features an image of Argentina’s national coat of arms, was printed overnight as a sign for stickers and T-shirts. According to publications found on X, it was seen not only in Buenos Aires but also in Córdoba, Tierra del Fuego, Neuquén, and Entre Ríos. 

OOTD inspiration: wear your alma mater this season

Argentine creativity in support of public universities doesn’t stop there. Juliana, Sabrina, and Magali Montenegro are siblings and the first generation in their family to attend higher education. While attending classes, they saw other students wearing Harvard or Oxford hoodies sold as fashionable items in Argentina. This indicated to them that there was a market to explore, as there were no such things for local universities.  

This is how Experiencia Sabia was born, a project set on turning the UBA and the University of La Plata (UNLP) logos into part of fashionable everyday clothes.

Sabia grew very quickly and ended up being a family business within a few weeks. Everyone has a task, from buying the fabric to embroidering the sweatshirts and getting packages mailed out. 

In an interview with the Herald, they say this is a way to deliver a clear message. “It’s time to take action and defend a way for everyone to have similar opportunities in a country divided by poverty,” Montenegro says. 

Even though the viral phenomenon had them a little jittery, they decided to overcome their stage fright and visit former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to give her one of their sweatshirts —the one with the former VPs alma mater University of La Plata logo. Cristina Kirchner waved from her balcony during the march and showed it for everyone to see.

The next step for them is to add more universities to their catalog and hope that this fashion and cultural boom for Argentine imagery doesn’t end any time soon.

Additional reporting by Sofia De Sousa.


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