Argentina: A Land of Immigrants and Emigrants

There is a saying in Latin American that goes [es]: “Mexicans descend from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas, and Argentineans from the boats.” And the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges used to say that [es] “Argentineans are Europeans who were born in exile.”

The Argentina of today is a country built by immigrants mainly Europeans who escaped war and hunger in the first half of the 20th century. They left Spain, Italy, France, Wales, Germany, Russia, Poland and established homes in a rich and vast land full of possibilities. The result of this immigration was a community that longed for the motherland left behind and who did not share a common tradition.

Monument to the Immigrant in Rosario, Argentina.  Taken by Pablo David Flores and used under a Creative Commons license.

Monument to the Immigrant in Rosario, Argentina. Taken by Pablo David Flores and used under a Creative Commons license.

The last three decades of the century started to bring new immigrants; this time mostly from neighbouring countries but also from Korea, Japan and later, the Ukraine. Economic conditions in countries like Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay pushed their citizens to look for better life style in a country that relative to others in the region, was quickly growing.

During the 1970s, Argentina was governed by a military junta. Many intellectuals and activists were forced then to choose between exile and death. They left, extending the cultural reach to Europe. In the new century, after the political and economic crisis of 2001, many young people crowded Ezeiza, the international airport of Buenos Aires and said goodbye while dreaming of a new life elsewhere. In a circular movement, Argentineans went to Europe, returning to their grandparents’ first homeland.

However, not all immigrants experience the return to Europe in the same way: the colour of their skin, their accent, customs and ability to adapt to the new reality are elements that will determine how they will be received in a new country. The contrast between Argentineans being accepted abroad and Argentineans accepting others from abroad can at times be very evident. As a Spanish commenter on the blog Vagonettas [es] writes:

Los problemas de acceso a nuestro país de ciudadanos argentinos son mínimos, además es mal ejemplo, porque Argentina siempre ha caído y cae muy bien a todos los españoles (no lo digo porque otros no, pero siempre hay paises que caen mejor).

The problems of access to our country for Argentinean citizens are minimal, in addition to being a bad example, because Argentina had always been and is well liked by all Spanish (not because others are not, but simply that there are some countries that are more well liked than others).

At times, other Latin American immigrants experience the ups and downs of living in Argentina. The group blog Somos Paraguayos [es] collects stories from Paraguayans abroad, and its section on contributions from those living in Argentina demonstrates nostalgia for their homeland, stories of difficulties adapting, but also gratitude for the opportunities. For example Wilson Jacquet writes, “Thank you, Argentina [es]” and details how his family emigrated and where he now has completed his studies and is now married with a baby on the way.

Juan Pablo Meneses is a Chilean journalist living and working in Buenos Aires. In his blog Cronicas Argentinas [es] he dedicated a series of articles to describe the current life of immigrants like him, in the South American country. He writes:

Están los descendientes de inmigrantes que vinieron hasta la Argentina en barco que, muchas veces, recuerdan con orgullo esa argentina hecha por sus abuelos. Están los argentinos que en los últimos años se han ido del país, y que aseguran estar felices del viaje y de la no-vuelta, y recomiendan a Ezeiza como la única salida. Están los inmigrantes de los países limítrofes, la próxima primera minoría argentina, quienes se fortalecen bajo la lluvia de críticas. Están los que aseguran que Argentina sí es un país generoso, y quienes se oponen terminantemente a esa afirmación. Están casi todos.

There are those descendants of immigrants brought on the boats who remember with pride the Argentina built by their grandparents. There are those who in the last years have left the country and say are happy with the trip and say they are not coming back. They recommend Ezeiza as the only way out. There are the immigrants from neighbouring countries, the next first minority in Argentina who becomes stronger under the rain of criticism. There are those who assure that Argentina is a generous country and those who strongly oppose that statement. There are almost all of them.

The variety of experiences and origins of the new immigrants today, creates an intricate reality that is difficult to grasp for a country whose shape is in constant change. As migration increases in today’s world, Argentina will have to face soon the fact that it is, as it was, a country made by people wanting to make home in a new land. Understanding the different experiences of immigrants will help to build a nation cohesively in spite of and enriched by the cultural diversity.


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