el fulgor argentino

Last night, a bunch of us from ISEDET went to La Boca to see El Fulgor Argentino. The play was at the community theatre venue El Galpon de Catalinas - an old warehouse bought by the theatre group and transformed into a massive piece of street art.

The play traced the history of Argentina from 1930 to an imagined 2030. With a cast of one hundred, costumes, dancing and music spanning the decades, and a good number of jokes and cultural references the play offered one version of Argentina's political story.

At times the small venue was a swirl of bodies and colours. Other moments were stark and painful.

Without words, an actor tied a white headscarf over her hair, identifying herself as a mother whose child had been kidnapped or killed by the military dictatorship.

The end of military was greeted by cheers from the stage, and a rush of emotional clapping and shouting from many of the audience.

Around the performance, which began with the proud claim, 'We are a nation of immigrants!' I had a few conversations about Argentina's identity as an immigrant community.

I'm making a generalization here, but it seems the popular story of Argentina is a truncated one. It begins and ends with the Italian, German and Spanish immigrants of the 19th and 20th century. Again and again I wait for acknowledgment of the people before (and still here - in the far south and north), and recognition of the blood soaked pages of Argentina's history. Why is it that, in popular thinking, Argentina is a white European country? This transition happened in a particular way. There were others here before and their removal from the land can be called many things, including genocide.

It makes even less sense that many (not all but many) European Argentines see no contradiction in complaining about the 'immigrants' pushing the 'original' communities out of various barrios. By immigrants they usually mean Bolivians and Paraguayans, and sometimes Koreans too.

This truncated identity is certainly not just an Argentine problem. British people also tell ourselves similarly limited stories about who are. It takes courage to confess the whole story, to acknowledge the parts in which we play the villain not the hero. But we have to keep trying.


Javier said…

I don't really think charges of genocide should be made lightly. Particularly when one does not have a thread of evidence.
Argentina certainly considers itself a cultural offspring of Europe. That can be a mistake, a fantasy, or whatever. But it is not genocide.
If one takes a look at the genetical make up of the Argentinian population, it is certainly not european. In fact, genetical research by the University of Buenos Aires, has found that 56% of us have at least one native american ancestor. Of those, 10% are pure native american.
So, what happenned here was intermarriage (on a scale incomprehensible for an anglo). Depending on the area, the european or the native american phenotype has prevailed.
For, example, the mother of President Peron was native american, to name just an instance of this. I could name President Victorino de la Plaza. Or Dr. Ramón Carrillo (Health Minister for Peron). Or Dr. Erman González (Economics Minister for Menen). And a long etc..
Here people intermarried, an the society as a whole, assumed an european identity. Call that what you want, but it still is not genocide.
Just in order to compare, I'd like to know what percentage of, say, the australian population, has an aboriginal ancestor.
rachel said…
Thanks for your valuable comment Javier.

I agree that genocide is a difficult term, and perhaps marginalization may have been less controversial. I also agree that many Argentines have indigenous blood, although they may chose to ignore that element of their ancestry, highlighting European roots instead.

Nevertheless, intermarriage does not sufficiently explain the decline of the indigenous presence in Argentina. Other commentators have felt justified in naming this as genocide. See for example:

"The genocide of indigenous peoples in the formation of the Argentine Nation-State." by Héctor Hugo Trinchero, Journal of Genocide Research, Volume 8, Issue 2 June 2006 , pages 121 - 135

A summary in the Journal introduction reads:

Héctor Hugo Trinchero examines European settlers’ campaigns of extermination of indigenous people during the midnineteenth century. His essay is both a case study of how bellicose discourses were constructed to justify their elimination, and a revealing of a broader historical pattern he found when he explored the extermination of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas- that is, the systematic expansion of land frontiers which justified genocidal destruction. A supremacist ideology labeled indigenous peoples as not only inferior, but also as aggressive, leaving themoutside the “sanctified universe of obligation” (Fein, 1979, p4) Military campaigns, Trinchero shows, sought to create symbolic as well as geographic barriers between the new, “civilized” world and the aboriginal population.

“We Argentineans descend from ships,” a saying often heard in Argentina’s popular discourses, says Trinchero, reflects Argentineans’ ignoring of the fact that the earliest people in the country were indigenous. It shows the general refusal to acknowledge that European settlers exerted hegemony by resorting to the extermination of indigenous population in the deserts of Patagonia or Pampa, and that, as a result, today there are only, depending on the estimates, 1% to 4% remaining of the indigenous population that once inhabited the country.
Javier said…

the 56% or argentinians with some native ancestry present a good case for intermarriage. The research was done by the Servicio de Huellas Digitales Geneticas (UBA).
And take into account that one can perfectly have some native argentinian or black ancestry, and look white (at least what we think of as white, which is a lot darker than what americans call white). Depending on the genetic make up the "white" phenotype could have prevailed.

Then, Trinchero makes reference to the military campaigns of the nineteenth century. He seems to assume our soldiers were white.
They were not. They were mostly mixed blood gauchos. So, it was civilization against the indians, but not whites against native argentinians.
And of course there was cultural marginalization of the natives. But again, that is not physical extermination.
Remember that the natives in Argentina (except in the north east) were hunters and gatherers. I don't think Patagonia can support hunters or gatherers in any important numbers. So, there were few native argentinians in those areas to begin with.
By contrast, pre-columbian Mexico and Peru were large agricultural civilizations.
Besides, the bulk of european immigration from Italy and Spain began arriving in the 1880s, when the campaigns against the Indian were mostly over.
The only instance of real genocide of native argentinians by whites took place in Tierra del Fuego. There the Onas and Yamanas were killed almost to a man. Not by the government, and some supremacist ideology, but by land greedy settlers.
Still, if you want a real instance of genocide by us argentinians, there is one: The Paraguayan war.
When that war was over, there were no males over 14 left in Paraguay. Fortunately for us, the last and more shameful part of that massacre was fought only by the brazilians.
rachel said…
Thanks for continuing the conversation Javier. You are right to note that the processes of marginalization and colonialization took place in various stages, and also differed in different regions of Argentina.

The key comment I wanted to make in the post was to call into question the white-only identity of Argentina.

Thanks also for your reference to the Paraguay War - I don't know much about this event but will look into it.

best wishes
yanqui mike said…
Hi Rachel,

Which "Catalinas"? Del norte o sur? I didn't see the play... and now I'm very sad I missed it.

I'm often accused of never saying anything negative about Argentina... but I've often commented about the racism.

I can't possibly be overly judgmental in my observation coming from the society that I do. However, in the this land that does not... display?... so many of the dehumanizing things that I remember from the "old country", the treatment of even "relatively non-white" people is remarkable to me.

Javier's mention of the War of the Triple Alliance (among other wars fought by Argentina) was astute in regard to its effect on the non-white population. And Argentina's involvement in that horribly racist war is interestingly, held as shameful by a large number of my very white, traditionalist acquaintances here. I'm not sure what to make of that.

However, the record bears out what Javier says about the racial make-up of San Martin's army that crossed the Andes (an event so significant in military history that scholars say it can only be compared to Hannibal's crossing of the Alps.) His army had a high component of gauchos... a word that is said to come from a corruption of an indigenous word for "poor" or "impoverished person".

These gauchos were very often a mix of some criollo and (forshame!) native and even African. Gauchos were rounded up for warfare like horses to fight in whatever conflict the Generals wanted... "sold" to them by the caudillos. An interesting form of genocide, if you think about it. As you say, the term is difficult and perhaps it really shouldn't be applied here. But if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...

Some researchers even go so far as to explain the sudden disappearance of the once tremendous numbers of non-white people from the capital, Buenos Aires province and surrounding areas to the fact that those non-whites not killed in the wars (the War of the Triple Alliance figuring prominently) finally made arrangements not to return to a place that made a long-standing habit of "harvesting" them for warfare. Uruguay was especially affected by this practice.

Add to that some of the research that suggests that the vast fertile plains of the pampas inexplicably (and therefore, the research should be taken cum grano salis) held many less indigenous peoples per sq.km. than almost anywhere else in the the new world. Thus, the recruitment practices combined with Rosas' forays to liberate lands south of the Río Salado... a place then often described as "Chilean Patagonia", much to the horror of Argentinos... you end up with a much "whiter" place.

Whiter... but still sparsely populated. The English style was to conquer the New World by immigration not the Spanish. Then, as Javier says, comes the Argentina of promoting immigration. Nature abhors a vacuum... and all that. Finally, a "white" place develops a "white" identity.

Are the "stages" and techniques and practices that result in genocide... not genocidal if not premeditated? I don't know. If that sounded a little too "lawyerly", perhaps it can be excused as a common reaction to accusation (Hey! It wasn't me, it wasn't my parents, grandparents, we didn't get here until the 1880's, etc. etc. etc.)

Entonces, we have a New World nation-state that seems to hold, in their own eyes and in the eyes of many others, an identity of racial purity AND denies genocide. So what else is new?

Did I miss something?

Thanks Rachel, thanks Javier! I loved the discussion. ¡Aguante, eh!

rachel said…
Hi Mike

Thanks for your thoughts on this. A number of things you mention - such as the gauchos and others who were press ganged into various wars, and the 'disappearance' of much of the black population of Buenos Aires - I'm planning to return to in another post.

I agree with what your own method of always prefacing criticisms of other societies with criticism of ones own. Britain has a heck of a lot to answer for with regard to colonialism and racist foreign and domestic policy.

thanks for the conversation!