The Argentine President, Alberto Fernández, wanted to make a gallant allusion to the link between the country and Europe – in dialogue with the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez – and put his feet in his hands. It has also ended up allowing a taboo debate, because it has set up a mirror in which the governing society tries not to look at itself.
By mistakenly quoting Octavio Paz and in effect repeating an excerpt from a 1982 song by a popular Argentinian artist (“LLegamos de los barcos” by Litto Nebbia, one of the pioneers of local rock), the president has tried to explain his “Europeanism” to the distinguished guest of the Casa Rosada. And he repeated a narrative as widely circulated as it is prejudiced, which makes invisible the contribution of indigenous peoples and blacks to national history.
The sentence was: “The Mexicans came out of the Indians, the Brazilians came out of the jungle, but we Argentines came from the boats – from the boats that came from Europe”. Fernández later apologized. He said Argentina’s diversity “is a source of pride” and that he had no intention of offending anyone.
It turns out that this expression of what would then be the result of an unconscious bias on the part of the president – and which led him to choose to define his country on the basis of a Eurocentric perception of exceptional character – is one of the founding myths of Argentina. The idea that the natives or the “savages” are outside the borders. And that blacks are not part of the social landscape either.
This understanding shows its strength time and time again, in speeches initially thought of as positive. In 2018, former Argentine President Mauricio Macri, for example, also assured that “all” were “of European descent” during his participation in the Davos Economic Forum.
Today as then, the blatant slip has quickly become a sparkling ball of political juggling in the media and social networks, to defend a particular partisan position.
Despite the criticism, the groups that deal with the issue have, however, witnessed gestures by Fernández which, for them, show a willingness to confront the vision of a 100% white country. One of these groups is the Argentine African Diaspora, better known as Diafar.
And there, its members recalled, speaking to me and always under the “surprise” of the unfortunate quotation, that in the current administration a black Argentinian woman, María Fernanda Silva, was assigned to the embassy in the Vatican; or that the Commission for the Historical Recognition of the Afro-Argentinian Community was established in November of last year.
Diafar is a collective whose objective, based on artistic and didactic initiatives, is the inclusion of black heritage in the academic and daily spheres of the country – in statistics, in public debate -, so that it is understood as part of the past and the present. . And the mission that blacks can also be seen naturally, see, as Argentines (because it is common to be asked “where they come from” in their own country).
A report by British newspaper The Guardian last month brought together initiatives and postulates by Afro-descendant scholars from Rio de la Plata that offer a more comprehensive understanding of Argentina’s roots. Investigators are dedicated to recovering important parts of the story that have been buried by a national money laundering process.
After the publication of the text, the quantity and content of hate messages received by its author prompted Argentinian journalist Uki Goñi to abandon his social networks for a week.
Racism lives among us in pernicious folds or in broad daylight and in cold blood, there as here. Labyrinths spanning centuries that shape people’s daily lives, in all walks of life, fuel fleeting controversies that deflate discussion of the underlying problem. With the appearance of the next title, it will return to the chest.
In the midst of political gunfire and internet screams, we already know who ends up backwards, on the ground.