Tensions that Emerged Within the Argentine Society
In his book “The Western World and Its Others: From the viewpoint of the Other,” R.W. Connell argues that immigrants from Europe to Latin America in the nineteenth century caused a transformation in relations between European and Latin American societies, transforming them into “societies of the other.” This essay explores these arguments from Alberdi, Sarmiento, and Lugones within their writings to put them into perspective. It also introduces Sola and Namuncura, who experienced these changes firsthand as migrant workers on Argentine streets. My essay will investigate the tensions that emerged within Argentine society in the closing up of the nineteenth century. The “others” were those from Europe and their attempts to remake Latin American societies in their image. This process of social transformation, however, was a process fraught with contradictions, producing both positive – and negative – effects.
The essay will first introduce Alberdi, Sarmiento, and Lugones as “allies” to this transformation of relations between Latin America and Europe by investigating their writings concerning immigration policy, the popular classes, and indigenous peoples. These three men were members of the oligarchy that ruled Argentina and other Latin American states. It will then introduce Sola, an Italian immigrant who lived in a Buenos Aires working-class district known as La Boca and a leader in a local multi-ethnic workers organization, and Namuncura, leader of an indigenous people from Misiones province. The parallels between these two men and the writings by Alberdi, Sarmiento, and Lugones will be analyzed.
In the late nineteenth century, Argentina experienced a massive immigration wave from Europe. The elite of Argentina, primarily of British or French descent, were anxious to preserve the racial purity of their country and believed that an influx of “others” posed a threat. Even though Argentina’s national borders were not exactly defined in terms of ethnic distinctions and the land was open to all European immigrants, the conservative elites believed they had to exclude European “others.” This led them to support an immigration policy that was strictly controlled on all levels. Argentina’s elite were influenced by Anglo-Saxon racism, which expressed itself as a fear of mixing different races. In their desire to keep out “difficult,” races – especially those from Africa – Italians and Jews were also excluded from Argentine society.
Sarmiento and Lugones were sometimes explicit about their views toward indigenous populations. They believed the Conquest to be understandable though unfortunate, and Indians had to either be converted or eradicated. Other Argentine intellectuals of the time thought it was a mistake for the Indians not to disappear completely. All three elite intellectuals considered Argentina’s immigration problem in terms of race and class. Alberdi and Sarmiento considered Argentina an extension of Europe, though Sarmiento initially welcomed immigrants from all backgrounds, while Alberdi only considered immigrants from northern European countries as desirable. Alberdi thought that immigrants from southern Europe threatened to lower the average Argentine’s standard of living. At the same time, Sarmiento did not consider Italians and Spaniards a threat since they were Catholic and knew how to work. Lugones shared Alberdi’s views about southern European immigrants (though not for the same reasons) but was more sympathetic towards Italy than most other nationalists of the time. Though each of Argentina’s elites had different ideas about immigration, all agreed on one thing: Indians were too different from being assimilated and should be removed from Argentine soil. In their view, it was natural for whites to rule over non-whites. The popular classes were also seen as sinister in each of the three elites’ eyes.
Gone were the days when they could find enough food to survive, hunted by the Europeans and their diseases. They were no longer happy, living with their extended families on their lands, hunting, and fishing to feed themselves. They lived on less than what seemed like nothing and still had that sense of happiness (Sutton). All those pleasures seemed washed away for them by foreigners who took over everything that was theirs before, killing off the native people and taking control of everything from the water sources to the land itself. Through this “development”, these people faced so many hardships known as development. Their sense of happiness and pride had been taken from them, and all that was left for them was the pain of life. “We are the last! We are the last!” Namuncura` wailed, “No one is left for us to live with us. You took everyone away from us, and we are left alone! We are alone!” (Bryce 26) These words showed how many native people had gotten sick from diseases brought to them by Europeans and that many had died to bring on more suffering, sorrow, sadness, hurt, loneliness, and despair. (Sola) The idea of getting other native people to live with them was something that Namuncura and her group had been trying to do for many years until it finally happened.
Sola, Oreste. “Making it in America.” The Argentina Reader. Duke University Press, 2002. 188–192.
Bryce, Benjamin. “Undesirable Britons: South Asian migration and the making of a white Argentina.” Hispanic American Historical Review 99.2 2019: pp. 247–273.
Connell, Raewyn. “Understanding neoliberalism.” Neoliberalism and everyday life 23 2010.
Sutton, Barbara. Bodies in Crisis: Culture, violence, and women’s resistance in neoliberal Argentina. Rutgers University Press, 2010.