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
2018-05-31

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‚Äôs association between Mercosur and the European Union at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2018. There the president stated, ‚ÄúI think the association between Mercosur and the European Union is natural because in South America we are all descendants of Europeans.‚ÄĚ2 I can‚Äôt say I wasn‚Äôt proud to see and hear the strong backlash that challenged this outdated and very tiresome notion that Argentina has always been a white nation.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 ‚ÄúEuropean descendants,‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúwhites‚ÄĚ over ‚Äúnonwhites.‚ÄĚ 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

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African ancestry of the population of Buenos Aires

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive on 2013-06-21 03:29Z by Steven

African ancestry of the population of Buenos Aires

American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume 128, Issue 1
pages 164‚Äď170, September 2005
DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.20083

Laura Fejerman
Institute of Biological Anthropology
University of Oxford

Francisco R. Carnese
Sección Antropología Biológica
Instituto de Ciencias Antropológicas
Facultad de Filosofía y Letras
Universidad de Buenos Aires

Alicia S. Goicoechea
Sección Antropología Biológica
Instituto de Ciencias Antropológicas
Facultad de Filosofía y Letras
Universidad de Buenos Aires

Sergio A. Avena
Sección Antropología Biológica
Instituto de Ciencias Antropológicas
Facultad de Filosofía y Letras
Universidad de Buenos Aires

Cristina B. Dejean
Sección Antropología Biológica
Instituto de Ciencias Antropológicas
Facultad de Filosofía y Letras
Universidad de Buenos Aires

Ryk H. Ward (1943-2003)
Institute of Biological Anthropology
University of Oxford

The population of Argentina today does not have a ‚Äúvisible‚ÄĚ black African component. However, censuses conducted during most of the 19th century registered up to 30% of individuals of African origin living in Buenos Aires city. What has happened to this African influence? Have all individuals of African origin died, as lay people believe? Or is it possible that admixture with the European immigrants made the African influence ‚Äúinvisible?‚ÄĚ We investigated the African contribution to the genetic pool of the population of Buenos Aires, Argentina, typing 12 unlinked autosomal DNA markers in a sample of 90 individuals. The results of this analysis suggest that 2.2% (SEM = 0.9%) of the genetic ancestry of the Buenos Aires population is derived from Africa. Our analysis of individual admixture shows that those alleles that have a high frequency in populations of African origin tend to concentrate among 8 individuals in our sample. Therefore, although the admixture estimate is relatively low, the actual proportion of individuals with at least some African influence is approximately 10%. The evidence we are presenting of African ancestry is consistent with the known historical events that led to the drastic reduction of the Afro-Argentine population during the second half of the 19th century. However, as our results suggest, this reduction did not mean a total disappearance of African genes from the genetic pool of the Buenos Aires population.

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In Buenos Aires, Researchers Exhume Long-Unclaimed African Roots

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-06-17 01:21Z by Steven

In Buenos Aires, Researchers Exhume Long-Unclaimed African Roots

The Washington Post
2005-05-05

Monte Reel

BUENOS AIRES — Their disappearance is one of Argentina’s most enduring mysteries. In 1810, black residents accounted for about 30 percent of the population of Buenos Aires. By 1887, however, their numbers had plummeted to 1.8 percent.

So where did they go? The answer, it turns out, is nowhere.

Popular myth has offered two historical hypotheses: a yellow fever epidemic in 1871 that devastated black urban neighborhoods, and a brutal war with Paraguay in the 1860s that put many black Argentines on the front lines.

But two new studies are challenging those old notions, using distinct methods: a door-to-door census to determine how many Argentines consider themselves black, and an analysis of DNA samples to detect traces of African ancestry in those who consider themselves white.

The results are only partially compiled, but they suggest that many of the black Argentines did not vanish; they just faded into the mixed-race populace and became lost to demography. According to some researchers, as many as 10 percent of Buenos Aires residents are partly descended from black Argentines but have no idea.

“People for years have accepted the idea that there are no black people in Argentina,” said Miriam Gomes, a professor of literature at the University of Buenos Aires who is part black and considers herself Afro-Argentine. “Even the schoolbooks here accepted this as a fact. But where did that leave me?”…

…”Argentina was interested in presenting itself as a white country,” said George Reid Andrews, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh who has specialized in black history in Latin America. “Its ideologues and writers put a great emphasis on the yellow fever epidemic and the war, and it was feasible to pretend that the black population had simply disappeared as immigration exploded.” …

… But personal definitions do not count when analyzing DNA, which is what a group of scientists from the University of Buenos Aires and Oxford University in England did earlier this year. After collecting blood samples at a local hospital, they searched for genetic markers that indicate African ancestry. The results, to be published this year in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, suggested that 10 percent of those who identified themselves as white were, in part, descendants of black Argentines.

“A lot of people were very surprised by this,” said Francisco R. Carnese, a geneticist at the University of Buenos Aires and co-author of the study. “When you walk around Buenos Aires, you don’t see signs of African ancestry. But you see it in the genes.” ..

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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.

Introduction

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, ‚Äúthe numbers never lie.‚ÄĚ Yet in the case of census information for Argentina over the course of the twentieth century, the existence of the country‚Äôs 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 L√≥pez streets and another on Sarmiento Street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1946, Nicol√°s Besio Moreno calculated that there were ‚Äúone and a half million people with black blood [in Argentina]‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúnot counting those mixed with dark skinned people in the provinces.‚ÄĚ The journalist Narciso Binayan Carmona stated in 1973 that ‚Äúif all Argentines with black blood were accounted there would be 2-3 million.‚ÄĚ Based upon this information, one can see there are discrepancies involving the size of Argentina‚Äôs black population; their true number probably lies somewhere between what the census counted and people‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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. ‚ÄúSo great were the physical differences‚Ķ people refused to believe they were family.‚ÄĚ However, the Monteros considered themselves black and ‚Äúhad a shelf of books on race and a stack of Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, and Ike and Tina records to prove it.‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs black population. As the black population becomes lighter through miscegenation, it will become harder to identify its existence…

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