Argentina’s history since European colonizers began arriving in the Americas has been tumultuous. In the 16th century, Spanish colonizers settled in the River Plate Coast and began spreading further inland. In the late 1870s, General Julio Argentino Roca (who would later become President) led “The conquest of the desert,” a campaign which would massacre over 1,000 Mapuche and other indigenous groups, as well as capture and enslave these individuals. This campaign killed a large portion of indigenous Argentinians, greatly changing the nation’s demographics (Carroll, 2011). For this reason and the large influx of European migrants, as well as smaller numbers of Asian and African migrants to Argentina over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries created a diaspora of largely European heritage. In fact, Argentina had the second-highest number of immigrants during these centuries, behind the United States, with 6.6 million immigrants arriving over the 200 year period (World Population Review, 2020). While many Latin Americans have European, African, Asian, or indigenous American heritage, Argentinians often are considered separately from other Latin American cultures because of the majority European heritage of many. Certainly, Argentina’s culture, education system, and in some cases language mimic that of their European heritage; however, this is not to say that Argentinians are any less Latino than their northern Latin American peers. What has nearly become an international joke, that Argentinians are European, affects the cultural identity of Argentinians.
A report from the summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile in 1998 shows that even some of the highest ranking officials in the Americas are not immune to joining in on what might be a unifying joke in the Americas at the cost of Argentinian people. One Prime Minister was reported saying that “Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish who think they are British.”
Another joked that “Ego is the little Argentine inside each of us” perpetuating the stereotype that Argentinians are egotistical and enjoy flaunting their European heritage. Even a recent Netflix documentary, the Cuba Libre Story, shows one Cuban man talking about Che Guevarra, an Argentinian Revolutionary, and said that he did not like Che because he was Argentinian and thought he was so European (Alpert, 2016). While white Argentinians with a majority of European ancestry are the most common image of Argentinians in the Latin American community, the indigenous population is often ignored despite the violence and oppression they have suffered and continue to suffer. Other Argentinian minorities are often completely left out of the picture making a country that was once known as a “crisol de razas”, or melting pot, of peoples and cultures seem like a homogenous white European nation with little diversity. This simply is not the case. As Argentinians fight for their Latino identity, they face harsh criticisms from the rest of Latin America and the world in nearly every field.
In the early 20th century Argentinian magazine “Martín Fierro,”named after the popular Argentinian fictional character of a gaucho, several artists, poets, activists, and writers responded to a claim that Madrid was the “Intellectual Meridian of the Americas.” The initial article that sparked this harsh response was written by Guillermo de Torre, an Argentinian born Spanish writer, and poet who married Norah Borges, and became brother-in-law to one of the most famous Argentinian authors Jorge Luis Borges. Guillermo de Torre insisted that Madrid, Spain was the intellectual center of the arts and academics of the Americas, claiming that Spain had a broader sense of Latin American culture because they could see Latin America as a whole as opposed to through the lens of one Latin American country (De Torre, 1927). Not only is this potentially a way for European intellectuals to take credit for the innovation, arts, and achievements of Latin Americans, but it further imposes the idea that Argentinians themselves are European. Numerous Argentinian writers responded to this article by writing their own opposing articles. While defending their Latino identity, this was an important stance to separate Argentina from being grouped as just another European country. Argentinian author Pablo Rojas Paz responded by saying “Qué lástima que los europeos no nos llamen bárbaros en vez de semicivilizados porque si nos llamaran bárbaros tendríamos derecho a soñar en una cultura nuestra” (What a shame that Europeans don’t call us savages instead of semi-civilized because if they called us savages we would have the right to dream of our own culture) (Rojas Paz, 1927).
Just recently, the Kolla group located in the northwestern highlands of Argentina has begun to identify as indigenous. This has been highly contested as “nationally, the image of Argentina as a ‘European nation’ denies the inclusion of indigenous peoples” (Occhipinti, 2002). Anthropologist Laurie Occhipinti spent time with the Kolla people in Argentina researching their identity. One Kolla woman explained that “[In the Chaco], the [indigenous people] are lucky. They have more of their own traditions, language...” (Occhipinti, 2002). While many indigenous communities in Argentina have their own languages, younger people or people who move to cities for various reasons grow up speaking Spanish, which they feel delegitimizes their indigenous Argentinian identity. To be grouped as European by the rest of Latin America while growing up with indigenous heritage can be troubling for individuals. The Spanish massacred and severely oppressed indigenous groups in Argentina for centuries, and to be grouped with one’s oppressors and to have a person’s rich indigenous identity ignored can create an identity crisis. This example shows how the overgeneralization of Argentina by the rest of the world ignores important historical, cultural, and linguistic identities that cannot fit under the umbrella term of “European.”
The Spanish language spoken in Argentina has many different dialects, accents and styles. Despite this, Argentinian Spanish is often considered to be nearly Castilian— associating Argentina once again with being European. While all Spanish is derivative of that spoken in Spain, Argentinian Spanish has developed just as much as that of other Latin American countries. Argentinian Spanish has linguistic influences that come from its unique history. While one of these influences is Italian due to the majority of the population having some Italian ancestry, Brazilian Portuguese, Chilean Spanish, Uruguayan Spanish, English and indigenous languages have over time influenced changes in the Spanish language of Argentina that makes it unique to itself, and not to Europe (Salvetti, 2018). Additionally, Argentinian Spanish has many regional variations, and as previously mentioned, is home to many indigenous languages.
While Argentinians may be the butt of the joke among the Americas for being “so European”, this denies the achievements of Argentian intellectuals, artists, scientists and others and rather than being seen as Latino, they are treated as European. This overlooks the rich cultural identity of Argentinians and the many ethnically diverse populations that make up the country— many of which have been oppressed by the Europeans there are now categorized as. Ignoring the linguistic diversity of Argentina delegitimizes that Argentina developed apart from Spain which it has so diversely and varies so much by region. While the “European” culture of Argentina may attract tourists from around the world who believe the misconception that other Latin American countries are not as developed as the “European Latin American Country,” it takes away the rich history that Argentina developed as a Latin American nation created by its indigenous groups and immigrants, and the identities and pride of both.