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.

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Instead of enforcing segregation policies to sanction white superiority, Argentine authorities sought to eliminate blackness through European immigration and miscegenation.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2019-02-02 04:09Z by Steven

Instead of enforcing segregation policies to sanction white superiority, Argentine authorities sought to eliminate blackness through European immigration and miscegenation. The constant arrival of European males through immigration made this goal attainable. For example, [Domingo] Sarmiento often touted mulatos as proof of progress because they “had the brute force of the African and the intellect of the European.”5 By the turn of the twentieth century, it seemed that the whitening project had achieved success. In 1905 Juan José Soiza Reilly wrote in the magazine Caras y Caretas, “The [black] race is losing in the mixture its primitive color. It becomes gray. It dissolves. It lightens. An African tree is producing white flowers.”6

Erika Denise Edwards, “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, May 31, 2018.

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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.

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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.


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.

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