The Hidden History of Black Argentina

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2021-02-10 02:05Z by Steven

The Hidden History of Black Argentina

The New York Review

Uki Goñi

Allsport via Getty Images
Diego Maradona (front, center) with family and friends in Villa Fiorito, Argentina, 1980

A century of European immigration brought with it a comprehensive effort to erase the country’s multiracial past. Only recently has that been reversed.

Erika Denise Edwards, Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic (Tuscaloosa: University Alabama Press, 2020).

“This country has no tradition of its own,” Argentina’s master writer, Jorge Luis Borges, told me in an interview in 1975. “There’s no native tradition of any kind since the Indians here were mere barbarians. We have to fall back on the European tradition, why not? It’s a very fine tradition.” The words grate to modern ears, but they seemed true to Borges’s world. His own grandmother, Frances Anne Haslam, had come from Staffordshire, England. And by 1920, when Borges turned twenty-one, over half the population of his native Buenos Aires had been born in Europe, the result of a vast wave of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century immigration.

According to this idea of Argentina’s roots, our capital city of Buenos Aires is “the Paris of South America,” and “we are all descendants from Europe,” as then President Mauricio Macri said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2018. A corollary of this claim is one made by an earlier president, Carlos Menem, to a Dutch audience at Maastricht University in 1993 that, because Argentina had abolished slavery as early as 1813, “we don’t have blacks.” At a later lecture—bizarrely enough, at Howard University in Washington, D.C.—Menem added, “that is a Brazilian problem.”

For me, the myth of a European-only Argentina reached its breaking point last November, with the death of the soccer star Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest player who ever lived. He transcended the world of sports to become a figure of hope and defiance for millions of Argentines…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Afro-Argentines: How Black People Were Systematically Whitewashed From Argentine History

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2021-01-05 01:28Z by Steven

Afro-Argentines: How Black People Were Systematically Whitewashed From Argentine History

The Bubble

Allie Pitchon

Afroargentines playing candombe porteño near of a bonfire of Saint John (San Juan) in 1938. via

Argentina is perceived by many to be a primarily white, European country, with Buenos Aires often referred to as the “Paris of Latin America” in popular culture. This perception is rooted in a post-colonial process where Argentine leaders and intellectuals in the 19th century, especially during the Generation of 1837 and the Generation of 1880, actively made an effort to systematically erase Black Argentines from the country’s history, popular culture, and society in an effort to position the nation as a global power modeled after the US and Europe.

By the second half of the 1700’s, roughly a third of the population of Buenos Aires was comprised of Afro-Argentines. While some were free, most were enslaved, brought in slave ships during the late 16th century in the hundreds of thousands to work as domestic servants and on plantations in the Rio de la Plata region. During the 18th and 19th centuries, people of African descent spread across Argentina. In some provinces, including Salta, Córdoba, Santiago del Estero, and Catamarca, Black Argentines accounted for roughly half the population. Meanwhile, General San Martín’s army was heavily comprised of Afro-Argentines. In the battle of Chacabuco, for instance, which was key in helping liberate Chile from Spanish rule, half of the soldiers were Afro-Argentines promised freedom from slavery in exchange for military service…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

A Tale of Two Cities: Buenos Aires, Córdoba and the Disappearance of the Black Population in Argentina

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2019-02-01 16:05Z by Steven

A Tale of Two Cities: Buenos Aires, Córdoba and the Disappearance of the Black Population in Argentina

The Metropole: The Official Blog of the Urban History Association

Erika Denise Edwards, Associate Professor of History
University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Façade of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Córdoba, Argentina, no date, Archive of Hispanic Culture, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The recent explosion of black studies in Argentina has been a welcoming effort of various scholars and activists that have refused to accept the old and tired categorization that Argentina is a country of European descendants.1 For instance, most recently activists challenged Argentine president Mauricio Macri’s association between Mercosur and the European Union at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2018. There the president stated, “I think the association between Mercosur and the European Union is natural because in South America we are all descendants of Europeans.”2 I can’t say I wasn’t proud to see and hear the strong backlash that challenged this outdated and very tiresome notion that Argentina has always been a white nation. But is that all that is left for us? What I mean more specifically is we can and will continue to dispel that Argentina is a white country of only “European descendants,” but as the field of black studies in Argentina develops it is also time that we take a hard look at the scholarship and ask ourselves what comes next.

My response is that it is time to expand westward. Why? Because scholars of Argentina’s black history have tended to focus on Buenos Aires.3 So much so that the black experience in Buenos Aires has become the national narrative. In other words, Argentina’s black history and more specifically the process of black disappearance references the black experience of Buenos Aires during the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century. By the mid-nineteenth century intellectuals such as Juan Batista Alberdi and Domingo Sarmiento (president of Argentina 1868-1874) justified policies that encouraged European immigration using pseudoscientific theories that purported to prove the biological superiority of “whites” over “nonwhites.” In effect, Sarmiento, and similar intellectuals joined the larger Latin American process of blanqueamiento, or whitening. Blanqueamiento serves as an operative word to describe the late-nineteenth-century state-led modernization process. Like Argentina, many other Latin American countries looked to European immigrants as the way to bring civilization. Historians have argued that this ideological erasure is one of the main reasons for the disappearance of people who identified as black in Argentina.4

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

What it’s like to be Black and Argentine

Posted in Anthropology, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Justice, Videos on 2019-01-19 02:36Z by Steven

What it’s like to be Black and Argentine

BBC News

Reporter: Celestina Olulode
Produced by Hannah Green and Hannah Gelbart for the BBC News at Ten.

Black people have had a huge influence on Argentina’s history, but now they make up only one percent of the population of Buenos Aires.

Afro-Argentines, whose families descended from the slave trade, often feel like they’ve been written out of history and are mistaken for foreigners in their own country.

Watch the story here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Argentina Rediscovers Its African Roots

Posted in Anthropology, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery on 2014-09-15 01:47Z by Steven

Argentina Rediscovers Its African Roots

The New York Times

Michael T. Luongo

The chapel in the small lakeside resort community of Chascomús is at best underwhelming. Its whitewashed brick exterior is partly obstructed by a tangle of vines and bushes, and its dim, one-room interior is no more majestic than its facade. Wooden pews and an uneven dirt floor are scarcely illuminated by sunlight from a single window. The gray, cracked, dusty walls are adorned with crosses, photos, icons — things people leave to mark their pilgrimage. A low front altar is layered with thick candle wax, flowers and a pantheon of black saints, Madonnas and African deities like the sea goddess Yemanja of the Yoruba religion.

Despite its unkempt state, this chapel, the Capilla de los Negros, attracts a little over 11,000 tourists each year who come to see a church named for the freed slaves who built it in 1861.

The chapel is “where we can locate ourselves and point out the truth that we are here,” said Soledad Luis, an Afro-Argentine from the tourism office who led me through the space. She knows it well. It sits on a plot her great-grandfather helped secure, and her family still gathers there weekly for a meal.

Capilla de los Negros feels off the beaten path, but it is part of a list of slave sites in Argentina created in 2009 by Unesco. Its inclusion signals the growing consciousness of African heritage in Argentina, seemingly the most Europeanized country in South America.

Argentina at one time had a robust African presence because of the slaves who were brought there, but its black population was decimated by myriad factors including heavy casualties on the front lines in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay in the 1860s; a yellow fever epidemic that rich, white Argentines largely escaped; and interracial offspring who, after successive generations, shed their African culture along with their features. And European immigration swelled the white population — 2.27 million Italians came between 1861 and 1914.

The demographic shift has been sharp. In 1800, on the eve of revolution with Spain, blacks made up more than a third of the country, 69,000 of a total population of 187,000, according to George Reid Andrews’s 2004 book “Afro-Latin America.” In 2010, 150,000 identified themselves as Afro-Argentine, or a mere 0.365 percent of a population of 41 million people, according to the census, the first in the country’s history that counted race.

But the culture the slaves brought with them remained. And in recent years, Argentina has gone from underselling its African roots to rediscovering them, as academics, archaeologists, immigrants and a nascent civil rights movement have challenged the idea that African and Argentine are mutually exclusive terms…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Argentina: Land of the Vanishing Blacks

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science on 2012-09-22 19:55Z by Steven

Argentina: Land of the Vanishing Blacks

Ebony Magazine
October 1973
pages 74-85

Era Bell Thompson

Once outnumbering whites five to one, blacks were absorbed and inundated by massive immigration

“If you are looking for black people, why,” they asked helpfully, “did you come to Argentina? Why don’t you go to Brazil?”

Well, I had been to Brazil (Ebony July, September 1965), the “most mulatto” nation in South America, hopefully in the process of becoming white through amalgamation. Now I was in Argentina where massive European immigration was the catalyst that converted an erstwhile mixed-blood people into the whitest nation on the continent.

I had read that there were no more blacks in that Spanish-speaking country. But I had also heard rumors of a small black colony in Buenos Aires, the capital. So what happened to Argentina’s involuntary immigrants, those African slaves and their mulatto descendants who once outnumbered whites five to one, and who were for 250 years “an important element” in the total populations which is now 97 percent white? Had they been entirely absorbed by, or simply inundated in successive waves of the new Argentines?

What I found was not a viable, but a vanishing black people: relatively few in numbers, relatively free of racial discrimination and relatively content. Summarized one gentleman, “If there were more of us, perhaps it would be different.”

The white Argentine, who is overwhelmingly of Italian and Spanish descent, doubts there ever were many blacks in their section of the old Rio de la Plata viceroyalty and are unaware of those still within their midst. The ranks of the few slaves channeled into the port of Buenos Aires, they believe, were decimated largely by disease and war. The survivors who did not emigrate to neighboring countries were absorbed by the mestizos.

The question of what happened to Argentine blacks is not a new one. Ysabel P. Rennie, author of the book. The Argentine Republic, calls it “one of the most intriguing riddles of Argentine history.” In his book, Argentina, a City and a Nation, James R. Scobie says “the disappearance of the Negro from the Argentine scene has puzzled demographers far more than the vanishing Indian.”

When Josephine Baker visited the country during Juan Peron’s first term as president, the entertainer asked Dr. Ramon Carrillo, mulatto minister of public health, “Where are the Negroes?”

“There are only two,” he laughingly replied. “You and I.”

My first impressions of Buenos Aires were: the man was right. In Buenos Aires, the city, and Buenos Aires province, where the preponderance of the entire population is found. Afro-Argentines, especially the fair-skinned ones, and not easily distinguishable from Latin-type whites. And then there is a matter of definitions. The terms Negro and mulatto are still used, but with slightly different connotations. Negro (small ‘n’) is the Spanish word for black. It took me some time to get used to hearing négro sprinkled throughout conversations that had nothing to do with race. Mulatto (or moreno) is an African-Spanish mixture, as differentiated from mestizo, which technically means only Spanish-Indian, but more often than Argentines care to admit, includes an admixture of black blood. Zambo (not Sambo) means African-Indian, but the term—if not the practice which produced it—has been discontinued, as have the names of two social classes: the gaucho, now cowboy, and cabecitas négras, or little black heads, as people fresh in from the provinces were once called. A Creole is an Argentine-born white.

When I posed Josephine Baker’s question, the average creole could recall only a doorman here or a porter there. Brown people who were not mestizos were Brazilian tourists. A secretary in a government office said she was 16 before she saw a black man. Fortunately, I did not have to wait that long…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,


Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science on 2012-09-22 17:19Z by Steven


The Argentina Independent

Laura Balfour

As a descendant of two slaves, Maria Lamadrid has a hard time biting her tongue when airport officials think her Argentine passport is not real because ‘there are no blacks in Argentina’.
And that was in 2002.
The 25th of March marks the landmark 200th anniversary of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Though the trade continued after this date, it marked the beginning of the end of the transatlantic trafficking of Africans.
Ms Lamadrid is fighting to alter the common belief that all blacks who live in Argentina are foreigners. In 1997 she founded Africa Vive, a non-governmental organisation that defends the rights of African descendants. Today, she claims, there are 2m Afroargentines in Argentina.
Ms Lamadrid and Miriam Gomez, a history professor at the University of Buenos Aires, have dedicated themselves wholly to the NGO’s cause because “there is so much to do and very few people to do it.”…

…Africa Vive has requested that a separate category for African descendants be reintroduced in the 2010 census. Ms Lamadrid said the most frustrating thing is that there used to be one: 1887 was the final year that Afroargentines were recognised in the census; the results showed that 2% of the residents of Buenos Aires were of African descent at that time. She added that indigenous people, who have also suffered discrimination, have their own category because they have more support…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

The reawakening of Afro-Argentine culture

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2012-09-22 16:13Z by Steven

The reawakening of Afro-Argentine culture

Global Post

Anil Mundra

Descendants of slaves are starting to assert their identity but it’s not easy in South America’s whitest country.

BUENOS AIRES — “Liberty has no color” read the signs held outside a Buenos Aires city courthouse. “Arrested for having the wrong face,” and “Suspected of an excess of pigment,” said others. And more to the point: “Enough racism.”
A black street vendor was allegedly arrested without cause or proper procedure earlier this year, prompting this August hearing of a habeas corpus appeal. But leaders of the Afro-Argentine community say this moment goes beyond any particular man or incident, calling it a watershed case that brings to trial the treatment of blacks in Argentina.
“It’s not about this prosecutor or that police officer, but rather an institutionally racist system,” said Malena Derdoy, the defendant’s lawyer.
Argentina is generally considered the whitest country in South America — 97 percent, by some counts — possibly more ethnically European than immigrant-saturated Europe. There was once a large Afro-Argentine presence but it has faded over the epochs. Now, for the first time in a century and a half, Argentine descendants of African slaves are organizing and going public to assert their identity…

…At the beginning of the 1800s, black slaves were 30 percent of the population of Buenos Aires, and an absolute majority in some other provinces. The first president of Argentina had African ancestry, and so did the composer of the first tango. Even the word “tango,” like many other words common in the Argentine vocabulary, has an African root; so do many beloved foods, including the national vices of the asado barbecue and dulce de leche.
The abolition of slavery was a slow process that spanned the better part of the 19th century. At the same time, under the government’s explicit and aggressive policy of whitening the race — to replace “barbary” with “civilization,” in the famous phrase of the celebrated president Sarmiento — Afro-Argentines were inundated by European immigration, the largest such influx in the Americas outside of the United States. Blacks had dwindled to only 1.8 percent of Buenos Aires by the 1887 census, after which their category was replaced with more vague terms like “trigueno” — “wheaty.”

“It’s part of Argentine common sense that there are no blacks, that their entire culture had disappeared toward the end of the 1800s,” said anthropologist Pablo Cirio. “That’s all a lie.”…
…The survey was performed with help from the national census bureau and World Bank funding, at the urging of local Afro-Argentine activists who hoped to have the “Afro-descendant” category re-inserted into the Argentine census in 2010 and count themselves as a distinct segment of the populace after a century missing. Soon afterward, DNA tests of blood samples in several Buenos Aires hospitals bolstered the pilot census’ result with a very similar percentage of genes traceable to Africa. Moreover, a much higher number — about 10 percent — was obtained by testing mitochondrial DNA, which traces maternal ancestry. This is consistent with the historical conjecture that many black men were lost after being sent to the frontlines of 19th-century wars, and Afro-Argentines assimilated into the white population when the
remaining women mixed with the hordes of European males who had come to Argentina to work…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800–1900

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Monographs on 2012-04-08 22:10Z by Steven

The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800–1900

University of Wisconsin Press
November 1980
308 pages
6 x 9, 15 illus. or photos, several tables
ISBN-10: 0299082903
ISBN-13: 978-0299082901

George Reid Andrews, Distinguished Professor of History
University of Pittsburgh

George Reid Andrews has given us a major revision and reconstruction of black history in Argentina since the time of independence, making an exciting and important contribution to both Latin American and Afro-American history. Along the way, he explodes long-held myths, solves a major historical mystery, and documents contributions of blacks to a society that has, in its pursuit of “whiteness,” virtually denied their existence.

While historians have devoted much attention to Afro-Latin American slavery of the colonial period, Andrews is among the first to examine the history of the post-abolition period. He illuminates the social, economic, and political roles of black people in the evolving societies of the national period, effectively destroying the myths that the Afro-Argentines virtually disappeared over the course of a century, that they played no significant role in Argentine history after the independence, and that they were quietly and peacefully integrated into the larger society. While similar studies have been carried out for the black experience in the United States, this is the first such attempt for any Spanish American country.

Tags: , , , , ,

Though Many Have White Skin, their Veins Flow of Black Blood: Afro-Argentine Culture and History during the Twentieth Century in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Social Science on 2011-09-01 01:41Z by Steven

Though Many Have White Skin, their Veins Flow of Black Blood: Afro-Argentine Culture and History during the Twentieth Century in Buenos Aires, Argentina

McNair Scholars Journal
Volume 7, Issue 1 (2003)
Article 8
11 pages

Erika D. Edwards, Grand Valley State University

Although the Afro-Argentine population continued to decline during the twentieth century, the people played an integral role in shaping Argentina’s culture through their contributions in the field of dance, literature, and religion. Unfortunately, their vibrant culture and history are often ignored and overlooked because of Argentina’s subtle efforts to whiten its population. The purpose of this project is three-fold. First, it aims to recognize the survival of the Afro-Argentine community during the twentieth century. Second, it recaptures the means used to preserve African traditions. Finally, it reveals efforts of Afro-Argentine groups such as La Fundación Africa Vive that have dedicated themselves to reconstructing the Afro- Argentine role in Argentina’s culture and history.


One of the first things I noticed while studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was that there were few, if any, blacks among the city’s inhabitants. I lived there for six months and people always assumed that I was Brazilian because of their popular belief that Afro-Argentines no longer exist. However, this is a lie: Afro-Argentines do indeed exist. Africans began arriving in Argentina as slaves in 1534, two years after the foundation of Buenos Aires, and since then they have shaped and transformed Argentina. This paper seeks to draw attention to the contributions of Afro-Argentines to the country’s culture and history. To this end, I will recognize their existence despite the country’s denial of its black population. Then, I will address the ways in which Afro-Argentines recapture their African past through dance, music, religion, and literature. Finally, I will discuss what Afro-Argentines are doing to reconstruct their history and, in the process, correct lies, misconceptions, and myths about them. In denying Afro-Argentine culture and history, many Argentines may not learn about their families’ and country’s past. Though many have white skin, their veins flow of black blood.

Recognizing the Existence of Afro-Argentines

Statisticians often claim, “the numbers never lie.” Yet in the case of census information for Argentina over the course of the twentieth century, the existence of the country’s black population is often denied or its size is underestimated. The noted Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges remembered that in 1910 or 1912 there was a tenement of blacks on the corner of Uriburu and Vicente López streets and another on Sarmiento Street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1946, Nicolás Besio Moreno calculated that there were “one and a half million people with black blood [in Argentina]” and further stated that they could be classified as blacks based upon the United States guidelines, which suggest that people who have a lighter complexion and often might pass for whites would still be classified as blacks. The following year, in 1947, a national census identified the presence of 15,000 blacks, (5,000 blacks and 10,000 mulattos).  By 1963, Afro-Argentines were estimated to number 17,000. Their population declined over the next four years to 3,000 in 1967 but increased to 4,500 in 1968 for reasons which remain unclear. However, some people have estimated that there were as many as 10,000 blacks “not counting those mixed with dark skinned people in the provinces.” The journalist Narciso Binayan Carmona stated in 1973 that “if all Argentines with black blood were accounted there would be 2-3 million.” Based upon this information, one can see there are discrepancies involving the size of Argentina’s black population; their true number probably lies somewhere between what the census counted and people’s perceptions.

Present-day statistics tend to agree with what people saw during the twentieth century. This could be due to El Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos (INDEC) which forgot to include a box for citizens to identify their descent (descendencia) during the last national census in 2001. INDEC later denied that it had forgotten to include the box. It is interesting to note that when the last national census was undertaken, INDEC included a category for the first time to check if one was of indigenous descent, a change from the last national census conducted in 1991. Their failure to inquire about people of African descent further perpetuates the myth that Afro-Argentines no longer exist. In stark contrast, La Fundación Africa Vive, an Afro-Argentine group dedicated to promoting black culture and history, believes that there are currently two million Afro-Argentines (descended from slaves) in the country. Thus, regardless of how a person may appear (dark- or light-skinned) and whether or not they are aware, many Argentines have black blood.

At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, miscegenation served to lighten the complexion of the country’s black population. Argentina’s black male population was already in decline as a result of wars for independence and territorial expansion as well as diseases. Then, from 1880 to 1930, a mass of European immigrants arrived in the country. Most European immigrants were male, thus their arrival led to a surplus of white males and a shortage of white females. Given the pre-existing scarcity of black males, prospective black brides often married white grooms, many of whom were European immigrants. Interracial marriages became common. The children of such unions often had lighter skin giving them access to better education and employment opportunities thereby facilitating their ability to pass themselves off as white.

However, not all blacks who wished to marry selected white spouses. There were black couples, such as the Monteros. The couple had three daughters but due to miscegenation in their family’s past, each of the girls was a different shade of brown: the eldest looked black, the middle child resembled a mulatto, and the youngest appeared to be entirely white. “So great were the physical differences… people refused to believe they were family.” However, the Monteros considered themselves black and “had a shelf of books on race and a stack of Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, and Ike and Tina records to prove it.” At the time they were interviewed in 1973, the girls were dating white boys. Were they to have married and had children, they too would have contributed to the whitening of the country’s black population. As the black population becomes lighter through miscegenation, it will become harder to identify its existence…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,