Argentinian movement tries to make black heritage more visible

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – It wasn’t until Julia Cohen Ribeiro moved to Argentina that she discovered she was black.

Her hair was curly, but her skin was fair. She had never identified herself as anything other than Brazilian in her country of birth. When she was 11, she was shocked when people on the streets and at school in Buenos Aires insisted she was black.

“I was never told I was black growing up,” said Ribeiro, now a 25-year-old film student at the University of Buenos Aires. The daughter of a white mother and a black father, she has since embraced that identity and joined a burgeoning Afro-Argentinian movement that seeks to eliminate the lingering myth that there are no blacks in the country and to fight against discrimination against them.

The 2010 census recorded around 150,000 people of African descent in Argentina, a nation of 45 million, but activists estimate the real figure to be closer to 2 million following a wave of immigration – and because many Argentines have forgotten or ignore African descent.


“This is a highly contested figure,” said Nicolas Fernández Bravo, professor of anthropology at the University of Buenos Aires, member of an Afro-Latin American study group and political adviser to the government. “The state doesn’t have a clue how many because measuring race is difficult and the state doesn’t take it seriously.”

President Alberto Fernández stumbled upon the issue in June when, addressing Spain’s prime minister, he quoted an old local saying that has offended many at home and abroad: boats. On ships from Europe.

The backlash prompted Fernández to kind of apologize on Twitter:

“Our diversity is a source of pride,” he wrote. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone, but anyway everyone feels offended or feels invisible, I apologize, of course.”

Argentina’s diversity was once evident. By the early 1800s, when the slave trade – if not slavery itself – was abolished, about a third of the population consisted of African slaves or their freed descendants. Even the tango – a dance closely identified with the nation – has strong African influences.

But the country’s leaders have made concerted and enduring efforts to Europeanize Argentina, welcoming millions of white immigrants while downplaying and inundating the country’s indigenous and African heritage.

Some say that many Afro-Argentines died in the wars of the mid-19th century where they were used as infantry, the first casualties of the battle, although other historians dispute that this was the main cause of the evolution. of the racial makeup of the nation.

Ribeiro is finishing a documentary about Maria Remedios del Valle, a black woman who fought against the British invasion of the Spanish colony and later in the Wars of Independence in the early 1800s.

Thereafter, she was destitute until her military comrades rallied to her defense, calling her “The mother of Argentina”.

“I hope this will change the mentality in Argentina, make it more diverse, richer culturally and help fight racism,” said Ribeiro, who also leads a tour focusing on Afro-Argentinian history.

The celebration of African culture in Argentina in November this year is dedicated to the memory of Maria Magdalena Lamadrid – “La Pocha” – an Afro-Argentinian activist who died in September. In 2002, the fifth-generation Afro-Argentina was prevented from leaving the country by a customs officer who insisted there were no black Argentines and claimed his passport was a fake.

The makeup of the country has changed further in recent times with a wave of new arrivals from Africa and other countries.

Angeles Martinelli, a white Argentinian, married a Senegalese immigrant and quickly faced racism head-on. She remembers people asking her, “What does a beautiful woman do with a monkey?”

Martinelli, who works as a housekeeper, later divorced her husband who returned to Senegal, but not before having a daughter, Ammi. People would try to touch her because local tradition is that black babies bring good luck. It just made Ammi cry.

Ammi is now 12 and very shy, which her mother attributes in part to the taunts of a classmate who often said, “We don’t want to play with you because you’re black.

In the northern province of Santiago del Estero, Emanuel Ntaka grew up as the son of an Argentinian mother and a South African father, hearing stories of endemic racism and violence in his father’s homeland. Today, Ntaka is a musician and director of socio-cultural programs at the National Ministry of Culture.

“This is where the need arose in me to face the injustice of what happened in South Africa,” said Ntaka. But he said he got louder after being beaten up by skinheads in Argentina. It was not so much the beating that affected him as the admonition: “Go back to your country”.

He couldn’t get it out of his head. But this is my country, he said to himself. “I’m from Argentina.”

Ntaka helped organize this month’s events to celebrate Afro culture and is optimistic about the future, but also realistic. He said his 10-year-old daughter was also the victim of racist taunts at school.

Bravo said many upper-class Argentines remain ignorant of the race issue. “That is changing,” he said, “but not too long ago you heard people say that we are not racist because we don’t have black people. difference between the Ku Klux Klan and you? “

Elesha Mavrommatis, a black communications and development consultant from Decatur, Georgia, has lived in Buenos Aires for six years. She said she didn’t feel the same level of discrimination she had heard from other black women, largely because in Argentina, Mavrommatis was considered American before she was black.

“It’s a good thing for Argentina and Argentines to look at their history and see all the diversity that makes it up,” Mavrommatis said.

Bravo, who helped create the African-Latin American Studies Group in 2010, said he sees improvement.

“We have gone from zero to one over the past decade. It’s better to be at one. … What is the point? It might be 1,000, I don’t know, ”added Bravo. “The peculiarity of Argentina is that we ignore our ways of being racist.

Ribeiro hopes to launch his documentary on Maria Remedios del Valle in December. The government is sponsoring the work as part of the “historic repair” of the black community.

“The film also shines a light on the life of a black woman and shines a light on all black women and pays homage to them,” Ribeiro said. “To make this documentary is to believe that a black woman can be president of Argentina one day because we have and always have had this capacity and this story is the testament to it.”

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