Afro-Argentine Resurgence: The Whitest Country in South America Begins to Embrace its African Roots
“Having pride in melanin is revolutionary, rebellious. It takes strength and a special type of courage to refuse to compare yourself to what society deems as beautiful which is anti-black, against every drop of melanin on your skin. Stay the course.” — Afro Latina Army: https://www.facebook.com/AfroLatinoArmy
Argentina does not have a recognized Black population, and even the origins of its Black history have been repressed…97% of the country’s population identifies itself as “White”. Where did the population of Blacks go? And what does this mean for descendants of Africans or the Mixed Race population?
From 16th to the 19th Century, millions of free Africans were forcibly removed from their homelands and under horrific conditions sent to the New World as slaves. This forced migration is one of the worst tragedies in human history–known as the “Middle Passage”. An estimated 12 million Africans were brought into Latin America, mainly arriving at the port cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, to be sold at auction or sent to plantations, and other places of forced labor, in chains. Argentina is a country built on the bloodied backs of slave labor. During the Middle Passage, hundreds of thousands of Africans were brought into Argentina on slave ships, beginning in 1587. In a second forced exodus, these Africans have been erased from the social conscience of Argentina.
Historical records say the first Africans arrived in Argentina in the 16th century, in the region of Rio de la Plata to work primarily as domestic servants and in agriculture. By the lat 18th and 19th century, the population of slaves had greatly increased that in some parts of Argentina, Africans counted for half the population of regions like Santiago del Estero, Catamarca, Salta and Córdoba. Argentina officially abolished slavery in 1813 buts its practice continued until about 1853, when the Black population began to drastically decline. In Buenos Aires, the population of Blacks was 30% in in 1810, by 1887, that number dropped to a staggering 1.8%
The reason for the decline in African population? Two contrasting set of theories- Historians cite two reasons for the Black “disappearance” from Argentina– war with Paraguay (1865-1870) where thousands of Blacks fought on the front lines, and were killed. Other Blacks fled the country, seeking safety in Brazil or Uruguay.
Due to the increase in the number of Black men, many Black women sought White partners instead, “diluting” the population (or creating an entirely new population!). The Mixed-Race population was not acknowledged as Black because “People of mixed ancestry are often not considered ‘black’ in Argentina, historically, because having black ancestry was not considered proper,” said Alejandro Frigerio, an anthropologist at the Universidad Catolica de Buenos Aires, according to Planete Afrique (“Black Out”).The term “Negro” is used to describe anyone with dark skin, regardless of ethnicity. Or, mixed race people may be identified on a census as “white” or any number of races. It is believed this Mixed Race population with African ancestry may have blended into any number of ethnic groups, and descendants may not know they are Black, “According to some researchers, as many as 10 percent of Buenos Aires residents are partly descended from black Argentines but have no idea.” (Mixedracestudies.org) Alternately, this group was forced into hiding, to the point they shed any connection to their ancestry, heritage and even began to deny being Black.
And, in 1871, an epidemic of Yellow Fever hit Buenos Aires, killing thousands. Epidemics of Cholera followed. Freed Blacks were segregated from society, forced into menial jobs where they earned barely enough to survive, and most could not afford medicine or treatment to combat disease. The unsanitary, cramped quaters of the ghettos increased the spread of disease.
Others dispute historical accounts, saying the government, led by President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1868-1874), engaged in genocide against the Blacks. Under the leadership of President Sarmiento Argentina sought to re-create itself as a “white” country, an extension of Europe.
Sarmiento wrote in his diary in 1848: “In the United States… 4 million are black, and within 20 years will be 8 [million]…. What is [to be] done with such blacks, hated by the white race? Slavery is a parasite that the vegetation of English colonization has left attached to leafy tree of freedom.”
Sarmiento also writes, “I come to this happy Chamber of Deputies in Buenos Aires, where there are no gauchos, or black, or poor…”
Many believe President Sarmiento’s oppressive policies which included forcing Blacks into military service at such large numbers that they were literally being killed off at such a rate their population began to vanish. Until slavery was abolished in 1853, owners of slaves were mandated to cede 40% of slaves for military service. Blacks made a large population of the troops–their numbers rising to 65% of military population. Slaves were promised freedom after 5 years of service, though this rarely happened. (“Mixed in Different Shades”). Some slaves were enticed into the military with the promise of freedom, again, that rarely happened. Argentina fought in military conflict and wars from 1864-1870, decimating the population of Blacks.
Another government policy forced Blacks into ghettos, where they would be decimated by disease, mainly cholera and yellow fever, is what caused the drastic decline in population of Blacks. Can you imagine how horrible that would be to suffer in agony, and die from an highly contagious illness that would consume your family, your neighborhood, your community. You be helpless to stop the disease as it claimed your children, your parents, your family…and the lifesaving treatment needed would be denied. This happened to Afro Argentines– the deaths were human lives, people who were real and living, ow gone. The policies were so effective that by 1895, there were so few Blacks in Argentina that the government didn’t bother including their numbers in the census. These are not numbers–these are human lives, families, children, a generation of possibly… murdered through covert genocide.
In the 19th and 20th century, Blacks were encouraged to leave the country through immigration. At the same time, from 1880-1950, a large number of Europeans were migrating into Argentina. European immigrants were welcomed, and given incentives to come to Argentina while non-Whites were discouraged, and kept away.
The Blacks who did remain in Argentina were hidden, and often concealed their identity for safety. Reports also say that Census takers were so opposed to Blacks that they refused to report Blacks on the census, even if they had African features, and instead referred to them by another race, usually White. The African survivors became a forgotten part of society.
There is such strong racial discrimination against Blacks, that even survivors of the genocide will not admit they are Black or have any Black ancestry. Yet the roots of African heritage remain in Argentina’s culture, their language, their dance.. And new generations of Argentina are starting to embrace their Black and/or Mixed Race ancestry, fighting for resurgence of Black Argentinians, proud of their heritage, and willing to publicly proclaim their existence as descendants of Blacks. Some of these organizations include “Grupo Cultural Afro,” “SOS Racismo,” and”Africa Vive” , all have helped to revive the African heritage of Argentina, and raise awareness about their existence as a real, living People. There are also Afro-Uruguayan and Afro-Brazilian migrants who increase the African culture, and have joined with these organizations and others, to share their heritage.
My blog is about finding who you are through connecting to your ancestry, it’s about giving voice to our Elders, and having pride in our family and culture.. I support the Afro Argentines! You are Beautiful! Your Voice is powerful. Your history and culture has value, purpose..it brings color and vibrance to this world. You are a treasure. Hold your head high with pride. Tell the stories to your children, pass down your songs, your recipes, your dance, all that has been passed down before you… Let Africa rise in your blood again, reclaim your heritage. You honor your ancestors, and you give a blessing to your children, to the future generations in doing so. xoxo In Our Hearts xoxox
“African Descendants in Argentina (Afro-Argentines)” by Trip Down Memory Lane, 10/17/2012: http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2012/10/african-descendants-in-argentina-afro.html
“Afro-Argentine Wikipedia”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afro-Argentine
“Black out: How Argentina ‘Eliminated’ Africans From It’s History and Conscience” by Palash Ghosh (International Business Times), 06/04/2013: Blackout: How Argentina ‘Eliminated’ Africans From Its History And Conscience.
“In Buenos Aires, Researchers Exhume Long-Unclaimed African Roots” by Monte Reel (The Washington Post), 05/05/2005: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/04/AR2005050402125.html
“Mixed in Different Shades: Argentina” by Administrator, 07/22/2010: http://www.mixedindifferentshades.net/south-a-central-america/argentina.html
Entry filed under: Historical Information & Tidbits. Tags: African Descendents, Afro Argentine, Afro Latino, Argentine History and Culture, Genocide, History of Slavery, Middle Passage, Mixed Race, Oppression, Racial Discrimination, Slave Labor, slavery, Yellow Fever.