Ethnography of Argentina

Ethnography of Argentina

The Ethnography of Argentina is somewhat peculiar and distinct from that of other countries in the Americas.Argentina, along with other areas of new settlement like Canada, Australia or the United States, is considered a country of immigrants and a melting pot of different peoples [Enrique Oteiza y Susana Novick sostienen que «"la Argentina desde el siglo XIX, al igual que Australia, Canadá o Estados Unidos, se convierte en un "país de inmigración", entendiendo por esto una sociedad que ha sido conformada por un fenómeno inmigratorio masivo, a partir de una población local muy pequeña.»" [ (Oteiza, Enrique; Novick, Susana. Inmigración y derechos humanos. Política y discursos en el tramo final del menemismo. [en línea] . Buenos Aires: Instituto de Investigaciones Gino Germani, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2000 [Citado FECHA] . (IIGG Documentos de Trabajo, Nº 14). Disponible en la World Wide Web:] ; El antropólogo brasileño Darcy Ribeiro incluye a la Argentina dentro de los "«pueblos trasplantados»" de América, junto con Uruguay, Canadá y Estados Unidos (Ribeiro, Darcy. "Las Américas y la Civilización" (1985). Buenos Aires:EUDEBA, pp. 449 ss.); El historiador argentino José Luis Romero define a la Argentina como un "«país aluvial» (Romero, José Luis. «Indicación sobre la situación de las masas en Argentina (1951)», en "La experiencia argentina y otros ensayos", Buenos Aires: Universidad de Belgrano,1980, p. 64).] Most Argentines are descendents of colonial-era settlers and of the 19th and 20th century immigrants from Europe, with almost 90 % of the population being of European descent [ Argentina] ] [cite web |url= |title=Argentina (People) |accessdate=2008-08-08 |work=The World Factbook |publisher=Central Intelligence Agency] for generations, the majority of these immigrants came from Italy and Spain, as well as other European countries.The most common ethnic groups are Italian and Spaniard (mostly Galicians and Basques). There are also significant Germanic, Slavic, British and French populations.

An estimated 7% of the population is mestizo. The last national census, based on self-identification, counted about 600,000 Argentines (1.6%) of Amerindian heritage. [ Encuesta Complementaria de Pueblos Indígenas] ] A further 3-4% of Argentines were of Arabic or East Asian extraction.

Waves of immigrants from European countries arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The main contributors were Spain, Italy, France (mostly settled in Buenos Aires city and province), Eastern European nations such as Croatia, Poland, Russia, Romania, Ukraine and the Balkans (especially Greece, Serbia and Montenegro), Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland (Buenos Aires and Patagonia), and Scandinavia (especially Sweden). Smaller waves of settlers from Australia, South Africa and the United States are recorded in Argentine immigration records. By the 1910s, over 30 percent of the country's population was non-native Argentine after immigration rates peaked, and half of Buenos Aires' population was foreign-born. [ [ Dinámica migratoria: coyuntura y estructura en la Argentina de fines del XX ] ] []

The overwhelming majority of Argentina's Jewish community (about 2% of the population) derives from immigrants of Northern, Central, and Eastern European origin (Ashkenazi Jews). Argentina's Jewish population is by far the largest Jewish community in all of Latin America and is the fifth largest in the world. Buenos Aires itself is said to have 100,000 practicing Jews, making it one of the largest Jewish urban centers in the world (see also History of the Jews in Argentina).

Small numbers of people from Asia have also settled Argentina, mainly in Buenos Aires. The first Asian-Argentines were of Japanese descent, but Koreans, Vietnamese, Chinese and Laotians soon followed.

Ethnic Groups

The arrival of the European immigrants

The number and composition of the population was stable until 1853, when the national government, after passing a constitution, started a campaign to attract European immigration to populate the country. This state policy lasted several decades. At first the number of immigrants was scarce, but in the 1870s, due to the economic crisis in Europe, it started to increase, reaching an extremely high rate between 1890 and 1930. Unofficial records show that, during the 1860s, 160,000 immigrants arrived to Argentina, while in the 1880s the number increased to 841,000, almost doubling the population of the country in that decade. Between 1857 and 1940, 6,611,000 European immigrants arrived in Argentina.

Most of these immigrants were largely from Italy and Spain, and in lesser number from the United Kingdom, France (mainly Occitania), Germany and Switzerland. Contingents also arrived from Russia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Libya, Syria, Armenia, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Netherlands (mainly from Frisia), Belgium, Japan (mainly Okinawa), Cape Verde, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, and Norway.


Italian immigration to Argentina began in the nineteenth century, just after Argentina won its independence from Spain. Italian settlement in Argentina, along with Spanish settlement, formed the backbone of today's Argentine society. Argentine culture has significant connections to Italian culture, also in terms of language, customs and traditions [ [ O.N.I.-Department of Education of Argentina] ] . Italians became firmly established throughout Argentina, but the greatest concentrations are in the Province, the City of Buenos Aires, the Province of Santa Fe, the Province of Entre Rios, the Province of Córdoba, the Province of Tucumán, the Province of La Pampa and, in the nearby country of Uruguay.

There are many reasons explaining the Italian immigration to Argentina: Italy was enduring economic problems caused mainly by the unification of the Italian states into one nation. The country was impoverished, unemployment was rampant, certain areas witnessed overpopulation, and Italy was subject to significant political turmoil. Italians saw in Argentina a chance to build for themselves a brand new life.The Italian population in Argentina is the second largest in the world, by numbers, outside of Italy [ [ Italianos en Argentina] ] . By concentration, along with Uruguay, it is the highest outside of Italy.


Between 1857 and 1940 more than 2 million Spanish people emigrated to Argentina, mostly from Galicia, Basque Country, Asturias, Cantabria, and Catalonia in northern Spain, and also from Andalusia in southern Spain.

Today, around 10% of the Argentine population descend from Basque people, both Spanish and French, and are described as Basque Argentines. They gather in several Basque cultural centres installed in most large cities in the country.

The city with the second greatest number of Galician people is Buenos Aires, where immigration from Galicia was so important that today all Spaniards, regardless of their origin within Spain, are often referred to as "gallegos" (Galicians) in Argentina. Galicians make up 70% of the Spanish population in Argentina.

Although many Argentines have Spanish blood and because Argentina and Spain share common cultural aspects (the language, religion which is Roman Catholic Christianity, and traditions), Argentine elites diminished the Spanish culture from their culture in the newly independent country and made Argentine culture. Spanish settlement dates back to 1500s and from that, many Spaniards intermarried with non-Spaniards. This is because prior to its independence, Spaniards in Argentina who were against the Spanish Empire and desired their independence came to be known as Argentines and those who were opposed to independence continued to be identified as Spaniards. A few generations after independence, all began to see themselves as purely Argentine.


German immigration to Argentina occurred during 5 main time periods: pre–1870, 1870–1914, 1918–1933, 1933–1940 and post–1945. During the first period till 1870, immigration to Argentina was in general low. Of note are the colonias alemanas, the first one founded in the province of Buenos Aires in 1827. The colonias are a unique and notable phenomenon in Argentina’s immigration history but were also far from an exclusively German practice.

During the second period, from 1870 until 1914, Argentina experienced a massive boom in immigration due to or causing massive economic expansion in the port of Buenos Aires and in the wheat and beef producing pampas. In this time frame, the German speakers of Argentina established themselves and developed several institutions, which are often examined in academic studies, such as newspapers, schools and social clubs. Despite originating from all over German speaking Europe, once in Argentina, a new, Germanic Argentine identity developed. One example of this can be found in the studies of Das Argentinische Tageblatt (newspaper); it was founded by Swiss immigrants but, by the 1930’s, became the primary forum for exiles from Nazi Germany.


English settlers arrived in Buenos Aires in 1806 in small numbers, mostly as businessmen and traders, when Argentina was an emerging nation and the settlers were welcomed for the stability they brought to commercial life. As the 19th century progressed more English families arrived many bought land to develop the potential of the Argentine pampas for the large-scale growing of crops. The English founded banks, developed the export trade in crops and animal products and imported the luxuries that the growing Argentine middle classes sought.cite web
title =Emigration of Scots, English and Welsh-speaking people to Argentina in the nineteenth century
publisher =British Settlers in Argentina—studies in 19th and 20th century emigration
url =
accessdate =2008-01-08

As well as those who went to Argentina as Industrialists and major landowners, others went as railway engineers, civil engineers and to work in banking and commerce. Others went to become whalers, missionaries and simply to seek out a future. English families sent second and younger sons, or what were described as the black sheep of the family, to Argentina to make their fortunes in cattle and wheat. English settlers introduced football to Argentina. Some English families owned sugar plantations.

Ethnic Minorities


The mixture of Native Americans and Europeans started with the Spanish and Portuguese conquest of the Americas. The descendants of the mixture of Europeans and aboriginals are often referred to as "mestizos". Nowadays an estimated 7% of the population is mestizo. The last national census, based on self-identification, counted about 600,000 Argentines (1.6%) of Amerindian heritage. [ Encuesta Complementaria de Pueblos Indígenas] ]

The mestizo composition is clear in some sectors of lower classes throughout the country. There exist more than 750,000 persons with Bolivian origins whose composition is 90% native, and a similar number of Paraguayan origin with a clearly mestizo composition.It's common to observe the ethnic dichotomy in the beggars of the city of Buenos Aires as an example. In the sectors of higher resources the mestizo population is a minority, and it is not uncommon to hear pejorative comments towards someone of non-European features.

Finally, there is also a strong social categorization that connects the dark-skinned mestizo with poverty, illiteracy, and crime.


There are Amerindian Tobas, Aymaras, Guaraníes and Mapuches among the most important groups that still maintain their cultural roots, but under a continuous pressure of religious and idiomatic integration.The local natives that speak Quechua adopted that language by the teachings of the religious missions that arrived from Peru to the Santiago del Estero Province; the language is quickly losing importance.Today there are about 400,000 indigenous people, representing 1% of the Argentine population.3% of the Argentine population is estimated to possess Amerindian ancestry.


The black population in Argentina declined since the early nineteenth century to insignificance.But during the colonial era, Afro Argentines composed a third of the population, most of them slaves brought from Africa to work for the criollos.In 1813 the Freedom of Wombs Law was passed, nominally freeing all slaves within the Argentine territory, but during the following wars of independence many black citizens were forcefully recruited and used as front-line soldiers.This drastically reduced the male population of this ethnic group.

In 1871 an epidemic of yellow fever fell over Buenos Aires which seriously affected the lower class neighbourhoods of the city where most of the remaining black individuals lived, reducing their numbers even further.By 1880 there were still some thousands of black inhabitants (mostly women) in Argentina. Many of these had children with newcomers from Spain and Italy, but individuals of European origin, being so many in comparison with those of African ancestry, soon became genetically dominant.The African genetic contribution is so small that it is very difficult for a phenotypic manifestation to emerge in the current Argentine population as a result it stands as non-existent.


From the middle of the 20th century, Asian immigrants began to arrive in Argentina. The first wave was from Japan, primarily from the island of Okinawa. During the 1970s the main Asian influx was from China, and during the 1990s from South Korea and Laos. Unlike most immigrants who arrived earlier in the century, they tended to remain in close social circles and not mix with other local ethnicities. This excluded the Japanese who were the first to arrive and therefore the first to produce a native generation of Japanese-Argentines, thus integrating more so than the other Asian groups.

Immigration from neighbouring countries

Among the most numerous immigrants from neighbouring countries are Paraguayans (the biggest foreign community), Bolivians, Peruvians, and Chileans, and in lesser number Ecuadorians and Brazilians.There have been reports of discrimination to these groups, as well as exploitation; Buenos Aires Police have released Bolivian citizens held in semi-slavery working in textile factories, some run by South Korean immigrants.

Uruguayans represent a special case; many have crossed the Río de la Plata to live in Argentina, mainly in Buenos Aires, searching for opportunities in the bigger country. Given their cultural resemblances with the porteños, they are rarely discriminated against.

ee also

*Demographics of Argentina
*Immigration in Argentina
*Native languages of Argentina
*History of the Jews in Argentina


* [ Official information of the Population and Human Development Commission] - Chamber of Deputies.

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