Where Have All the Black Folks Gone: Argentina Land of the Vanishing Blacks Revisited

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For the 1973 October issue of Ebony magazine, renowned African-American Journalist, Era Bell Thompson — now deceased — traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to write the article: “Argentina Land of the Vanishing Blacks.” What fascinated me most about the article, was the number of Afro-Argentines Thompson found to interview for the piece. Flash forward almost 40 years later and not much has changed, except Afro-Argentines (as well as people from the African Diaspora), are more difficult to find and almost non existent in Buenos Aires. If you happen upon someone black in Buenos Aires, they’re either from North America, Brazil, Africa, Uruguay or Europe. In short, they’re not from a lineage that began from the blood of an African slave in Argentina. Finding a true Afro-Argentine in Buenos Aires today, is like mining for diamonds; you know they’re there and within reach, but they’re concealed — not easily identifiable.

The reason for this Houdini act on African ancestry is the fact that descendents from African slaves brought through the ports of Buenos Aires were, as Thompson wrote: “Absorbed and inundated by European immigration.” Thompson also wrote: “Blacks once out numbered whites five to one.” This is an amazing historical fact, taking into consideration that Argentina is now 98 % white. There are even fewer black women in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But that is a conversation large enough for its own post. Another topic Thompson covered was “Miscegenation,” which I believe is the reason why there are fewer detectable Afro-Argentines today; after a few generations the African ancestry is somewhat lost, and 37 years of generations have been created since Thomson’s article.

Another interesting tidbit I found while reading this piece is how most of the blacks seemed, as quoted from the article: “Relatively free of racial discrimination and relatively content.” What makes this intriguing is the fact that a black person could feel “free of racial discrimination” in 1973. Especially since back in the United States, African-Americans were still fighting against racism in a country that officially ended segregation 9 years earlier with the Civil Rights Act.

However, Argentina has had its share of racism. Thompson writes about a kindergarten in an upper class neighborhood in Buenos Aires, refusing to enroll a biracial child, and a white porter at a club denying access to a black model. I too have experienced racism in Buenos Aires, but those experiences were very few and 0.01% of my Buenos Aires journey. The truth is, no matter what part of the world you visit, there will always be a little pocket of people who harbor feelings of racism towards someone different from them. You can’t escape it; racism is a horrible plague that infects humanity. But you must not let this stop you from your journeys.

I, for one, refuse to let any level of ignorance stop me from claiming my right to explore this beautiful earth as a citizen of the world. I was born to this earth exactly the way I was supposed to be. If there are individuals who can’t handle this, then it is their problem not mine. Who has more issues; the person existing as they should or the person who tells them they don’t have the right to?

Argentina is a beautiful country with beautiful, kind people. The fact that there are few black people in Argentina, should not deter black people from going. In fact, it should entice black tourism to the city. A black person visiting Argentina reestablishes a black presence — a presence that most Argentines welcome with amazement and wonder; this excites Argentines to curiosity and encourages them to re-examine their country’s history.

Don’t let any lack of color anywhere stop you from visiting a destination. You may receive stares if you tend to be the only black person in the immediate area, and yes, this can become exhausting, but let them stare. If the stares are piercing through you, never fold from them. This is when you must expand your shoulder blades like wings and stand taller. Don’t lower your head in timidness or submission, but hold it up high. If we don’t act as strong representatives for ourselves — who will?

The Original source of my post, Era Bell Thompson’s article, can be found through google here.

NOTE : The picture above was found via http://hermanaafricamusic.blogspot.com/

12 Comments

  1. Margaret says:

    Jenny very Good reading and a good history review. This will open many eyes and get the curious interested, Good publishing The Job is yours happy writing.

  2. Ana says:

    Hello there! I came across this post on WordPress. Years ago I read a book called Buenos Aires negra by urban archeologist Daniel Schavelzon. The book was about the history of the African population in Buenos Aires from the point of view of archeological research. I don’t know if you speak Spanish but I’m copying the link to one of Schavelzon’s articles about the subject http://www.danielschavelzon.com.ar/?p=2400

    Ana

  3. Great writing and topic. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  4. Black Chick Thing says:

    You have no idea how relieved I am to find your website. I’m a student of color travelling to Argentina next fall to study spanish. When I heard that Argentina was the “land of the vanishing blacks”, I was terrified. Not only has your website completely alleviated my doubts– it also got me reallyreallyreally excited about studying abroad. Thank you so much!

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi! You’re very welcome!
      I’m so happy you found my website too! Welcome!!!!!! And if there is anything else you need, please don’t hesitate to email me! I hope you have an amazing time in Buenos Aires!!!!!!!

  5. Kai says:

    “…You may receive stares if you tend to be the only black person in the immediate area, and yes, this can become exhausting, but let them stare. If the stares are piercing through you, never fold from them. This is when you must expand your shoulder blades like wings and stand taller.”

    Thank you!

    • Jennifer says:

      You’re welcome Kai! What you’re going through is exactly why I created this blog. I’m so happy that it was able to help you the way it was meant to. I wish I had a blog like this when I was living in Buenos Aires. I hope you are able to enjoy the rest of your stay there. :0)

  6. Tanya Smith says:

    Great article! I’m currently visiting Buenos Aires after visiting Cuba and Brazil, two countries which still have a very obvious African slavery history. After seeing decendants of slaves in varying shades of colors from fair to quite dark in these two countries, I am shocked that you can barely see a trace of African in the faces of Buenos Aires locals. Could they really have mixed in so well in this period of time??

  7. Tanya Smith says:

    In addition to my last comment, I found this article which could be of further interest to you and your readers.
    http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com.ar/2012/10/african-descendants-in-argentina-afro.html?m=1

  8. Anthony says:

    Hey i really like your article. I don’t think people were staring at you because of your skin color. I think is because they could tell when you’re from another country it can be by the way you speak and the way you dress. I’m Dominican raise in America with an italian last name and am lightskin, and alot people ask me if am italian or puerto rican. I used to get mad about it but i learn not to take it personal because it became a normal thing for me growing up. For me to see a white Dominican living in the U.S. (or to know 1) is rare sometimes i had met people people with blonde hair like Carlos De La Mota (Actor, singer, architect) very known in the Media of Latin America and his from the Dominican Republic. By the way i was born in the DR but i came into the US as a kid, i consider myself American — If i were raise in DR people would right away would tell by the way i act & by having an accent. But i see what you’re saying and i really love your article by the way.

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