The words of President Fernández

Image: Paula Nardini
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By GUSTAVO CAPONI*

What they hide and also legitimize.

The unreasonable statements that the President of the Argentine Republic made about the ethnic composition of Argentine society, in comparison with that of other Latin American nations, have already been rightly contested and deservedly ridiculed by the international press, including a large part of the Argentine press. The condemnation and mockery, moreover, had a wide and understandable echo on social media.

Alberto Fernández must not be able to stop regretting what he said; promising himself to learn to think before he speaks. But I believe it is still pertinent to examine what was really bad about these statements and who it was that they really offended. Because, to tell you the truth, being a descendant of the original inhabitants of this continent, whether they are people from the bush, the hinterlands, the highlands, the mountains, or the pampas, has absolutely nothing bad or shameful about it. Nor is there anything bad about being a descendant of these Africans who arrived here after being uprooted from their jungles, savannahs and deserts. There is nothing dishonorable about it; nor is there any merit in being descended from Italians, Germans, Arabs, Armenians, Poles, Koreans or Japanese. On the other hand, saying that Brazilians come from the jungle is nothing more than a display of historical-geographical ignorance.

However, when recalling the legend that 'Argentines descend from ships', although he was to mention it as if it were 'a little exaggerated', Fernández belittled the condition of Argentines of most of his compatriots. A majority whose affiliation refers, predominantly, to the original inhabitants of America; and which, in not a few cases, also refers to people of African descent who mixed a lot with this indigenous and mestizo majority. This is the most unforgivable aspect of his unfortunate and painful attempt to slavishly flatter the representative of a European country from which he expects the ever-desired 'productive investments'; those same investments that never arrive and that, if they do, generally do so to deepen the delay. It is clear, on the other hand, that, on such an occasion, Fernández could have mentioned the old and close cultural ties that exist between Spain and Argentina.

In his sad pantomime, Fernández pretended to quote Octavio Paz; who, mocking the pretensions of many porteños, once said that, while Mexicans descended from the Aztecs and Peruvians from the Incas, Argentines descended from ships. But in reality, what he was quoting was the lyrics of 'Let's get off the boats': an unforgivable song composed by Litto Nebbia; a popular musician, with a long and irregular trajectory, with whom the president would be a personal friend. It is in this song that one can hear: “Los brasileros salen de la selva // los mexicans come from the indians // Pero nosotros, los argentines, llegamos de los boats”. And, by repeating this, the President of the Argentines not only reproduced a grammatical error, because 'llegamos de los barcos' is not correct Castilian; except that, in addition, he repeated an old Argentine zonzeira to which, without meaning to, Octavio Paz gave his canonical expression: “Argentines descend from ships”. That is to say: the Argentines took the Mexican's fine irony seriously; and they started to use it to express a myth very rooted in the culture of Rio de Janeiro: I allude to the fable that we are, for the most part, descendants of European immigrants. And I say that it is a fable, or a myth, without greater pretensions of ethnographic rigor: what I mean is that it is a simple lie whose ideological function must be guarded against.

It is true that, in Argentina, European immigration, which began in the second half of the XNUMXth century and continued at uneven rates for almost a hundred years, was a phenomenon of a very particular magnitude. It had proportions that did not occur in any of the other Latin American countries; and the effect of this was made more noticeable by the relative scarcity of indigenous, black and creole population that existed in the regions where these crowds would arrive from Italy, Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany, Ireland, Poland and other countries. European countries. Without excluding, moreover, important contingents of Syrian-Lebanese who, at first, arrived with passports from the Turkish empire. However, despite the intensity of this immigration, and despite the relatively small size of the indigenous, creole and black population with which it would come across, the fact is that it is false that Argentina is a country with a predominantly European population. Possibly with the exception of Uruguay, the total proportion of the population of European origin in Argentina is certainly greater than in any other country in Latin America; however, even so, it does not reach the majority.

This is so for two reasons: the birth rate of descendants of European immigrants has always been lower than the birth rate of the indigenous, creole and mestizo population; and, furthermore, it must be considered that Argentina has never ceased to be a recipient of immigrants from other South American countries. And this population contingent, in general, came from marginalized social sectors in their countries of origin, in which indigenous and mestizo predominate. This occurred during the period of great European immigration; but it also continued to occur, and in a very sustained way, when European immigration began to lose momentum. And, in that regard, little difference has been made by some facts that are often cited by many Argentines who, pretending not to be racist, still like to feed the gibberish that we are 'Europeans in exile'. I am referring, specifically, to the assertion that the indigenous, mestizo, mulatto and black population would have been the object of extermination policies that would explain their supposed disappearance.

It is often recalled, in fact, the undeniable fact that, in the XNUMXth century, Indians, mestizos, blacks and mulattos were cannon fodder in the war of independence, in the many civil wars, in the war with Brazil and in the campaign against the Paraguay. And to this are added the campaigns against the Indians of the Pampas, Patagonia and Chaco regions; which certainly deserve the label of 'genocidal'. Without forgetting, on the other hand, the disregard that the first public health policies had for these sectors of the population that had always been marginalized. However, as real as all this may be, the effective population impact of these facts cited by the denouncers of the 'accursed story of Argentine whitening' was, by far, much smaller than what these 'accusers' seem to want to assume. This population continued to grow, always nurturing those poorer sectors of society in which descendants of indigenous people, poor creoles and black people mixed without excluding immigrants and descendants of European immigrants with whom they began to relate. You can't say, 'I'm sorry, that dark-skinned population has disappeared, or has shrunk a lot; and now almost all of us are descendants of overseas immigrants'. This is definitely false.

To prove it, it is not even necessary to travel to the 'interior' of the country: you can reach it by going a few kilometers away from the center of cities such as Buenos Aires, Rosario or Córdoba. There you will see what could also be inferred by looking at the physiognomy of those who crowd onto the public transport that, at the end of each day, takes them from the centers where they work to the suburbs, often miserable, where in general live. The same goes for the faces of the majority of those who, at the end of the year, crowd the long-distance bus terminals, and in some cases the train stations, to go visit their families in the different provinces they come from. It could be seen, in fact, that the majority of Argentines do not have very different features from those of most Paraguayans, Chileans, Colombians, Peruvians, Mexicans, etc. That is to say: there are many Argentines with features that refer to Italian, Galician, Polish, Irish, etc. affiliations; but not the majority.

A foreigner who visits the upscale neighborhoods of Buenos Aires may not see this clearly. But if that visitor looks at the face of the woman who cleans the restrooms at the restaurant or at the airport, the washer who works behind the pizzeria counter, the hotel maid, or the 'chicas' who accompany the 'ladies' on their shopping ' da Recoleta, he might start to see something else. Something that, by the way, is also not very easy to infer knowing most of those Argentines who vacation in Florianópolis or who visit Miami, Paris or Barcelona: either for tourism, or to participate in different activities linked to their professions. There you will hardly see those Argentinians whose faces are reminiscent of a different affiliation from Europe. But this is not because these Argentines do not exist or are few: these Argentines are not usually seen in these places and situations because, in general, they are poor; and they are poor because in Argentina there is a racial apartheid that is not much more permeable than the one that marginalizes blacks and mulattos in Brazil.

In Argentina, the correlation, inversely proportional, between more or less pronounced indigenous features, and the possibility of effective access to goods and rights, follows a pattern as strict and regular as that which occurs in Brazil when correlating the possibility of such access to goods and rights, with faces that show some African ancestry. This, in both cases, has to do as much with the ease of placement in the labor market, and with the best relative positions within it, as with the treatment received by the police forces or any other representative of state power. It included health professionals, social workers, and teachers. But all this can also affect access to different spaces of sociability, such as shopping centers, ballrooms, bars, clubs, etc. In Brazil, however, the problem is recognized; and this tenacious and recurrent racism is assumed, sometimes hypocritically, as a problem to be overcome. In Argentina, on the other hand, this problem is never recognized.

Argentinian culture and society are permeated by a permanently enunciated, but often denied, racism; and this denial includes some mechanisms of escape or deviation from the issue that it is essential to avoid. It cannot be that when racism in Argentine society is discussed, one insists on remembering that Italian immigrants were despised by an oligarchy that preferred immigration from northern Europe; and it is inadmissible that, by insisting on keeping such trodden issues on the agenda, the clear racialization of inequality that is registered when considering all relevant aspects of social life: income, education, professions, housing, police harassment, health, etc. . Nor can this structural racism, which affects a majority of the population, be reduced to the real and urgent problem of native peoples, or to discrimination against immigrants from neighboring countries.

The criminalization of Mapuche struggles in Patagonia, the marginalization of the Tobas in the slums of Rosario, or the passive extermination of the Witchis in Chaco, constitute terrible realities that deserve to be faced independently of any other problem. The same applies to the stigmatization and persecution of immigrants from different South American and, now, African countries. However, it is necessary not to fail to see that all these situations are manifestations of a broader racial apartheid that encompasses much more than that; reaching, as I have been saying, a majority of Argentines. A massive apartheid, of almost South African dimensions, which is also a geographic apartheid; and, which attitudes like that of President Fernández help to hide, but also to legitimize. This is the cruel ideological function of the zonzeira “Argentines descend from ships”.

*Gustavo Caponi He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at UFSC.

 

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