Race in Argentina: Questions Unanswered

Aside from the several social issues Argentina was facing, in my conversations with my cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, I found snippets of something that was perhaps more invisible in Argentina than in other parts of the world: race.

The last time I came to Argentina I was 17, much more naive, angry, and only chaotically critical. This time, though here for personal reasons, I began to pick up on the smaller interactions between people, especially when it came to race. And this time around, I asked questions.

To put “race” into a relatable perspective, in Argentina, I am virtually black. My dark hair, my brown skin, my darker eyes, and my not so western europeans features put me into a racial category. While this may seem ridiculous, I am what one calls “Morocho” in Argentina (or  at least in San Juan and Mendoza). I was struck by this. The smallest of features were what made a racial category, not extremes. Unlike the United States, when looking at the phenotype of the people of Argentina, there may be little that is different. Everyone looks “white”. But that is untrue. Here, only a few are white, or the equivalent of, and the rest are placed in an entirely different racial caste.

I noticed who was more “beautiful” when my family members and their friends spoke of children. If they were blonde, the likelihood of them being called “bello” (beautiful) was noticeably higher, but when the child had darker hair, darker eyes, and darker skin, they were simply referred to as “morocho”. Though there was no negative words in their comments, I could notice the difference in virtually every conversation I had.

Even more interesting was when I went to a local annual fair/market celebrating a patron saint. I met a group of Brazilians. In the small town of Callingasta, they stuck out – their darker skin, hair, and different physical features signaled to everyone they were outsiders. They were selling jewelry, clothes, and other goods at the market. While different, they were not marginalized in the same way as other Argentines. In fact, they were not different to Argentines because they were black, they were different because they were Brazilians. They were still othered, but not because of their race. No one called them Negro, and as they called them Brazilian, other sark skinned foreigners were not lumped into a racial category but addressed by their nationality (Columbian, Bolivian, etc.)

On face value, these small observations were to many superficial, with no consequence, and of little curiosity.  This of course, was all confined to my experiences in Mendoza, San Juan, and the smaller towns of Barreal, and Unpayata. Argentina is also typically considered a mom-racial/ethnic country, making me ask more questions that were left unanswered with the limited exposure I had.

However, race seemed to have bigger implications when it came to class and delinquency status. Even from afar, I saw that those who lived in “las villas” (slums) of Argentina were significantly darker and were far less likely to have lighter hair then television anchors, men and women in commercials, and the rich/celebrity class of Argentina. The villas are also thought of the places where there is high crime, and the lazy underclass, where I was advised if I should ever enter, I would not come out. So I wondered. How much does race matter in Argentina, if at all (I think it does) and how does it play a role in class, social status, poverty, and delinquency?

From my brief moments of existence in Argentina, I am no expert, and can’t recall many moments of overt racial discrimination. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if race has a significant, if not pervasive and damaging, effect on the lives of Argentines on a daily basis,. But what scares me the most was that it wasn’t so obvious, nothing I can go ahead and point out to you in five minutes. That is what scares me, because race is most dangerous when its invisible. to the naked eye.

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