While visiting Argentina, I had a goal to study the presence of African descendants in this country. I found that the population is lower than I expected it would be in a South American country (considering the rates of neighboring countries like Uruguay and Brazil). However, I’ve had the opportunity to come in contact with many different forms of art that was either created by or depicts African people. These works serve as a reminder that African people had an impact on this region of South America.
The history of African people in Argentina (in the Americas in general) has been extremely traumatic and African decedents are still dealing with the residual of this trauma daily. They were brought here and forced to become slaves. In enduring that, they were promised freedom in exchange for becoming Argentine soldiers in the Paraguayan and Chilean wars. Many black men were killed in that war which contributed to the diminishing population. This created a sex ratio between black men and black women, leaving black women to “procreate” with European and Indigenous men. During the yellow fever and cholera outbreaks in the 1860’s and 70’s, the Afro-Argentine population was diminished because of poor living conditions they were forced into due to discrimination. The trauma goes on and on. The residual presents itself as police brutality, housing discrimination, erasure and a plethora of other disheartening issues.
Argentine’s often deny the history of African people in the country. Some say the country does not have black skin. However they have been integral to many aspects of Argentine society and culture. For example, Black slaves brought to Argentina built much of the infrastructure. This includes the church we visited while on tour at the Jesuit block. African hands forcedly created that church, doing most of the work to make it as beautiful as it is today. Argentina doesn’t currently have the best economy but without free labor, the country would not have reached the heights it has as quickly as it’s been done. Having and keeping slaves is free labor. Having free labor is an easy way to jumpstart an economy, resulting in a higher probability for economic success. To continue, the Argentine’s did not invent the oh-so popular dance they are known for. During personal research, I found out that the Tango was influenced directly by Afro-Argentines!
In Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s article on Cape Town, South Africa, she discusses the act of healing and finding peace in relation to collective trauma. Specifically she states that:
“The process of restoring the human capacity for empathy and the intrinsic sense of human possibilities that are destroyed by violence requires a working through of trauma, which in essence is the reparation of the brokenness brought about by traumatic experience in the lives of victims.”
Being a descendent of slaves can be a heartbreaking experience. Where many other groups of people can trace their roots and know their heritage directly, it seems like my own heritage has been framed with trauma and heartbreak. Sometime’s it seems to still be that way considering the odds that are constantly being stacked against us. To this day, people in Argentina still refuse to completely recognize and accept what African people have done to contribute to this place. Erasure is still prominent and discrimination is rampant. But in my own journey for self awareness and identity, I find that I grasp peace in my peoples suffering by knowing how talented and capable they were then and are now. It reflects in their decedents but also the things that they have left behind for us to discover all over the world. As I learn more about the history of Africans on this side of the globe, the anger and heartbreak is accompanied by pride and dignity, It’s motivation to keep pushing in a world where the odds are stacked against you. I’m excited for other aspects of African culture I may find during this trip.