Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Argentina's Black Population

In 2001, a black Argentine woman attempted to board a plane to Panamá when immigration officials denied her boarding because they did not believe her passport was real. These officers, her own countrymen, told her that her Argentine passport couldn't be hers because she is black. They are not alone. Many Argentines have been quoted as saying, no hay negros en Argentina (there are no blacks in Argentina). I, like so many others, not only believed this to be true, but was clueless to the fact that the famous Argentine Tango music and dance had its beginnings in Afro-Argentine barrios (ghettos).

It has been well over a century since Argentina reflected the African racial ancestry in its census count, but according to the organization Africa Vive (Africa Lives), it's been calculated that there are about 1,000,000 African descendents in Argentina. The 2010 census introduced the African ancestry survey.

Soccer star Arturo Tissone

As in other Latin American countries, the Spanish attempted to enslave the indigenous population during their initial invasion. So many indigenous people died from overwork and disease that the Spanish decided to bring African slaves from territories now known as Angola, Gambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Guinea to replace the dying native population. These Africans entered mainly through the port of Buenos Aires and were forced to work in agriculture, livestock, households, and to a lesser extent, crafts. In urban areas, many slaves made handicrafts for sale whose revenues went to their masters.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Argentina's black population comprised of up to 50% in some provinces and had a deep impact on national culture. The Buenos Aires neighborhood of San Telmo and Montserrat housed a large quantity of slaves, although most of the black slaves were sent to interior provinces. Slavery was officially abolished in 1813.

Guitarist and Tango composer Enrique Maciel

In the 19th century, the African population began its sharp decline for the following reasons:
  1. Heavy casualties caused by the constant civil wars, war for independence, and other foreign wars of which blacks made up a disproportionate part of the Argentine army. Also, like the Bufffalo Soldiers in the U.S., Afro Argentine soldiers fought against the native population whom the white Argentines despised as well as the blacks. It has been said that the government has purposely sent many blacks into dangerous front line battles.

  2. Yellow fever epidemic of 1871.

  3. Migration from Argentina to Uruguay and Brazil, where there were more blacks and a more favorable political climate.
    Massive immigration of Europeans between 1880 and 1950 when European immigrants were heavily welcomed and while non-Europeans unwelcome.

  4. By the late 19th century, black women, not having enough available black men, married European immigrants and white Argentines producing racially mixed children who also married non-black mates upon coming of age. 

Revolutionary War Hero Antonio Ruiz
Today, the Afro-Argentine community is beginning to emerge from the shadows of Argentine society. There have been black organizations such as Grupo Cultural Afro (Afro Cultural Group), SOS Racismo (SOS Racism), and perhaps the most important group, Africa Vive (Africa Lives), that help to rekindle interest into the African heritage of Argentina. There are also Afro-Uruguayan and Afro-Brazilian migrants who have helped to expand African culture. The Afro-Uruguayan migrants have brought their candombe, an African derived rhythm that has been an important part of Uruguayan culture for over two hundred years to Argentina, while the Afro-Brazilians teach capoeira, orisha, and other African derived secular dances.

A Brief History of the Black Roots of Argentine Tango


  1. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what they're talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe you're not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

    1. Why thank you very much, Chosen Click :-) This blog was meant for you and others with like interest.

  2. "These officers, her own countrymen, told her that her Argentine passport couldn't be hers because she is black."

    Same thing happened in India with a Siddi musical group flying to Europe in the documentary: "From Africa-- to India : Sidi music in the Indian Ocean diaspora". [Siddis are Indians of African descent who arrived in India via slavery or voluntary migration. They arrived in India centuries before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.]

    I did not know Argentinians were that much out of the loop about their black population. I thought because of Fidel Nadal they were all somewhat aware.

    1. Well, Mexico and Guatemala have those same issues about black folks in their country. I was talking to couple from Vera Cruz, Mexico, and they never knew that at one time African slaves entered Mexico through the Port of Vera Cruz. They were soooooo surprised.

    2. I have definitely experienced this with Mexican-Americans. But usually when I mentioned Guerrero & Oaxaca they usually come around. I've had some say, "you know what my grandfather is darker than you" //I'm an African American with a brown complexion. Or they'll say "now that you mentioned it, some of my aunts do look like Black Americans."


      The "advice column" Ask-A-Mexican made a good point a while ago. Mexico doesn't have a large distinguishable Afro-Latino community like Cuba, Puerto Rico, etc... Since they don't have that mass visual reminder/evidence that the other countries have it is mainly out of sight/out of mind in regards to the Afro-Mexicans. I had a Mex-American recently tell me that the Black people in La Costa Chica were from Cuba. ????????

    3. Here is the article:

  3. >>> I had a Mex-American recently tell me that the Black people in La Costa Chica were from Cuba. <<<

    LOLOL! Granted there are a lot of Cubans living in Mexico, but as you obviously know, not in La Costa Chica. LOL. Generally they go to Vera Cruz of Mexico City. In fact, I met people in Mexico City who didn't believe I am American, but Cuban.

  4. Hi Bill. Thanks for the link to this article. I'm writing a post about my experience in Buenos Aires and I've cited bits of your article along with a link to your blog.

    Keep up the great work!


Anonymous comments will be ignored and deleted.