Cold Asado on Sunset Boulevard: Argentines in Los Angeles

‘No soy de aquí, ni soy de allá, no tengo edad, ni porvenir…’

Facundo Cabral, Argentine singer and songwriter.

Introduction

In December 2001, my mother called from our native Buenos Aires. She was worried about her life savings, which were deposited in a bank. The Argentine peso was by then linked to the American dollar, a demonstration of what former President Menem called “the carnal relationship” between the two countries. Argentina was in a deep and painful financial crisis. At an amazing pace, the rich and well connected were cashing in their financial holdings and sending their money abroad. The trusted cousin of my mother, an 87-year-old pharmacist, told her to have faith in the government and its institutions and to keep her money in the high interest account he had recommended years ago.  And so she did. Her money remained in the system, together with that of millions of other lower middle class Argentines. A week later, banks closed, the parity of the dollar to the peso evaporated, together with her own life savings as bank accounts remained frozen. In a short time, Argentina declared default on its $141 billion debt, and by the end of the following year, my mother was forced to join me in Los Angeles at the age of 77, sick and broke. At the same time, tens of thousands of Argentines flooded the airports in an unprecedented wave, leaving the country in hopes of finding a better life abroad. Many more who wanted to leave could not –with no access to their bank accounts- afford the trip. Others were prevented from leaving, after the U.S. government, alarmed by the wave of illegal immigration, removed Argentina from the list of countries enjoying the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which until then permitted Argentine citizens to visit the U.S. for up to 3 months without a visa.[1] Argentina seemingly overnight experienced a major wave of emigration, widespread unemployment hovering between 25% and 50%, the destruction of the organized proletariat, and the pauperization of most of the middle class. Many attributes of the traditional nation state disintegrated completely: no currency, four presidents in a few weeks, a level of violence and corruption rarely experienced, and a pervasive and intense sense of despair. By December 2001, the purchase of food dropped 20% lower than that of the prior year as industrial activity plummeted. People did not work and could not eat. Checks were routinely not covered. Since 1976 the economic differences between rich and poor doubled.

As we see in the next table, the Gross National Product, stagnant during the 80’s and 90’s, plummeted in 2001.

Table 1: Evolution of the Gross National Product in Argentina

1950-1960

1960-1970

1970-1980

1980-1990

2001

2002

3.0%

4.3%

2.8%

0.9%

-4.3%

-15%

Source: Based on Pellegrino, 32. Source: CEPAL, Statistic Yearbooks, Latin America and the Caribbean

From being the 17th economy in the world, the country went to be number 45.[2] From being a country of immigration par excellance, Argentina was transformed into a major source for emigration. Argentines exited the country in record numbers. Even though most sailed to more familiar lands where they had some family connections, including Italy and Spain, many tried to reach the U.S. in the hopes of acquiring some of this country’s perceived prosperity.  What were the parameters of this migration? What paradigms of race and ethnicity did those immigrants carry with them from Argentina, and how did they try to apply them to what they found?

In analyzing the characteristics of the groups of immigrants from Latin America to Los Angeles, many researchers linked this immigration to the results of the U.S. politics of neo liberalism, NAFTA, CAFTA and the building of Empire. Others examined the influx of Argentine immigrants into this country within the context of racial and social conflict surrounding immigration which was already occurring here, independent of the conditions in countries of origin.  In this paper I try to make the case for the importance of linking and connecting both elements –the abandonment of the old country and the insertion into the new- as two parts of the same process. I use the special case of migrants leaving Argentina for the United States and deal with the question of how they navigated the American society they found with their conceptual tools of class, race and community acquired abroad. By navigating I understand, in general, the use of multiple strategies to resolve the situation, and, particularly, the degree of skill required to accommodate or integrate into one’s new society. My conclusion supports the idea that Argentines that migrate experienced a process which is transnational and that corresponds to a period of global economy and the particular vicissitudes of the hegemony of the U.S in their country.

Most scholars exploring these issues until now have considered the cases of Mexicans, Cubans and Central Americans. Only a few, such as Oboler, Paerregaard, and Beserra, have included South Americans in their research. This is easier to understand considering that of all Latin American immigrants to the United States, those coming from South America make up just  5%, or one in every 20. Of them, Argentines comprise only 8%, a distant third place behind Colombians with 58%, and Ecuadorians with 11%. This may explain why there is no much specific focus on Argentine immigration in the studies. But a study of this immigration, of which this paper is an exponent, could enrich the debate by introducing an element that is distinct from most other Latin American waves of newcomers in terms of race/ethnicity, economic class and status, level of education, self consciousness and other elements. Of the more than forty million Latinos in the United Status, those coming from Argentina and their offspring are then but a tiny fraction: only 125,220 people born in Argentina were registered by the US census in 2000.[3] Officially, the US admitted 2,331 Argentine immigrants in 2000, 3,328 in 2001, and 3,685: only a fraction of the actual number of those who came.[4] Moreover, in order to come to the US, Argentines must now have a visa, even for tourists. This postponed the act of leaving for most that had made the decision to leave for around two years.[5] Those numbers, though, do not count the significant increase since 2001, following the economic meltdown in Argentina, or the undocumented immigrants. According to various sources, final numbers could be four times as high. However, Argentines in the U.S. are not only few in numbers; the members of that community do not fit the stereotype of the proverbial Latino, which is perceived in the U.S. as a reflection of Mexico, as a country  submitted to the penetration of American capitals, and as a product of mestizaje. Argentines are mostly white, of European origin, middle class, and high school or college graduates.  And many do not even consider themselves to be Latino. They see themselves rather as Europeans or a sui generis type of Latin American, standing out from the rest by country of origin and cultural level.

And yet, despite the difference, the existence and development of Argentine migration in the U.S. is like that from other Latin American countries in that it broadly corresponds to the U.S. political and economic policy toward that country, and to the repeated attempts by the popular classes to obtain a greater portion of income and power. This is not unlike the reasons for the immigration to the US from Mexico or El Salvador, but the country of the tango has its own distinctive characteristics.   The origin of the Argentine community of Los Angeles is then dual: it is a reflection of what differentiates Argentina from Latin America and Latin American immigrants, but also of what is similar. This duality thus defines the character of this small group of Argentine immigrants. The particular conditions of the social structure of Argentina –by itself a result of the fact that the development of local capitalism was severely limited by the imperialist penetration– greatly influenced the nature of Argentine emigration. In the U.S., this created a group that lacks organization on a state or national level, and, in the case of the Los Angeles area, includes either weak or non-existent local political and civic participation.  The analysis of the historic circumstances of the Argentine emigration and its insertion in the U.S. in general and Los Angeles in particular is undertaken here using an array of immigration theories in combination with the tools of social history and dialectic materialism adapted to this case.

Theoretical scaffolding

In “Latin Journey”, authors Alejandro Portes and Robert L. Bach provided an overview of immigration theories in the precapitalist, capitalist and post World War II Argentine environment.[6] This includes the “push-pull”, the colonialist theory that explains the causes of the brain drain,[7] the phenomenon of labor recruitment to explain other aspects of modern day migration, even when some labor migrations “have been initiated without any apparent recruitment effort”.[8] Other theoretical scaffoldings such as that of the “dual economy thesis” or “dual labor markets” could explain the dual attitude of Argentines in their integration to the U.S. society: they focus on the oligopoly sector, relating more to the American white middle class. On the other hand, because they belong to the immigration minority, and the ruling groups create a pressure to place them in the same contingent as those coming from Mexico or Central America, they are placed in the informal sector. The mere existence of this tension inside the Argentine group of immigrants, a tension unseen in most other Latin American groups, is reflected among other consequences in how Argentines understand the term Latino.[9]

In “Becoming Neighbors”, Gilda Ochoa delves into the different paradigms regarding the processes experienced by different groups of immigrants to the U.S., especially the ramifications of assimilationism based on an ideal of approaching the original –White– group, where immigrants “will eventually integrate into the dominant society”, by becoming, over time “less ethnically identifiable.”[10] This perspective has the underlying ideology of Anglo superiority, “where the Spanish language and other Mexican cultural practices are seen as distinct and inferior to the English language and dominant U.S. values,”[11] and where the only possible explanation the ruling class would accept for non assimilation –in other words, the identification and solidarity with a non-White, non-Black group– is blamed on the non-assimilated group. Similarly, Suzanne Oboler contends that “Latinos are increasingly associated with high numbers of school dropouts, rising rates of teen-age pregnancies, crime, drugs, AIDS, and other social ills of this society,”[12] in the predominant views.

A better understanding of how these concepts are applied to the study of the immigration from Argentina and the negotiation of its conditions for integration in the U.S. needs further debate and clarification of the idea of labels and general and the label “Latino” in particular. In Gilda Ochoa’s view, this characterization embodies the coexistence of assimilation and power-conflict as appropriate paradigms in what she calls an integrated approach that gives emphasis to structural factors in race relations.

Even if all immigrant groups share in the process, there are differences in their speed of adaptation or assimilation, “affected by three variables: race, religion and language.”[13] In general, the whiter, Protestant and English speaking a group is, the faster it will assimilate. Again, this gives us clues to the assimilation possibilities for Argentine immigrants, who are usually white, speak relatively fluent English and are better educated; however, 92% are Catholic, not Protestant.[14] The case of Argentina, because of its origins, could be a mixture, a sum, where many of the sources and explanations are present. For example, no labor recruitment was exercised by the U.S., but an internal crisis played a major role in the “pushing.” The migration waves of 1976-1983 and 2001-2003 can be seen as a local solution to internal problems, even though the problems “in reality have been induced by the expansion of a global economic system… all [were] consequences of the development of an international economy, and of the shifting modes of incorporation of countries into it”.[15]

The social construction of the ‘Latino’ identity

The social construction of the term Latino in the United States is indelibly related to the imperial dominance of Mexico by the United States, being itself the source for the image of the Mexican American –as suggested by Gilbert González– and by extension for the image of other Latin Americans incorporated to the label “Latino”.[16] Mexico was where “the great excess of saved capital which is the result of machine production”[17] of the U.S. was placed. The beginning of the term Latino, and broadly the perception of the Mexican, the Mexican American, and the Latin American in the United States dates, as shown by G. González, from the late 1880s and beginning of the 1890s, corresponding to the interest that American capitals found in Mexico. “Economic conquest”, stated the author, “the peaceful conquest,… constructed the economic relations between the United States and Mexico.”[18] When, as an ultimate consequence of the changes brought in by American capital expansion in Mexico an even more massive immigration to the U.S. ensued, the images migrated too, establishing in the U.S. the picture of the Mexican American.[19] The ideological values created by an occupying nation –the United States- that used the resources of the occupied country –Mexico- were used to create an educational pattern for people of Mexican origin living in the United State. The image of the Mexican was developing into a racial mongrel, a failed mestizo, the mañana boy, lazy and incompetent, oblivious to the American sense of time and urge to work, reflecting the collision between a rural and an industrialized society.  Argentine immigrants arrived then in a society that carries this conception of the Latino.

Historian Juan González expanded the understanding of the concept of “Latino” in the U.S., explaining how physical and economic U.S. penetration was the main cause for a huge wave of immigration from Latin American countries. Actions by the U.S. abroad created the Hispanic communities in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, New York, which amalgamated into the ethnic concept we, in the West Coast, now call “Latino”. There was a direct correlation between “U.S. capital increasingly penetrated Latin America during the [20th] Century”, and “Latin American labor headed north.”[20] Again, the history of the United States and that of Latin America are an integrated tale, where the economic development of this country, its need of expansion into markets south of the border, caused the pauperization in the local peoples and their consequent migration, of all places, to the United States.

This background also conditioned the perception of those immigrants by the existing population, in the case of Mexicans, as Gilda Ochoa states, “The oftentimes hostile reception encountered by Mexican immigrants reproduced the racial-ethnic and class hierarchies that emerged during the nineteenth-century conquest of northern Mexico;” specifically, these perceptions rooted in the territorial and imperialist expansion of the U.S. to the south created, as the author writes, “policies, practices, and ideologies” resulting in “a system of racism and discrimination”. [21] Moreover, the very image of the U.S. national identity, according to Suzanne Oboler, developed at least partially through the comparison with Latin Americans: “through the creation of racialized perceptions that homogenized Latin America’s population and that in turn set the context for the later emergence of the label Hispanic in the twentieth century.”[22]

It is in this context that the inquiry on how Argentines are seen and how they see themselves, is about identification with labels, used to designate Latinos of Hispanics in the U.S. For the present debate, I think that an important feature of the label Hispanic is that the characteristics of its content do not include all Hispanics. Many people are considered Hispanics or Latinos even if they do not fulfill all the characteristics implied in the term. Speaking Spanish, acknowledges Oboler, “is one of the attributes used to differentiate Latinos from other groups in the society”… as “all Hispanics speak Spanish”. But many second and third generation Latinos do not speak Spanish. Other assumptions, continues the author, are “that all Latinos are racially mestizos, that they all are Catholic, or that all are lower class.”[23]

Other elements that together with class combine to define Hispanics are, according to Teresa Sullivan, specific aspects of national origins, time of arrival, language, race, and minority status.[24]

Many people who are considered Latino –Argentines among them– by mainstream culture do not relate to these components of the label. In order to be considered Hispanic or Latino they do not need a total identification with the content of the label. There is instead a continuum between the poles Hispanic and non-Hispanic. That continuum contains the totality of the Hispanic population in the U.S. As the terms of the negotiation of different groups of immigrants in their process of assimilation to the U.S. differ in time, we can see that there is elasticity in the possibilities –desire, availability, problems– of belonging to the group. The desire to belong to the group Latino depends greatly on the nature of the positive or negative sanctions dispensed to those who are its natural members (in L.A., Mexicans and Mexican-Americans) in terms of economic, as well as political, social, and personal stands. Moreover, in incorporating to the U.S., an existing nation forged under still ongoing debates on ethnicity and race, Latinos had to adapt to the terms of that debate, initially bipolar –white and black.

Argentines coming to the U.S., and expected to be converted into members of the label Hispanic or Latino, are subject to a sometimes brutal transformation in changes in class belonging, prestige group, profession or occupation, family standing, etc. This adds to the metamorphosis they are suffering by the act of abandoning their country of birth into the unknown. As a consequence, the insertion into the label Hispanic can be perceived as traumatic, forced, because, as Suzanne Oboler states, “people included under this label do not always choose to identify themselves primarily as Hispanic… it cannot be assumed that all believe that they have to have a common identity in the U.S. public sphere with people of other nationalities who are labeled Hispanics.”[25]

An ethnic label is a social construct; it is useful in a particular place and time to designate and analyze a situation. While the situations are rapidly changing, the labels used to classify them are not; those who could lose income, prestige and power generally oppose to changes in the content of the label that defines them. When labels change, they do it in a qualitative jump, and only to catch on to a reality still evolving. It could be, then, that the presence of Argentines –as well as Hispanics from other nationalities- in growing numbers in the U.S. will bring to a change in a label.

The Argentine paradox

In the meantime, many Argentines find themselves in a crossroad when comparing themselves to the assumptions contained in the label “Latino.” While they speak Spanish, although in a peculiar, Rioplatense, way, and most are Catholic, they are not mestizos; many were not part of a lower class in Argentina and are more schooled than the common perception that “Latino” conveys. They will tend to reject the negative characterization –what Oboler calls stigmatizing labels, such as the lack of English skills.  At arrival to the U.S., they may be appalled by the trend to consider them as Latinos, namely, under the same umbrella as Mexicans or Salvadorans and more closely, Bolivians or Paraguayans, since for them, as Oboler states,

inspite of the shared Spanish colonial heritage, there are profound differences in the various nations’ post independence histories and populations that often override cultural or linguistic commonalities they may also share.[26]

For immigrants in the U.S. assimilation is the path that leads to being considered White.

But what Argentines –and members of other nationalities like Peruvians, Brazilians, Colombians– may feel is that in order to be part of America they are first compelled to be part of the Latino community, that for them there is no direct path to whiteness. A contradiction ensues: while being American is often seen as being White American, acceptance of the label “Latino” takes many Argentines farther back from achieving their goal of being recognized as what they were in Argentina: White. They would most likely reject the epithet of “Latino,” in part, because of it implication of belonging to the same group as the dark skinned, working class Latinos who are overwhelmingly Mexican.

This rejection of the label is not particular to Argentines. Rather, as Beserra testifies, it is “common among many Brazilian immigrants.” Among other reasons, rejection occurs because in the U.S. “Latinos are like a lower class for the Americans.”[27] They possess lower levels of prestige, as well as income, health, political participation education, and more.

Similarly, Karsten Paerregaard wrote on Peruvian immigrants, who are imbued with a strict internal class division and organize themselves in the U.S. according to those divisions.[28] The reasons alleged for the Peruvian rejection of the Hispanic category is that it groups them with a minority group in which they are another minority, it “homogenizes national and cultural diversities, and classifies them as marginalized and stigmatized Latin American immigrants.”[29] By analogy, Argentine immigrants to Miami interviewed by journalist Daniel Melamed also rejected that categorization, the inclusion with Mexicans and Salvadorans, because accepting it would have stripped them of their unique identity and provided them with an identity they consider of less value.  Nevertheless, contrary to Los Angeles, in Miami speaking Spanish is common even among the elites, and not considered a characteristic of the working class.

To reject being Latino is to reaffirm one’s privileges of whiteness in Argentina. But it is also a legacy of the Spanish colonial rule from 1580 to 1813, of class divisions inside Argentina and within that, of the migration to Argentina and mainly to Buenos Aires of people of dark skin from the Northern provinces as well as Bolivia and Paraguay. The rejection of the Latino label by Argentines could certainly have its primal roots in the legacy of the colonial period of Spanish government over the del Río de la Plata (the Virreinato was created only in 1776) that created an ideology later adopted by the Argentine Republic elite, which achieved autonomy and later independence between 1810 and 1816. Over the prior 233 years of colonial rule, class and race divisions were usually parallel.  As it happened in the U.S., as Suzanne Oboler explains, “whiter skin was associated to higher social status and honor,” while darker skin was associated with slavery, tribute and the conquered peoples.[30] This was consciously reinforced through legal procedures coming from Spain as a way to retain the feudal labor relations prevalent in the agricultural enterprises.

This racial perception reinforced in the 20th Century the way Argentines see themselves and their neighbors, particularly after waves of migration of workers from Bolivia and Paraguay, countries that in the last 20 years turned into an important source of –mostly illegal- immigration into Argentina. They became maybe the last vestige of what used to be, until the 1960’s, a country of immigration.

The idea that both the type of immigration generated from Argentina and its navigation in U.S. society are two faces of the same process can help to trace their rejection of non-white races in the racial history of Argentina.

Argentine history and immigration to the U.S.

Unlike every other Latin American country with the exception of Uruguay, the vast majority of Argentines -97% according to the CIA World Factbook- are of European descent.  Only 3% are mestizos, or mixed white and Amerindian ancestry, Amerindian, or other non-white groups. This proportion was caused by the massive immigration from Europe –Spain, Italy, Russia, France, England, and Jews- by the end of the 19th Century. In 1889, for example, 240,000 Europeans arrived to Argentine ports, and 110,000 the following year.  By 1895, the second Census counted 2,950,384 Argentine born, 1,004,527 foreign born, and just 30,000 indigenous people, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos de la República Argentina (INDEC).[31] (By contrast, in 2001, only 4.2% of the population was born abroad.) According to the Census of 1914, the number almost doubled to 7,903,662; in 1947, with the fourth Census, it was 15,893,811. Most of this phenomenal growth was attributed to immigration from Europe. Today’s Argentina’s population is almost 40 millions.[32] Almost all the Native American population disappeared, and they were not many of them to begin with; INDEC counted only 318,683 Amerindians in 2005, 0.8% of the population.[33] European immigration was encouraged or even sponsored by the state, and as Peter Wade writes, the ideal of a mixed society always experienced the process of whitening by the alleged superior strength of the white blood.[34]

Almost all African American slaves brought to the Rio de La Plata disappeared also, and those remaining concentrated in Uruguay (la Banda Oriental). According to the Argentine census, while in 1838 there were 14,928 blacks in Buenos Aires out of a population of 62,957 (26%), the rate plummeted in 1887 to 8,005 out of 433,375, only 2%. Scholar Alejandro Frigerio from the Universidad Católica Argentina voiced the opinion that this disappearance was due, not to a sudden reduction in the real numbers of Argentine blacks, but to a change in the characterization of blacks by the Census, as trigueños (mixed race) started to be considered as whites. He also rejected claims of all Argentine black males being slaughtered in the war against Paraguay in 1870. Finally, he found traces of black Argentine community organizations even in 1996. But overall, the numbers are extremely small.[35] Slavery in Argentina was abolished in 1853. Slaves were never an important part of the economy.

In addition to the legacy of the colonial era, the present stage of racialization of Argentine society can be traced to the internal migration to the cities –mainly Buenos Aires- of millions of displaced peasants, working class from the interior cities and lumpen proletariat during the government of Juan Perón, 1943-1954. Perón used a limited mass mobilization to control the workers unions, to minimize the importance of traditional workers parties (Communist, Socialist), and to limit the power of the land oligarchy (to allow for a rapid process of industrialization). At the end, the fear that he could lose control of the already militant masses accelerated his demise and his replacement by the Armed Forces.  The sole mention of the name “Perón” was forbidden. In battling Perón the elites were battling the masses. A fear of the rising working class and its demands led to the encouragement by the post Peronist ruling groups of the myth of the “cabecita negra” in Argentina, to create a rift between workers and the lower middle class or petit bourgeoisie. That was the racial derogative term used for those coming from the interior, or the suburbs, those with darker hair and skin, those doing the menial jobs, those without education, and those with social demands.

The context of the development of this concept was a direct result of the fear of the workers experienced by an intimidated upper class of land owners, bankers, and industrial capitalists, a fear that reflected and exacerbated the fears of the middle class. The ideological element of rejection of that alliance, the characterization and demonization of workers as “chusma”, “masa”, was race: “cabecitas negras”.

Many years later, those Argentines who became emigrants brought to the U.S. these sets of values as their first tool for defining their world, and as a defense of their perceived class privileges, even if they already lost them and were venidos a menos. In their quest to define their place in the new American job market, many of them chose to reject the term “Latino” as they rejected the “cabecita negra” … And so, they enjoyed their ability to “gravitate toward the mainstream of U.S… society”[36] “We tend to be accepted based on our looks; we look more European… intuitively, we tend to do better financially,” said Luis Brunstein, an Economy professor from Argentina at the Rowan University in Rhode Island.

Argentina was a country absorbing immigration well until after Second World War. Few other countries in the world enjoyed such a growth due to immigration. By 1869 its population was 1.8 million. Between 1880 and 1905 the net increase from immigration was 2,827,800.[37]

Oboler places as the beginning of the first of three large periods in South American immigration the Cuban Revolution and the US reaction all over the Continent, in lieu of a revolutionary crisis for capitalism, beginning in 1960.[38]

The first wave of Argentine emigration started in the 1960’s, bringing to an abrupt end almost 200 years of it being a magnet to European immigration. The country was thrown to the fluctuations of global markets. As Enrique Ochoa and Gilda Ochoa stated it, profound changes in both “the labor market in Los Angeles and in Latin America” occurred then as a consequence of “shifts in the global economy beginning in the 1960’s.”[39] For Argentina, as for other Latin American nations, these shifts corresponded to a desperate change in American foreign policy in Latin America with the declared, obstinate drive to prevent another anti capitalist revolution after 1959’s Cuba.  An obsession with toppling Castro’s government dislocated the political processes in all of Latin America. In Argentina, it added to the main fear of an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist revolution materialized through the support for Peronismo by the masses. American policy supported throwing out the legally elected governments of Presidents Arturo Frondizi, José María Guido, and Arturo Illía, between 1962 and 1966, all of which were replaced by Generals. In the instability that ensued, the professional middle class was at the same time more vulnerable to changes and economically able to afford the act of emigration. According to Pellegrino, the emigration began in the 1960’s, reversing the historical trend of Argentina as a country that absorbed emigration until the end of WWII as a consequence of the economic dislocation. It had a very important component of “people with a high educational level”[40] Those emigrants selected Europe in general, as well as Mexico, Venezuela, Australia, Canada and Israel as targets. But many ended up in the United States.

General Juan Carlos Onganía assumed power in 1966, replaced in 1970 by Roberto Levingston and the next year by Alejandro Lanusse. Lanusse enabled the return of Perón himself to power in the hope that the exiled leader will channel his popularity into support for a subjugation and defeat of the workers and their allies, as it indeed happened. After Perón’s death, his widow María Estela took power, but when she was unable to deliver the desired results, the Proceso Nacional Argentino junta took power on March 24, 1976 and unleashed a terrible repression. The U.S. strategy to prevent social revolution at all costs succeeded in Argentina. A wave of Argentine émigrés washed the shores of Spain, Scandinavia, Israel, and the U.S. The result of the class clashes in Argentina in the 1970’s derived in a bloody military dictatorship, a destruction of workers organizations –especially unions- at all levels, and the forced migration of political refugees, union activists, college professors, intellectuals, students, artists. They left the country in fear for their life during the military Junta’s years of massacre and disappearing, called equivocally the “Dirty War”. In the host countries, those immigrants “resisted integration into the host society”[41] Most migrated to Europe, looking for political asylum, or Israel, if they were Jewish; everywhere they could receive help from the state. When conditions allowed, they went back to Argentina.

During those years and all over South America, neo –liberal economic policies were imposed with the blessings of the FMI and the World Bank. The result was “massive unemployment, a drastic reduction of wages, and huge increases in the price of staples everywhere.”[42] Among the consequences, more Argentines left in a stream of economic migration, even after the return of an elected government in 1983. The final wave came with the final crash of the economy between 2001 and 2002, already described. According to the Argentine daily La Nación, “140,000 Argentines left their country from 2000 to 2002.” [43] In between those years, the rate of those willing to leave among students increased from 37% to 71%.[44] While most studies denote three waves of immigration –in the late 60’s, during the last military dictatorship 1976-1983, and in 2001-2003- according to journalist Mario Diament, Argentina experienced only two major waves of emigration: the political, after the military coup of March 1976, and the economic, after the crisis of 2000-2002.[45]

Character of the Argentine Immigration to the U.S.

When they arrived here, Argentines found a society that is “racialized and racializing,”[46] based on the dichotomy white-black, and where Mexican Latinos were carving a new niche in between the two perceived main races of the United States. Latinos were prisoners of the early conceptions of “Latino” as described earlier. Many Argentines expected to join the white majority, to be part of los Estados Unidos. However, on multiple occasions they were forced into the Latino group. Possibly, the distribution of Argentines into the racialized groups of American society occurred alongside the class axis.[47] And they arrived at a time of a profound transformation in the racial structure of the United States.

Author Bonilla-Silva suggests that “the United States is developing a complex, Latin America like racial order” in which there are three “racial strata: white, honorary white, and the collective black,” all as a consequence of the Latin Americanization of this country, stemmed by the massive immigration, mainly of Mexican Americans. In this context, one of the cultural traits of the present immigration crisis –including the mass demonstrations of and for undocumented, the surge of the Minuteman and other nativism groups, and the failure of the Bush Administration to pass a comprehensive immigration reform in Congress is the challenge posed by the increasing presence of Latinos to what Beserra called “the myth of the unshakeable rigidity of the US racial system.”[48] Those middle class, white Argentines, already conditioned to think in racialized/classified terms from home, reached a United States where they were forced into a racialized society with now three elements: White, Black, and what used to be honorary White, Latinos, at the bottom.[49] The new structure is a reflection of the class and ethnic struggles and U.S. imperialist penetration in Latin America.

In these conditions, growing contingents of Argentine immigrants arrived to the U.S. How many? The numbers of the Office of Immigration Statistics corroborate that the immigration from Argentina in the decade of 1960 more than doubled, increasing actually in 255%; in the preceding decade, when the initial wave actually started, it increased by an amazing 584%. Here are the numbers of legal immigrants by decade:

Table 2: Immigration by Region and Selected country of Last Residence: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2004

1941-1950

3,338

1951-1960

19,486

1961-1970

49,721

1971-1980

29,897

1981-1990

27,327

1991-2000

26,644

Source: Immigration by Region and Selected country of Last Residence: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2004, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, page 7.

Until 1970, the total number of Argentines leaving their country was about 150,000. In 1980, the number almost doubled to 290,000,[50] reaching around 499,000 by 1984. That means that by that period, the emigration from Argentina reached the qualitative turnaround into a massive process.

Many of those who left Argentina arrived to the U.S. as tourists, as seen in the number of non-immigrants admitted to this country. This figure counts Argentine tourists passing through the U.S. ports of entry. The numbers show a gradual increase to new records until 1998, when it is stagnant for three years and then plummets in free fall in 2002 until this day:

Table 3: Nonimmigrants Admitted by Selected Class of Admission and Region and Selected Country of Last Residence

1995

1996

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

383,486

412,897

536,398

529,066

533,679

523,938

234,016

219,156

217,300

Source:  Nonimmigrants Admitted by Selected Class of Admission and Region and Selected Country of Last Residence: Fiscal years 1994 to 2004. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2004, page. 78. The data for 1997 is missing.

A similar but less impressive decrease can be found in most other nations and attributed to the decline in tourism following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. Nevertheless, in the case of Argentina the difference is staggering because of the cancellation of the Visa Waiver program and the impediments for Argentines entering the country to stay legally.

The 2000 Census measured 128,000 Argentines in the whole country. But anecdotal accounts point that between 2000 and 2002, that population swelled, most of it in the state of Florida and around Miami. Most of the new immigrants were undocumented. That group came without plan and without money, just hoping for the best. The imbalance between the sheer numbers of immigrants from Argentina as suggested by different sources and those reported by the offices of immigration in the US can thus be attributed to the fact that most of the newcomers were actually remaining illegally in this country. For example, the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2005 has the following numbers for legal, permanent residents from Argentina:

Table 1: Argentines that received permanent papers.

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2,441

2,093

1,144

1,250

1,253

1,762

1,800

1,287

1,833

2,591

Source: Legal Permanent Resident Flow by Region and Country of Birth: Fiscal Years 1996 to 2005, in Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2005, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, accessed at http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/ shared/ statistics/ yearbook /LPR05.htm, 7/16/06.

According to this data, only 17,454 emigrated legally from Argentina to the U.S. in the 10 years 1996-2005. On the other hand, the same source quotes the total number of legal resident Argentines in the U.S. in 2005 as 7,081, dividing them according to state of residence. Many of those immigrants went back home. According to Melamed, as quoted by the daily La Nación, 35,000 Argentines went back to their country only from Miami, between 2001 and 2005.[51]

As for the Argentines in the Los Angeles area, even though some unsubstantiated websites claimed that there was in excess of 150,000, a more conservative figure appears in the estimation of the Argentine Consul General, Jorge T. Lapsenson; according to him, there are currently 86,000 Argentines in the West coast states, the area covered by his office, a number obtained by counting the number of citizens registered (matriculados) and calculating that they are just 5% of the total population. Of them, at least 75% live in the Los Angeles area, a total of about 65,000 Argentines.[52] About half of them came in the years of the crisis of 2001.

What are the characteristics of Argentine living in the United States? They are older than other immigrations, more schooled, better employed, and with a higher percentage of professionals:

Table 5: Argentines living in the U.S. in 2000.  Source: Pellegrino.

Average age

40

10 or more years of studies

74.43%

Employed (percentage)

70%

Professionals and technicians

19.14%

Workers and artisans

11.4%

Rural workers

0.6%

Personal and social services

20.53%

Commerce, restaurants, and hotels

38.9%

.

Occupation. According to Consul General in Los Angeles Lapsenson, many of the Argentine migrants are “professionals and professors”, but they also work in construction, body shops and technical careers.  The Consul mentioned the extensive change of occupation that Argentine immigrants experimented, as “they had to do whatever it takes” to survive.

Argentines in the U.S. until 2000 concentrated in “Management, professional and related occupations” (43.5%), “Sales and office occupations” (22.7%) and “Service Occupations” (22.7%), a total of 88.9%.  Only 10.6% of Argentines worked in “production, transportation, and material moving occupations”, and only 8.5% in “Construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations”. For Mexicans, only 8.1% worked in “management”, 25.3% in service occupations, and 12.5% in sales and office jobs, a total of only 45.9%.  As for all Latin Americans, 14.3% worked in 2000 in management or professional occupations, 17% in “sales and office”, and 25.3% in service, a total of 56.6%.  Finally, for the whole American population the percentage in management jobs is 33.6%; 14.9% for service, and 26.7% for sales, for a total of 75.2%.  Among all the countries providing professionals to the U.S, in 1997 Argentina stood 25th, with 10,900, only after Cuba, Mexico and Colombia among Latin American nations, in absolute numbers (first was India with 185,000).[53]

Table 6: Immigration of professionals and technicians from Argentina to the U.S.

Percentage of Change

1970

1980

1990

1970-1980

1980-1990

4,882

7,766

9,614

59.1%

23.8%

Source: Based on Pellegrino, 30. Source: CELADE-IMILA. (Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Center)

We see a sharp increase after the 1976 coup and the repression, an increase that lessened after the return to civilian government in 1983.

Finally, the percentage of Argentine professionals and executives –members of the ruling, rich class- migrating to the U.S. increased considerably since 1990 as shown in this table:

Table 7:  Argentine immigrants in the U.S. by certain occupations.

Occupation

1990, %

1994, %

1197, %

1999, %

Professionals

17.4

35.7

33.3

43.4

Executives

14.8

16.2

13.4

17.3

Total

32.2

51.9

46.7

60.7

Source: U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (1990-1999). In Alejandro Portes and Kelly Hoffman, “Latin American Class Structures: Their Composition and Change during the Neoliberal Era”, Latin American Research Review, Vol 38, No. 1, February 2003, p. 72.

This numbers roughly correspond to a similar increase in this type of migration during the same years from other South American countries: Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. Chile, Peru and Venezuela witnessed ups and downs during the same period.

Legal status. Another difference between the new and the old immigrants is, according to Lapsenson, that the new have fewer English language skills and that many of them are undocumented. “This is a different type of immigrants… but the Argentine community… is comprised of all Argentine citizens, whatever their migration status.”  Unlike the popular perception, for which the “illegals” cross the border of Mexico, thousands of undocumented Argentines came legally by plane, and overstayed their tourist visas. By 2001, over 50% of those flying Avianca to the US did not use their tickets back to the Ezeiza Airport of Buenos Aires, according to an executive of the company, and the Lloyd Aereo Boliviano airline acknowledged 6,000 unused tickets in 2002.[54]

Race. The Argentine population in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau in 2000, is 84.5% white.[55] In comparison, people born in Mexico and living in the U.S. were 43.6% white and 50.9% of other race. Only 42.5% of people born in Latin America and living in the U.S. at the same time considered themselves as “white”, and a similar proportion -41.2%- are of “some other race”. For the whole American population, there were in 2000 75% white and only 5.5% “some other race.”[56]

Gender. Remarkably, there is almost an equal proportion of males (49.5%) and women (50.5%). This suggests that the immigrants are organized around traditional families and that they travel together. The figure of the lonely male that leaves behind a family of a wife and children, gets a job, leaves in communal arrangement with other males and sends money abroad, is not common here. In contrast, a majority of Mexican immigrants were in 2000 males: 55.4% v. 44.6%.  For Latin Americans in general living in the U.S., there are slightly more males -52.5%- than females -47.8%. For the whole population, the ration is 49.1% males and 50.9% females.

Civic status. Another number that confirms the familial structure of the Argentine immigration is that 62.5% of them were in 2000 “Now married, excluding separated.” Only 20.5% were “Never married.” 61.3% of Mexican immigrants were married in 2000; for Latin Americans in general, 57.7% are “now married.” For the whole population, it is 54.4%.

Education. As for education, 79.5% of Argentine immigrants who arrived before 2000 were high school graduates or higher. This sharply contrasts with Mexicans, for which the percentage was only 29.8%. The rate of high school graduates or higher for Latin Americans was of 43.9%. For the entire American population, the percentage was 78.6%.  This picture of a high level of education may have changed after the crisis immigration of 2001-2002.

The data confirms the anecdotal perception: Argentines are closer to white non-Latino Americans than to Latinos en general and Mexicans in many aspects: race affiliation; rate of males to females, level of education, occupational sector, middle class jobs. They are closer to Mexicans in marital status, pointing to a more traditional society of origin. Turning into Latino could be interpreted as lowering one class status:  “Me estremece convertirme en Chicano en Nueva York, en Sudaca en Madrid”, said one of Melamed’s interviewees.[57]

Argentines in Los Angeles

And yet, the insertion of Argentines into society as whites may not be taken for granted. Their process of assimilation, as explained before, is twofold: first to realize their Latino character, consider its ramifications, and then dismiss this and seek recognition as white.

But neither Latinos –mostly Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the Los Angeles area nor White Americans- accept the insertion of Argentines without opposition. Chris Martínez told me this joke: “Why do Argentines go outside where there is a lightning? Because they think God is taking photos of them.”  And Manuel Mendez specialized in jokes based on an (failed) attempt to imitate Argentines, which cannot be reproduced. The first joke was told to me in 2006. The second, in 1990.  In between, I was compelled to hear endless jokes about Argentines coming from gringos and mexicanos alike. All were told to me without asking, as an immediate reaction to me saying that I am from Argentina. Chris Martinez is only half Latino, third generation American, does not speak any Spanish and looks like he comes from Northern Europe. He does not consider himself Latino. Mendez, on the other hand, is and looks as Mexican as the nopal.

Even more patent is the hostility Mexicans feel toward Argentine soccer, to the extent of the fans supporting any team that will compete with the white and blue one. Moreover, many Mexicans construct Argentines as the “foreign Other,” of Latinidad, not a part of the Latin America that is brown, ex rural, and working class. Under this prevalence of stereotypes, Argentine immigrants are considered to be foreign. The stereotyped facets are that they are too pretentious and prudish. Or that their music –the reference is to the Tango, a genre only particular to Buenos Aires- is different, foreign, and hilarious.

Reaction to these pressures can produce different individual solutions. Veronica Federovsky, a social activist who worked for many years for day laborers, is an exponent of those who tried to consider herself to be Latina, at the price of isolating herself from her family and even criticizing her own Jewish heritage. She thus turned into “La Rubia” of Salvadoran and Mexican youth organizations.  Her way of speaking is no longer that of an Argentine from Buenos Aires, and contains large amounts of the Salvadoran and Mexican Spanish vocabulary.

Organizations. There is no central organization for Argentines in the United States or in Los Angeles. There are, however, a few ad hoc organizations established for specific purposes including religious, philanthropic, and social. The social purpose tends to include members of other groups. These organizations are small in the amount of participants, usually with a nucleus of 3 to 30 permanent activists and reaching a maximum of 150-450 participants at major events. Two of the organizations have official ties with the Argentine consulate: the Asociacion Argentina de Los Angeles, in which the membership includes Argentine businessmen long living in the U.S. and the Asociación Sanmartiniana del Valle de San Fernando, a patriotic group of a few dozens, mostly over 60 years old. A third organization, Asociación de Profesionales Argentinos, which was created behind the scenes by a former consul, Roberto Dupuy, in 2001, hosts social and cultural meetings including screenings of Argentine movies. It has a younger profile but is mostly inactive. This organization currently has no direct ties with the diplomatic representation.

One cultural phenomenon which is recognized almost as an elite institution complementing regular academic curricula is the Escuela Argentina en Los Angeles, which provides Saturday morning classes in Spanish and Argentine culture to children and adults using the facilities of the University of Southern California. The consulate holds an annual dinner to collect funds for the school. Attendance for the activities numbers in the dozens.

Outside of Los Angeles only the Círculo Argentino de San José, formed by professionals in the Bay Area has a permanent existence. Another Argentine organization in Los Angeles is LAJA, the Latin American Jewish Association, which despite its more general name is comprised mostly of Argentine Jews.  LAJA tries to emulate the tradition of maintaining a social and cultural club for Argentine Jews in the San Fernando Valley.  Omar Zayat, who founded the group, believes that it differs from other Argentine groups, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, in that its purpose is to transplant the main component of Jewish identity in Argentina the social life around el club,[58] to Los Angeles.[59] To increase the perspective of survival for his 400-member organization, Zayat sought and obtained the support of an important Jewish Community Center in the West San Fernando Valley. In his opinion, there are more that 5,000 Argentine Jews in Los Angeles at this moment.

The dilemma of groups like LAJA, and other, older, Jewish Argentine organizations like Hebraica, is that of a minority inside a minority. Culturally, they are Argentines in their social and political identification, their use of language, food, and custom; they are Jewish in their traditional holidays, common history, and solidarity with the state of Israel and identification with the local Jewish community.  The Jews of Argentina suffered immense pauperization during the economic crisis, to the point that the American Jewish Committee in the U.S. had to organize food aid to those former members of an affluent middle class. The community crisis was worsened by the bombing of its main building in 1994 that of the Israeli Embassy in 1992, both attributed to the Islamic group Hezbollah, and by the bankruptcy of the small lending banks that constituted the backbone of the support for social activities.

Even though it is just a diplomatic representation, the Argentine Consulate is a center for activities of the community and trains leaders of the different groups. Until the end of the Malvinas War and the return of elected civil government in 1982, the Consulate operated on Broadway street in Downtown, staffed with only one Consul (the Consul General), who hired a local staff of two secretaries –one for accounting and activities, the other to take care of special cases like Argentines imprisoned, and four or five clerks. Later the dependency moved to the Hancock Park section of Wilshire Blvd. Now it holds five consuls: the Consul General, two vice Consul Generals and two Vice Consuls.[60] This reflects the importance of the area in terms of Argentine commerce, but also the growing presence of Argentine nationals in the Los Angeles area.  The situation in Argentina directly influenced the Consulate. For example, by 2002, situation was so bad that the diplomatic staff did not receive salaries for three months.[61]

Characteristics. The symbols for being Argentine in Los Angeles include speaking Spanish with the distinctive Argentine accent[62], having a passion for soccer and usually playing it on Sunday mornings, eating ethnic food such as asado and mate[63], playing typical Argentine (of Spanish origin) cards games as escoba, buraco or truco, and celebrating the two patriotic dates: May 25th –the establishment of a Patriotic Junta to replace the Viceroy in 1810- and July 9th, the Declaration of Independence, in 1816. Sometimes, living in the Argentine Diaspora is an incentive to adopt typically Argentine customs even if not practiced in the country of origin. Some, like this author, started drinking mate daily only in the U.S., and generally in front of non-Argentines, as an external symbol of identity.

“We still keep our habits”, says an interviewee of Melamed. “Mate, asado, the [daily newspaper] Clarín, [soccer star] Maradona”… but “we also incorporate a lot of things from here that make us feel good.”[64] Argentines share “a desire to be together, a taste for our music, our art, the typical food”, said Consul General Lapsenson, who compared the development of this community to the one he knew in his prior destination: “In the whole of [South] Korea [where he was ambassador] there are only 20 Argentines.”

I witnessed and participated in several of the meetings of Argentines in Los Angeles. They are full of nostalgia. Usually, somebody brings a guitar. Sometimes the players are two. Most people sit and sing loud and dramatically. Songs are determined according to the time they left Argentina. If it was in the 80’s, there are well known songs about revolution and resistance. The later repertoire is similar to other versions of Mexican or Colombian soft pop. But it could be Argentine rock, or folklore, or the proverbial tango. People drink red wine, coffee, and canapés. Those who are not Argentines but, say Mexicans or Central Americans, find it difficult to join in, and express opinions like: “where is the rhythm”, “you guys always cry.”

Another meeting I participated this year was called by APA, precisely, to taste Argentine wines. A wine importer presented the latest samples from the country. After the fourth glass I could not discern among the different types, but there was a sense of belonging, a quiet consolation for the anonymous life in Los Angeles. The place: the house of well-to-do architects in West L.A.

In yet another meeting in 2004, in the conference room of a middle-class condominium in L.A. the speaker was Armando San Martín, an engineer at JPL in Pasadena. For an interested audience, he detailed technical information on space missions, all with a political overtone that could be found in a GOP fundraiser.

In another meeting, in a private house, they screened the motion picture “Evita”, but the Argentine version, not the one with singer Madonna. In the dark, there was silence and concentration, no celebration or distraction. Even for people that did not know the Perón era like me, the idea that all what happened then was a source for Argentina recent crisis was common. It was 2003.

Two literary groups functioning intermittently in Los Angeles –Utopía and La Luciérnaga– are composed mainly of Argentines; they meet sporadically to read poetry and short stories, and, again, to sing.

During the World Soccer Cup in 2006 Argentines met in houses and cafés to watch the games of their team, a favorite. Adults and children came wearing the national team shirt. Argentina’s loss to Germany was considered a national catastrophe.

Many Argentines living in Los Angeles, and then even lacking central organizations, keep a close relationship with their cultural legacy, including food, sports and music.

“We are not Latinos.” Do Argentines then share “Latinidade” as branded by Bernadette Beserra while analyzing the Brazilian presence in Los Angeles,[65] and as part of the ideology of “US empire and US relations with Latin America… [where] there is a direct connection between US empire and migration to the United States,” as Enrique Ochoa and Gilda Ochoa suggest?[66]

Only when pressed by external circumstances to adopt to the social construct of “Latino” of the U.S. “We are not Latinos, we are Europeans,” stated members of “Reunión”, an Argentine group in the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith, who meet every two weeks in the San Fernando Valley. The group holds fundraising for social projects in Argentina, like “help for shanty towns around Buenos Aires and for the survival of Jewish schools” in that city, according to Rosi Astman, one of the organizers.[67]

Another group I interviewed of around 15 Argentines meets weekly in a café-restaurant in West LA. Most arrived in the US many years ago, beginning in the 1960’s, and yet they prefer to speak Spanish and maintain their culture. Only one of them, Luis Gimenez, came in 2001 and works in construction. The others hold middle class or professional occupations.

“Do you feel latinos?

Even though one of them is married to a Mexican woman, none identifies with the stereotype of ‘Latino’. “Mexicans have very little of Europeans”.

“There is a difference between the cultures of Argentines and Uruguayans and all the others.”

“The format of life: food, architecture, we are different. We look to France.”

“The media focuses on the Mexican market. The Spanish channels only broadcast the worse movies. It is like we [in Argentina] could only run movies about gauchos.”

“I would love to listen to good music for once, a Peruvian vals, a good tango.”[68]

A strong class attitude could be attached to this stereotype, more in Los Angeles than in Miami. In Florida, you can hear Spanish among middle class and elite groups. But not in Los Angeles. Here Spanish speaking is identified with working class. Many Mexican Americans don’t want to speak Spanish even to new immigrants from Mexico.

The Argentine Consul General does not share this way of thinking. In the interview, he describes the consequences of this thinking in Argentine foreign policy and emphasizes:

For too long, for many decades, we did not consider ourselves Latin Americans [in Argentina]. Today, we know where Argentina is. The fact that most Argentines came from Europe created a false duality. But the future of Argentina is in Latin America and this is what we want, with the expansion of the Mercosur to include Venezuela. During the de facto [military] governments, in the tragic hour of Argentina, we considered our neighbors as enemies, not brothers. But we are improving.

That rejection, actually a mirror of the class culture and class division of Argentina, translated in the United States into a dual tendency of immigrants toward assimilation –one directed to other Latinos, other to the white majority. It mirrors similar attitudes of “intra-group conflict” adopted by Mexican Americans where “organizations and individuals… have tried to distance themselves from immigrants in an attempt to integrate into the dominant society.”[69]

Food. This can be seen in the Argentine markets and restaurants in Los Angeles. “Lala’s” on Melrose caters to the “Anglo” taste, featuring rock music, non-Spanish speaking waitresses dressed in modern black, English-only menus and non-spicy Argentine food. “Gaucho Grill”, with many outlets, one on Sunset Boulevard, serves small portions of almost unrecognizable Argentine items.  The asado, or grilled meat, is often served cold, a no-no everywhere else.  “Carlitos Gardel” restaurant on Melrose is similar to “Lala’s”: for an Argentine, it is pretentious, disappointing and unfulfilling, but more expensive; with a quality that is far away from the original, especially the meat cuts, which are, again, small and thin.

In contrast, “El Gaucho Market” in Inglewood, “Mercadito Buenos Aires” on Sepulveda Avenue in Van Nuys, and “Tito’s Market” on Garvey Ave. in El Monte cater more to Mexicans. In all of them there is a clear, physical division between a part that is minimarket, when one can buy Argentine –and Mexican- meat cuts, and imported Argentine food, together with some Peruvian, Colombian or Brazilian specialties. The other part is more like a restaurant, featuring a few tables, a couple of TV screens where soccer games are played, and a counter where one can order spicy Argentine sandwiches (“con chile”) but also Mexican food. The staff is Spanish-speaking, but mostly non Argentine. For a stranger who will come to “Tito’s” the picture will be almost one of racial segregation. Those who buy the more expensive Argentine meat and other typical items will not wait in the line as those who come just for a couple of Mexican tacos.  In some cases, like the “Mercadito Argentino” on Chester Avenue in Pasadena and the veteran “Catalina’s Market” on Western Ave. in Downtown, Argentine food is scarce, the personnel is Central American and many do not know the right Argentine words to designate the food. These establishments construct different kinds of Argentines, from a tourist attraction, to an exclusive privilege to a recluse community.

Press: Similarly, monthly publications by Argentines reflect the duality. The most permanent of them is El Suplemento, a monthly publication consisting mainly of advertisement for businesses headed by or for Argentines, has a low percentage of content, including some critiques toward President Kirchner’s economic administration, Argentine soccer, interviews with local Argentines, visiting artists and a few historical remarks. The quality is remarkably better than that of similar publications aimed at Mexicans or Salvadorans. Another monthly publication, Tango Reporter, has less ads and more copy, usually around the tango, its history, its reflection in the United States and its current events in Argentina. It is directed exclusively to Argentines from Buenos Aires. Tango Reporter works on constructing an Argentine identity in this Diaspora that adheres to the myth of the tango and singer Carlos Gardel as the building block of a perceived national image. Only when comparing with similar constructions based on aspects such as songs or music, particular food or dance, it is easier to comprehend that these are caricaturized components of nationality.

The Argentines that made Tango Reporter internalized the image of tango as seen by non-Argentines, adopted that image in a way similar to the description made by Beserra on the myth of Carnival or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Beserra argues that “the construction of a Brazilian identity in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles, can only be grasped within the broader context of a Latin-American identity…” influenced by globalization…[70] This is also true of Argentines. As a consequence, even if categorized as Latinos by mainstream U.S., many Argentines do not share what Oboler calls “common national, social, or historical backgrounds” with darker skin Latin Americans, and “not all automatically adhere to the notion that they must share a common identity with people of other nationalities who are labeled Hispanics.”[71]

Conclusion

Argentine immigration is part of a transnational process, belongs to a particular stage of the development of global economy and the particular vicissitudes of the hegemony of the U.S in Latin America. It is also an integral part of U.S. history, and reflects changes in the racial structure of this country that incorporated Latin Americans as a third component.

Through the analysis of the groups of Latin American immigrants to the U.S. this country emerges as part of America, the Continent. Argentine immigration to the U.S occurred in three waves: 1966 to roughly 1970, 1976 to 1983, and 2001 to 2003. The first was a consequence of economic and political dislocation, the second of unspeakable repression and the third of an economic catastrophe. In all cases, it was the result of U.S. policies of support for the local ruling classes to allow for imperialist penetration. In Argentina, the U.S. fulfilled the role of imperial power, through political and economic domination, for the benefit of the ruling elite in this country and from time to time, for a much lower benefit of the local elites in Buenos Aires. Opposition to the exploitation of people and resources in Latin America in general and Argentina in particular brought terrible repression. The defeat of the workers movement allowed the establishment of neo liberal policies that bankrupted the country. But Argentine immigrants brought with them the perception of a peculiar class division, in which a majority considered itself middle class, intermingled with racial considerations, in which 97%–and not only the encumbered elite- is white.  When meeting in the U.S. with Hispanics from Mexico or Central America many Argentines avoided solidarity with the group and rejected the term “Latino” for themselves.  On the other side, the environment usually describes the Argentine community as part of the Latino community, but individual Argentines are considered white. Argentines lack a central organism for representation, like Peruvians, local political participation like Mexicans or Salvadorans, and even a prestigious status like Brazilians (samba, soccer). They also lack the ability to interconnect because they are relatively few and live scattered in different areas, even though the San Fernando Valley is a center for many of them. Further research is needed to assert the perception of non-Argentine Latinos to Argentines.


[1] “The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits nationals from designated countries to apply for admission to the United States for ninety (90) days or less as visitors for business or pleasure without first obtaining a nonimmigrant visa. On July 8, 1996, Argentina was added as a participating country in the VWP. Due to the current economic crisis in Argentina and the increase in the number of Argentine nationals attempting to use the program to live and work illegally in the United States, the Department of Justice, in consultation with the Department of State, has determined that Argentina’s participation in the VWP is inconsistent with the U.S. interest in enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States. Accordingly, this rule terminates Argentina’s designation as a VWP participant. Argentine nationals who intend to travel to the United States for legitimate business or pleasure must acquire a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy prior to their arrival in the United States.” (Immigration and Naturalization Service, Termination of the Designation of Argentina as a Participant Under the Visa Waiver Program, February 21, 2002, at http://www.uscis.gov/lpBin/lpext.dll/inserts/fr/fr-1/fr-79330/fr-83570/fr-85311?f=templates&fn=document-frame.htm, accessed 7/19/2006.

[2] Daniel Melamed, Irse. Cómo y por qué los argentinos se están yendo. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2002. p. 34.

[3] Profile of Selected Demographic and Social Characteristics, United States Census 2000 Getaway, accessed at http://www.census.gov/population/cen2000/stp-159/stp159-argentina.pdf on 7/1/2006.

[4] Tracy Barnett. Immigration from South America. Philadelphia: Mason Crest Publishers, 2004.P. 78.

[5] Daniel Melamed, Irse, p. 27.

[6] Alejandro Portes and Robert L. Bach. Latin Journey. Cuban and Mexican Immigrants in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

[7] Portes and Bach, Latin Journey, p. 15, p. 3.

[8] Portes and Bach, Latin Journey, p. 6.

[9] Another theory explained in Portes and Bach, is that of a split-labor-market interpretation, observes mainly the efforts by capital to confront different segments of the labor class. A version of it, the dual-economy thesis, distinguishes in the receiving, advanced, country an oligopolistic sector of giant corporations, which controls the markets with the presence of higher prices and salaries, more professional jobs; and a second sector, based on smaller, competitive enterprises living under conditions of uncertainty that reflect early industrial capitalism. In this sector, workers earn much less, have high rate of instability and are frequently immigrants. (pp. 16-20).

[10] Gilda Ochoa. Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community. Power Conflict and Solidarity. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004, p. 21.

[11] Gilda Ochoa, Becoming Neighbors, p. 18-19.

[12] Oboler, Suzanne. Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives. Identity and the Politics of (Re) Presentation in the United States. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995., p. 13.

[13] Portes and Bach, Latin Journey, p. 21.

[14] Different theories of immigration correspond to different views of immigrant adaptation. This is defined in stages: acculturation, structural assimilation or participation, amalgamation or intermarriage.

[15] Portes and Bach, Latin Journey, p. 7.

[16] Gilbert G. González. Culture of Empire. American Writers, Mexico, & Mexican Immigrants, 1880-1930. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004, 239 pp.

[17] González, Culture of Empire, p. 19.

[18] González, Culture of Empire,  p. 45.

[19] González, Culture of Empire p. 115.

[20] Juan Gonzalez. Harvest of Empire. A History of Latinos in America. New York: Penguin Books, 2001, p. 77.

[21] Ochoa. Becoming Neighbors, p. 33.

[22] Oboler, Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives, p. 18.

[23] Oboler, Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives, pp. xv-xvii.

[24] Sullivan Teresa A., “A Demographic Portrait,” in Hispanics in the U.S.A., ed. Pastora San Juan Cafferty and Williams C. McCready, 12, quoted by Oboler, 3. The qualifiers are taken from the evolution in the definitions given by the U.S. Census over the years to define Hispanics.

[25] Oboler, Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives, p. xiv.

[26] Oboler, Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives, p. 17.

[27] Beserra, From Brazilians to Latinos, p. 55.

[28] Karsten Paerregaard. “Inside the Hispanic Melting Pot: Negotiating National and Multicultural Identities Among Peruvians in the United States”, Latino Studies, 2005, vol 3 no 1, 76-96.

[29] Paerregaard, “Inside the Hispanic Melting Pot”, p. 81.

[30] Oboler, Ethnic Labels, Latin Lives, p. 21.

[31] Accessed at http://www.indec.gov.ar, 8/12/2006.

[32] CIA, The World Factbook, July 2006, at https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ar.html, accessed 8/11/2006.

[33] Encuesta Complementaria de Pueblos Indígenas, 2004-2005 INDEC, at http://www.indec.mecon.ar/webcenso/ ECPI/index_ecpi.asp, accessed 8/11/2006.

[34] Peter Wade, Race and Ethnicity in Latin America. London: Pluto Press, 1997, p. 32.

[35] Alejandro Frigerio. Blacks in Argentina: Contested Representations of Culture and Ethnicity Prepared for delivery at the 2000 Meeting of the Latin American Studies Association Section Session: Lo “afro” en America Latina: Debates sobre cultura, política y poder Hyatt Regency Miami, March 16-18, 2000. Retrieved at www. 136.142.158.105 , 8/11/2006.

[36] Immigration from South America, p. 91.

[37] Mario Diament, Prologue to Diego Melamed, Irse. Cómo y por qué los argentinos se están yendo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 2002. P. 10

[38] Suzanne Oboler. “Introduction: Los Que Llegaron: 50 years of South American Immigration (1950-2000) – an overview”, Latino Studies 2005, vol 3 no 1, p. 42.

[39] Enrique C. Ochoa and Gilda L. Ochoa, “Latina/o Los Angeles in context”, in Latino L.A. Transformations, Communities, and Activism. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2005 , p. 9.

[40] Adela Pellegrino, “Migración de mano de obra calificada desde Argentina y Uruguay.” Programa de Migraciones Internacionales. Oficina Internacional del Trabajo, Estudios Sobre Migraciones Internacionales, Geneva, January 2003.

[41] Oboler, “Los Que Llegaron” p. 47.

[42] Oboler, “Los Que Llegaron”, p. 47.

[43] Barnett. Immigration from South America, p. 76.

[44] Melamed, Irse, p. 21.

[45] Diament, Prologue to Melamed, Irse, p. 5

[46] Barnett, Immigration from South America, p. 54.

[47] According to historian Suzanne Oboler, those who belonged to low classes in their countries as origin accept other Latinos as fellow Spanish –speakers, while those who came from middle class call themselves Latinos in order to get the benefits. This assessment seems dubious in this case. Suzanne Oboler. “Introduction: Los Que Llegaron: 50 years of South American Immigration (1950-2000) – an overview”, Latino Studies 2005, vol 3 no 1, p. 42.

[48] Barnett, Immigration from South America, p. 70.

[49] Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, “From bi-racial to tri-racial: Towards a new system of racial stratification in the USA,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, November 2004, vol. 27, no. 6, pp. 931-950.

[50] Pellegrino, “Migración de mano de obra calificada desde Argentina y Uruguay” p. 10.

[51] Casey Woods, “Argentinos de Miami regresan a su patria”, La Nación, 30 de mayo de 2006.

[52] Personal interview with Ambassador Jorge T. Lapsenson, Consul General of Argentina in Los Angeles, July 13th, 2006.

[53] National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Studies, Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT), 1997. In Pellegrino, 32. In 2000 Latino scientists were only 3.5% of the total, see also www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf00328/pdf/section5.pdf..

[54] Melamed, Irse, p. 121.

[55] U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000. TABLE FBP-1. Profile of Selected Demographic and Social Characteristics, People Born in Argentina. Geographic Area: United States.

[56] U.S. Census Fact Finder, accessed at http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en&_ts= on 7/8/2006.

[57] Melamed, Irse,  pp. 44-45.

[58] Gabriel Lerner, personal interview with Omar Zayat for an unpublished story in La Opinión, July 2006.

[59] Argentine Jewry, which numbers between 250,000 and 500,000 and is considered the fifth largest in the world, did not organize around synagogues or religious life as Jews in the US organize through organized branches of Judaism and their corresponding Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox synagogues. The vast majority of Argentine Jews are not religious, and a substantial proportion was active in Liberal, Socialist, and Communist politics.

[60] Gabriel Lerner, Personal interview with Henrik Rehbinder, former clerk at the Consulate between 1982 and 1990, July 2006.

[61] Gabriel Lerner, Personal interview with then Consul Roberto Dupuy, 2004.

[62] An interesting website on the subject is the Diccionario Argentino-Español, with explanations on the Rioplatense Spanish origin, the Argentine accent and specific words. http://www.elcastellano.org/miyara/, accessed 8/14/2006.

[63] Mate is the national drink of Argentina, consumed more than tea or coffee. It is very popular also in Paraguay and Brazil.

[64] Melamed, Irse, p. 85.

[65] Bernadette Beserra, “From Brazilians to Latinos? Racialization and Latinidad in the Making of Brazilian Carnival in Los Angeles”, Latino Studies 2005, vol 3 no 1, pp 53-75,

[66] Ochoa and.Ochoa, “Latina/o Los Angeles in context”, page. 7.

[67] Gabriel Lerner, “Latinos judíos festejan en Los Angeles”, La Opinión, December 13th, 2004.

[68] Gabriel Lerner, “Gente de Los Angeles: Los Argentinos”, La Opinión, November 10th, 2005.

[69] Gilda Ochoa, Becoming Neighbors, p. 20.

[70] Beserra, From Brazilians to Latinos,  p. 57.

[71] Oboler Ethnic Labels, Latin Lives, p. 101.

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