Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why Argentines are Latino American and not Latinos


You're probably wondering if there are any Latinos in this Latin American country (see previous entry, Buenos Aires is Italian for Barcelona). Since a Latino identifies with being of mixed race and being from Latin America, Argentines could technically qualify. Except that many are not of mixed race and that those who are may not claim to be. Basically, in order to identify with the name of an ethnic group you must accept its name and Argentines do not, in this case. Their reasoning seems to be a mix in itself; mostly political with a bit of race thrown in. I'm still trying to figure out the big picture from a "yanqui" point of view and here's what I've come up with so far.

I'm told the area surrounding Buenos Aires has always had the least number of ethnically indigenous people in Argentina. It is the port and the capitol and has always been the center of immigration. Immigration here means primarily European immigrants, or traditionally it has meant people coming from Europe, most recently immigration was from Eastern Europe.

The bulk of the Portenos (people from Buenos Aires) trace their roots to when, in the 19th and 20th centuries, large numbers of Spanish and Italians came to Argentina for a new life. In the late 1800's there was expansion into the Pampas, the middle of the country that is the nation's bread basket. For years the army had been losing the battle over indigenous lands in the Pampas but that changed with one general's savage defeat of native fighters in a series of battles called the Desert Campaign. Manifest Destiny was claimed to defend genocide as a national hero, General Roca, murdered or expelled 100% of the people in the area:

"At the end of 1878 he started the first wave to "clean" the area between the Alsina trench and the Río Negro River by continuous and systematic attacks to the aboriginals' settlements.

With 6,000 soldiers armed with new breech-loading Remington rifles supplied by the United States, in 1879 he began the second wave" (wiki)

In part, it seems the American habit of supplying arms to kill innocent, non-European families explains why so many people have remained ethnically European in this area of the country. There's recent immigration from Peru and Bolivia and there are native Argentines in the North and some in the South of the country, but here in the city there are few.


Racial identity isn't a popular subject so I do my best to get an accurate perspective of my new home. One thing is certain, Argentines of all flavors don't call themselves Latino. They do call themselves Latino Americano and view the name Latino to be a "yanqui" construction. They call Americans yanquis because they view all inhabitants of the Americas to be American. Argentines seem to look at the word Latino as a response by American Latinos to their marginalization in the US. Max tells me most Latin nationals don't use the moniker Latino but rather Latin American or just American. They don't appreciate the US hogging the name of two continents and neither does Canada. We're all Americans, yo. In fact, the official name for my nationality here is estadounidense which translates as something like "UnitedStatesian."

The few people that do identify specifically with the term Latino also identify with hip hop culture. The emcees here adopt a Puerto Rican accent when they rhyme. Max claims the Latino identity is a yanqui construction rather than a global representation of Latin Americans. I guess Argentina makes for a complex and interesting place to examine ethnic identity.