Thursday, September 23

Time to Challenge Argentina’s White European Self-Image, Black History Experts Say | Argentina

TOArgentina has long prided itself on its European heritage. The mass migration of 7 million Europeans, mostly Spanish and Italians, between 1850 and 1950, created a racial profile that many Argentines feel distinguishes their country from the rest of Latin America even today.

“Mexicans descend from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas, but Argentines descend from ships,” says an old saying that sums up Argentina’s perception of itself as a nation of transplanted white Europeans.

But that Eurocentric vision is being hotly contested not only as outdated but also objectively false by a generation of young Afro-descendant researchers and activists who wish to rewrite the accepted version of Argentine history.

“Argentina needs to understand that it is very racist and very Afro,” said black activist and researcher Alí Delgado.

University professor Patricia Gomes is another Afro-descendant researcher trying to demolish Argentina’s mythical self-image as a white nation. “In Argentina it used to be said that there were no blacks here, therefore, there was no one to be racist with and, therefore, there was no racism,” he said.

Delgado and Gomes point to recent population and genetics survey studies that paint a very different picture of Argentina’s accepted history: A recent study concluded that up to 20% of Argentines today may be of African descent.

The reason is simple: between the 16th and 19th centuries, long before the wave of European migration, more than 200,000 Africans enslaved It reached the twin ports of the Río de la Plata, Buenos Aires and Montevideo, capitals of what are now Argentina and Uruguay.

“The number of slaves that arrived in the Río de la Plata region is almost half of those that arrived in the United States, which gives an idea of ​​the magnitude of the slave trade in the Río de la Plata region,” according to Alex Borucki, Uruguayan academic. at the University of California at Irvine, who co-manages SlaveVoyages website which tracks all the ships that transported slaves that reached the Americas.

In a sign of changing perceptions of Argentine racial identity, Gomes and Delgado are teaching the first Argentine university courses on the subject.

His two-month lecture series for law students at the University of Buenos Aires in March and April was filled with reservations. Another two-month course will follow in August and September, and the couple are also considering a seminar open to the general public.

Gomes and Delgado argue that the idea of ​​a European Argentina was an invention imposed by racist leaders of the 19th century to erase the rich black Argentine culture from the collective consciousness of the nation.

Gabino Ezeiza, famous Argentine payada musician, in this 1981 image.
Gabino Ezeiza, famous Argentine payada musician, in this 1891 image. Photography: Alamy

In 1778, Africans and Afro-descendants made up 37% of the population of what is now Argentina, according to a census of its Spanish colonial rulers. In some major provinces, the proportion was above 50%.

That number did not decline significantly after independence from Spain in 1816: Afro-descendants accounted for 30% of the population of Buenos Aires for decades after independence. But after that, the number is unknown, because Argentina’s census office stopped collecting racial information.

“The census data was manipulated to erase us first from the statistics and then from the history books,” says Gomes. “From the end of the 19th century, the State meticulously began to make us invisible in order to present Argentina as homogeneous and of European descent.”

Argentina’s “whitening process” has been studied in depth by American academic Erika Edwards in her book Hiding in Plain Sight, published last year by the University of Alabama Press.

“The whitening project was a successful effort in terms of erasing the blackness,” Edwards said. “The idea that someone could be the descendant of a slave just doesn’t exist.”

That belief in a strictly European Argentina continues to leak out. “We are all descendants of Europe,” President Mauricio Macri said at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos.

It was not until the 2010 census that an option was included for Argentines wishing to identify themselves as Afro-descendants. “That inclusion was very important, but unfortunately it was restricted to only a small segment of the population, with the resulting projection suggesting that only half a percent of the population self-identify in that way,” Gomes said.

Delgado and Gomes prefer data from a 2005 study by Afro-descendant researchers that projects that 20% of the population has at least one African ancestor.

Black slaves pay homage to the 19th century politician Juan Manuel de Rosas.
Black slaves pay homage to the 19th century politician Juan Manuel de Rosas. Photograph: CPA Media Pte Ltd / Alamy

TO genetic study carried out by the University of Brasilia in 2008 he came to a different conclusion, finding that 9% of current Argentines are of African descent.

Argentina’s pro-European immigration policy began under its 1853 constitution at a time when the country’s post-independence thinkers and politicians were obsessed with the dichotomy between civilization and barbarism, the title of an 1845 book by Domingo Sarmiento, the seventh president of the country. In this Manichean vision, Afro-descendants placed themselves directly at the barbaric end of the scale.

“If it was not possible to physically eliminate Afro-descendants from Argentina, the decision was to eliminate them at least symbolically, to generate a discourse that there are no blacks in Argentina, that Brazil has this problem,” says Edwards.

The entrenched poverty of many Afro-descendants goes hand in hand with Argentina’s structural racism, says Delgado.

“There are no black journalists or politicians, but the poor neighborhoods of Argentina are full of Afro-descendants. Also our prisons, just like in the United States ”.

Most of today’s Afro-descendants are mestizo due to the marriage between male European immigrants who arrived after 1850 and Afro-descendant Argentine women.

“In the United States, a drop of black blood turns you black, but in Argentina a drop of white blood turns you white,” Gomes said. “In a society where Afro-descendants were marginalized, many Afro-descendant families emphasized their whiteness to save themselves. They tore old photos and denied the existence of a black relative. “

The popularity of the two academic courses suggests that Argentina is finally opening a long-postponed debate on race and identity.

“It’s time for Argentines to get their black grandmother out of the closet,” Delgado said.

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