On June 9, during a conference between the President of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, and the President of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, the latter declared that “the Mexicans came from the Indians, the Brazilians came from the jungle, but we Argentines came from the boats, and they were boats that came from Europe ”.
The expression hides the fantasy that the Argentine population, unlike other Latin American populations, is exclusively a product of European migration, which gives it a unique cultural link with the old continent.
These remarks caused a scandal at the continental level.
And while the Argentine president quickly apologized, his statement hints at alleged racism and uncomfortable ignorance.
Most serious, however, is that the words reflect sentiment in several Latin American countries, not just Argentina, which is generated, reproduced, reinforced and legitimized from historical processes.
That said, Fernández’s statement, who is neither nativist nor fascist, should differ from others of Jair Bolsonaro or Donald Trump, as in these cases the comments are part of post-fascist populist ideologies.
For most Argentines, racialization and colonial practices are foreign to their history and have no place in today’s society.
But at the same time, they believe that their European ancestry is unique in Latin America, and that this makes them superior.
For Argentina’s political, intellectual and cultural elites, the Argentine archetype is white and its ancestors can be traced back to the transatlantic ships that left Genoa or Barcelona in the 1890s.
Fernández was not the first Argentine president to make a similar statement.
In 2018, Mauricio Macri declared that “in South America, we are all descendants of Europeans”; in 2015, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner declared that Argentines “are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants”; and in 1996, Carlos Menem said that in Argentina there were no blacks and that it was a Brazilian “problem”.
According to this myth, Argentines have always been white, so unlike in Mexico, in Argentina interbreeding has never been extolled.
This, however, does not free Mexico from blame either, as it is necessary to remember that the creation of what José Vasconcelos defined as the “cosmic race” of European and indigenous half-blood was based on the exclusion of bloodlines. purely indigenous and black. .
In this sense, the Argentinian national imagination was built around European immigrants as modernizing agents of the nation, erasing with a signature the existence, the contributions and the identities of Afro-Argentines, mestizos, indigenous communities and immigrants from China, South Korea, Syria, Lebanon. , Armenia, Angola, Guinea and Latin American countries.
In fact, there is a widespread belief that mixed race and black people are in fact first or second generation migrants from Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia.
This frankly racist narrative further consolidated and naturalized an alleged Argentinian whiteness in which true Argentines, whose parents and grandparents got off the boats, were part of the educated and modern middle class.
While these, products of interbreeding with indigenous peoples or the children of immigrants who “have just arrived” from neighboring countries, were members of the working, rural, ignorant and backward class.
This discourse was born during the policies of “Europeanization” of modern founders such as Domingo F. Sarmiento, Bartoleme Miter and Julio A. Roca in the mid and late 19th century, which consisted in the progressive eradication of the indigenous populations of Patagonia and the Argentine Chaco. , and in the promotion of European immigration to replace the natives with white settlers.
For these politicians and thinkers, a modern nation demanded “civilized people” and not “savages”.
The predilection for immigrants from Europe was constitutionalized in 1853 and remains to this day.
It must be said, however, that Argentina was the only country in the Americas that never instituted a specific ban or quota on ethnic or racial immigration. All the others prohibited the entry of the Chinese at certain times or limited the reception of the Jews.
In this sense, Argentina developed one of the most progressive immigration policies in the world, unlike the United States, which had multiple prohibitions and quotas of racial exclusion eugenically legitimized until 1965, copied by countries like Canada, Cuba, Australia, Ecuador and Chile. .
That’s not to say that there haven’t been similar attempts throughout Argentina’s history.
Santiago Peralta, who studied anthropology in Germany in the 1930s and was the head of the National Institute of Immigration and director of the National Ethnic Institute, which was modeled on the Nazi Enlightenment Office in the population and racial welfare policies during the first administration by Juan Domingo Perón, administratively and secretly blocked part of Jewish immigration and developed a series of policies inspired by eugenics to limit the entry of so-called unwanted.
The National Ethnic Institute considered the “national ethnic type” as the “Mediterranean racial type of the white race” and promotes a series of hybridization policies aimed at the racial laundering of indigenous communities through the application of interbreeding, the removal of children. and programmed eugenics. surveillance.
A taxonomy of indigenous groups has been developed, classifying them according to levels of foreign or non-indigenous indigeneity.
The institute concluded that the one and only indigenous community in Argentina were the Tehuelches, who were extinct by annihilation by “foreign tribes”, such as the Mapuche (from Chile) or the Guarani (from Paraguay), or by interbreeding. defined by them. like Araucanization.
Supposedly, there were no more indigenous peoples in Argentina. If any remained, they had mixed with white settlers or hybrids with non-Argentinian natives.
It was this idea of foreign tribes that legitimized the mass murder of between 2,000 and 3,000 people in Ricon Bomba, in the province of Formosa, in the northeast of the country, by order of Perón in 1947.
According to the armed forces, the sugar cane plantations have been occupied by indigenous communities in Paraguay, although they are rural workers who have protested for basic labor rights.
But this event, and many others, have been erased from memory and are only now being revisited, after an Argentinian judge called it a crime against humanity.
The re-mythification of Argentina as an exclusively white country and the erasure of indigenous, mixed race, black and non-European communities by Fernández show how important it is to have a serious debate on racialization in Argentina and also in other Latin American countries.
Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima