Has the myth of Argentinidad come to an end?

Updated: Feb 2

by Carmen Forlenza

Figure 1: Fernández at the press conference for the meeting with spanish prime minister (NurPhoto/Matias Baglietto)

1. Introduction

On the 9th of June, Argentine President Alberto Fernández attended an official meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. On this occasion, he said: "Mexicans come from Indians, Brazilians come from the jungle, but Argentines come from boats. Boats that came from Europe. "He was convinced to quote the Mexican writer and Nobel Prize winner for literature Octavio Paz[1]

He wanted to express a pro-European feeling and celebrate the importance of European migration for the history of Argentina in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, his statement was controversial, to say the least. His speech triggered a storm on social media. In a few hours, critical social media posts have multiplied with the hashtags #VerguenzaNacional e #AlbertoRacista.

The president's remarks were deemed xenophobic and offensive by hundreds of people in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. His words[2], have been labeled as the last manifestation of "Argentine arrogance". A recent demonstration of an ancient and deep-rooted effort by the Argentine state (or at least its political class), to defend this peculiar bond with European countries. This element has been seen as a differentiator compared to the neighboring Latin American countries.

At homeland, Fernández was accused of continuing to culpably "forget" the descendants of native population and Africans brought into slavery into the country, as well as anyone who does not feel represented by this idea of ​​an essentially white and European Argentina.

2. Criticism from abroad

The episode may have helped to left space for a critical reflection on the myth of "Argentine exceptionalism". It is not the first time that a prominent Argentine politician has made a comment considered racist[3]. Yet phrases of this kind reflect a dominant idea for an important part of Argentine society. A common thought especially in the Buenos Aires region, which can be summed up in the phrase: “Argentines are Europeans, unlike the rest of Latin Americans”.

Figure 2: Latinamerican newspapers headlines (Infobae)

Jorge Luis Borges, 20th-century Argentine writer, poet, and philosopher, used to say that Argentines were "Europeans in exile". Bartolomé Mitre, an important Argentine historian wrote that the European character of the Argentine nation was a distinctive trait differentiating it from the "barbarism" of its neighbors.