Racism in Argentina

In Argentina, there are and have been cases of discrimination based on ethnic characteristics or national origin. In turn, racial discrimination tends to be closely related to discriminatory behavior for socio-economic and political reasons.[1][2]

In an effort to combat racism in Argentine society, the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) was created in 1995 by Federal Law 24515.[3]

Different terms and behaviors have spread to discriminate against certain portions of the population, in particular against those who are referred to as "negros" (blacks), a group that is not particularly well-defined in Argentina but which is associated, although not exclusively, with people of dark skin or hair; members of the working class or lower class (similar to the American term "red neck"); the poor; and more recently with crime.

Other racist, xenophobic, and spiteful terms and attitudes have developed against immigrants. Historically, "gallego" (Galician) for Spanish people in general, tano, an apheresis of napolitano (Napoletani, from Naples) for Italians and "ruso" (Russian) for Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire and Europe were terms that carried pejorative connotations. These have to some extent carried over to the present, the former as jokes about Galicians and the latter as anti-Semitic insults.[4] Today, words such as "bolita", "paragua", and "boliguayo" constitute derogatory terms to refer to certain immigrants of Latin American origin, mostly from neighboring countries like Bolivia and Paraguay.

An older xenophobic slur was the use of the name godos ("Goths", in the sense of barbaric people) for Spaniards or royalists during the Argentine War of Independence.[5]

Anti-Semitism also exists in Argentina, in a context influenced by the large population of Jewish immigrants and a relatively high level of intermarriage between these immigrants and other communities.

In many cases, "social relations have become racialized";[6] for example the term "negro" is used to designate a worker, without any relation to the color of his/her skin. It is common for people who hold positions of responsibility in business to refer to the staff as "negros".

There is an active debate about the depth of racist conduct in Argentina. While some groups[7] maintain that it is only a question of inoffensive or marginal behavior that is rejected by the vast majority of the population, other groups[8] contend that racism is a widespread phenomenon that manifests itself in many different ways. Some groups also assert that racism in Argentina is no different from that which is present in any other country in the world, while other groups[2] claim that Argentina's brand of racism manifests itself in a number of unique ways that are related to the country's history, culture, and the different ethnic groups that interact in the country.

Racial terms

A series of terms are used in Argentina that have a certain discriminatory intention and constitute a particular form of racism.

Negro y negra

In Spanish, negro literally means "black male" and negra means "black female". Negro and negra are widely used terms in Argentina, across all social classes, including in those classes which are referred to as negro and negra by other social groups. Negro is also one of the most common nicknames, with no offensive meaning.

Paradoxically, the same racist ideology in Argentina that maintains that "there are no negros (of African ancestry) in Argentina"[9] uses the word negro to designate a vaguely defined population made up of workers, poor people, internal migrants, Latin-American immigrants, and natives, without any more distinction.

Víctor Ramos, the president of SOS Internacional, responded in the following manner when asked by a journalist what were the most common manifestations of racism in Argentina:

I would say that the most common form, what we see most frequently, is related to racism against the criollo. That is to say, against those who are also referred to as "cabecita negra" or "morocho". It is frequently said that in Argentina there is no racism because there are no "negros"... but here there is much discrimination against those of dark skin, including against aborigines who have a darker skin color... this occurs in the same manner in all of the provinces of our country.[2]

An example of this type of racism is the response given by a high-level official of the municipality of Escobar to two businessmen who wanted to set up a nightclub next to the rail station:

"I don't want negros here... If I want nightclubs for negros, I'll put them on the outskirts of the city, far away.[10]

There is such close identification between poverty, race, slums and marginalization in Argentina that philosopher José Pablo Feinmann compares these circumstances with the "Muslim question" in France.[11]

In 1996, during a diplomatic trip to the United States, when asked about the black population of Argentina, President Carlos Menem remarked:

"Black people do not exist in Argentina, Brazil has that problem".[12][13]

It is also important to note that there is widespread use of the terms negro and negra that has a fraternal meaning totally devoid of discriminatory intention. Between friends and family they are common nicknames. For example, the famous late singer Mercedes Sosa is affectionately known as "Negra Sosa".[14]


This word entered the lexicon in the second half of the 1970s. In the 1980s a famous television sketch called El groncho y la dama was made as part of the show Matrimonios y algo más featuring Cristina del Valle and Hugo Arana. The sketch was a satirical look at a marriage between a working-class mechanic and an upper-class lady who referred to her husband as the groncho (in the sense of "vulgar person", not properly a racist slur) while seduced by his sexual skills.

The rock group Babasónicos recorded an album entitled Groncho in 2000.[17]

Cabecita negra

"Cabecita negra" (literally, little black head) is an oft-used, historic racist term in Argentina. The word was coined after the Spanish name of a native bird, the hooded siskin. It is used to disparage a somewhat nebulous sector of society associated with people that have black hair and medium-dark skin, belonging to the working class.

The term was coined in Buenos Aires during the 1940s, when a large internal migration started from the rural northern provinces towards Buenos Aires and other large urban centers. The impetus for the migration was the newly created factory jobs that came about as a result of industrialization in Argentina.

The Argentine author Germán Rozenmacher (1936–1971) wrote a well-known short story in 1961 titled: "Cabecita negra" which depicted everyday racism in Argentina with stark reality. The plot deals with a mid-class citizen of European ancestry, who resents the increasing internal migration of impoverished people from northern Argentina to Buenos Aires. A portion of the story reads:

He would have liked for his son to be there. Not so much to defend against the negros who had now sprawled out in his own house, but rather to confront all that has neither feet nor head and to feel companionship with a fellow human being, another civilized person. It was as if these savages had suddenly invaded his home.


"Cabeza" (head, in English) is a derivation of cabecita negra that has appeared more recently. It tends to refer to someone from the countryside, simple and unsophisticated, who lives in the city. The word is also used by some groups of young people to refer to someone who is viewed as undesirable, badly dressed, unpleasant; someone who falls outside of what is considered to be the "correct" style.


The word indio (Indian, in English) is much less racially charged than the term negro in common Argentine language. There has been a trend over the last several decades of naming children with indigenous names[19] such as Ayelén, Maitén, or Lautaro; a trend that forced the Argentine government to revise its laws prohibiting the use of indigenous names.[20]

Nevertheless, the term is sometimes used with a racist subtext. For example, the phrase: "¡chicos, parecen indios!" ("You children look like Indians!"), although no longer heavily used, implies "dirty" or "disorganized". Other examples such as: "Yo de pendejo era re-indio" ("When I was a kid I was an absolute Indian") and "Mi hermanito es un indio" ("My little brother is an Indian") are still used to refer to someone who has violent or irrational attitudes, or who acts impulsively.

The historical term malón, which describes the Mapuche mounted raids on colonial and Argentine settlements to plunder cattle and supplies from the 17th to the 19th century, is sometimes used in colloquial speech in the figurative, derogatory sense of "horde".

There is also a tendency to label all indigenous people as indio or indígena without the speaker specifying, or even knowing, which group the person belongs to. This is a generalized practice that is common to Latin America as a whole and not just Argentina,[21] and is directly related to the effacement of non-European cultures.[22][23][24][25]


The word mestizo is not used very often in daily speech, although it is relatively common in the context of social sciences and history, sometimes with racial connotations.

The use of mestizo as a racist term comes from the colonial caste system which was based on the concept of pure blood: the mestizo was considered inferior to the pure Spanish because his blood was mixed which made him impure. Although today it is known that biologically there is no such thing as a pure person, and various researchers have recycled the term to refer to any exchange of DNA,[26] and various other experts assert that all peoples and races are the result of prior mixing of races,[27] during the Spanish colonization of the Americas the idea was imposed that mestizo should be applied only to those persons of mixed indigenous and European ancestry, in order to demarcate their difference from the pure people who were generally of European ancestry.

The racist colonial concept of mestizaje to some extent endures to this day, as witnessed by the recent debate about the racial origin of José de San Martín, one of the founders of Argentina. Commenting on this phenomenon, historian Hugo Chumbita asserted that "there has been and continues to be resistance to revising official history due to the idea that by corroborating the mixed racial origin of San Martín, then Argentina's image would be tarnished."[28] In a similar vein, an Argentine newspaper reported that conservatives voices were complaining: "If the founding father is a mestizo bastard, then so is Argentina."[29]


The word boliguayo, a combination of boliviano (Bolivian, in English) and paraguayo (Paraguayan, in English), is a blatantly derogatory term that first appeared in the 1990s and its use is growing rapidly in the first decade of the 21st century. The term's derogatory nature comes precisely from the speaker's indifference to the immigrant's identity, in a similar way to indio or sudaca.

The following interview with a rugby player demonstrates how the term is used:

Why do they call you Boliguayo?: I really don't know, they gave me the nickname when I was on a road trip if my memory serves me correctly. I was sort of boliguayo (dumb, slow).[30]

Types of racism in Argentina

"White-European" racism and Article 25 of the Constitution

In Argentina, an extensive racist ideology has been built on the notion of European supremacy.[31] This ideology forwards the idea that Argentina is a country populated by European immigrants "bajados de los barcos" (straight off the boat), frequently referred to as "our grandfathers", who founded a special type of "white" and European society that is not Latin-American.[32] In addition, this ideology holds forth that cultural influences from other communities such as the Aborigines, Africans, fellow Latin-Americans, or Asians are not relevant and even undesirable.

White-European racism in Argentina has a history of government participation. The ideology even has a legal foundation that was set forth in Article 25 of the National Constitution sponsored by Juan Bautista Alberdi. The article establishes a difference between European immigration (which should be encouraged) and non-European immigration.

Article 25: The Federal Government will encourage European immigration; and will not restrict, limit, nor tax the entry of any foreigner into the territory of Argentina who comes with the goal of working the land, bettering industry, or introducing or teaching sciences or the arts.

Constitution of Argentina

Alberdi, the article's sponsor and the father of the Argentine Constitution of 1853, explained in his own words the basis for White-European discrimination:

If you were to put the roto (literally "broken"), the gaucho, the cholo, the basic element of our popular masses, through the finest educational system; in one hundred years you would not make him an English worker who works, consumes, and lives comfortably and in a dignified manner.

Juan B. Alberdi[33]

The discrimination between European and non-European immigration established by Article 25 of the Constitution has survived all subsequent constitutional reforms (1860, 1868, 1898, 1949, 1957, 1972 and 1994).

Originally this ideology had been structured to exclude immigrants of Spanish, Italian, and Jewish origin, placing these immigrants in the "undesirable" category. Alberdi claimed that the "races which could improve the species" in Argentina where those that originated from Northwestern Europe, chiefly England and France. Alberdi was of Basque descent and as such carried a special grudge towards Spain where Basques were often an oppressed minority. Alberdi was also very partial to France where he spent much of his life in exile and where he died in 1884. In this way, despite the predominantly Hispanic, Mediterranean, Latin, and Catholic culture of Argentina, Alberti proposed a semi-nordicist policy somewhat similar to the later White Australia policy and the United States Immigration Act of 1924.

Alberdi, who was a proponent of French being the national language of Argentina, believed that Hispanic and Christian traditions were enemies of progress and supported discrimination against Spanish, Italian, and Jewish immigration.[34]

To govern is to populate in the sense that to populate is to educate, to better, to civilize, to enrich and enlarge spontaneously and rapidly, like what has happened in the United States. In order to civilize by means of the populace it is essential to do it with civilized populations; in order to educate our America in liberty and in industry it is essential to populate it with people from Europe who are more advanced in the matters of liberty and industry... there are foreigners and there are foreigners; and if Europe is the most civilized land on the planet, there is in Europe and in the heart of its brilliant capitals, more millions of savages than in all of South America. All that is civilized is European, at the very least in origin, but not all that is European is civilized; and it is easy to imagine the scenario of a new country populated by Europeans more ignorant of industry and liberty than the hordes of the Pampas or the Chaco.

Juan B. Alberdi[35]

With three million Aborigines, Christians and Catholics, you will not create a republic for certain. You will not succeed either with four million Iberian Spanish, because the pure Spaniard is incapable of creating it, either there or here. If we have to build our population for our system of government, if we have to constitute our population to fit the system we envision rather than make the system fit the population, it is necessary to encourage Anglo-Saxon immigration. Anglo-Saxons represent steam, commerce, and liberty, and it will not be possible to instill these things in ourselves without the active cooperation of this progressive and civilized race.

Juan B. Alberdi[36]

On the other hand, Argentine racist ideology against Jews became stronger over time. The apex of this tendency occurred when the Argentina foreign minister during the presidency of Roberto M. Ortiz issued a secret order in 1938 to deny Jewish immigrants visas to Argentina.[37]


Leonardo Senkman, editor of the book Antisemitism in Argentina, stated:

In contemporary Argentina – home to the most significant community of Jews in Latin America – anti-Semitism has been an endemic and extremely complicated phenomena.[38]

Serious acts of racism against Jews have been committed in Argentina, such as the Argentine Chancellor's secret order in 1938 to prevent the arrival of Jews on national territory [37] and the terrorist attacks on the Israeli embassy in 1992 and the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina in 1994. The terrorist attacks against Jewish targets has sparked a debate between those who believe that they were not anti-Semitic acts and those who believe that the attacks were the "worst act of anti-Semitism since the second world war".[39]

In an attempt to synthesize the positions of both sides of the debate, the researcher Daniel Lvovich has written:

The attack on the AMIA was one of the most important acts of anti-Semitism of recent times, but the flip side was that thousands of demonstrators took to the streets with signs that read "We are all Jews".[40]

In 1937, during the government of Augustín P. Justo, the Argentine consul in Gdynia, Poland sent several notes to the Minister Carlos Saavedra Lamas under the heading "Jewish problem" that demonstrate the generalized anti-Semitic sentiment of the Argentine government. In a letter sent July 13, 1937, on the eve of the Nazi invasion, the consul wrote:

I am of the opinion that it would be preferable to prevent Jewish immigration to Argentina. The Jews are leaving Poland carrying a profound hatred of Christianity, and are prepared to commit the gravest of excesses.[41]

During the military regimes in Argentina, and especially during the dictatorship known as the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional, serious acts of anti-Semitic persecution occurred. Some were tortured, degraded, and even murdered for the sole fact of being Jewish. In the secret detention centers it was common practice to burn the Star of David onto the bodies of Jewish prisoners.[42] Ramon Camps, the Chief of Police in Buenos Aires, who allegedly kidnapped and tortured Jacobo Timerman, claimed that Zionists were enemies of Argentina and had a plan to destroy the country. This ideology was used as a pretext to implement illegal repressive methods to resolve what was referred to as "the Jewish issue".[43]

Antisemitism in daily life is widely apparent in Argentina. A prime example of this occurs regularly at the Atlanta association football club located in the Villa Crespo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, a district that has a significant Jewish population. For several years now the fans of opposing teams root for their clubs by waving Nazi flags and throwing soaps onto the playing field.[44]

A report by the DAIA revealed that discriminatory acts against Jews in Argentina rose 32% in 2006.[45]

Racism against other Latin-Americans

Paraguayans and Bolivians were the two principal sources of Latin American immigrants to Argentina in 2007. It is estimated that almost 5% of the population in Argentina is from Paraguay or Bolivia, or has Bolivian or Paraguayan ancestors.[46][47]

In this cultural context, fans of CA River Plate, a Buenos Aires football club with middle-class support, regularly sing a song aimed at fans of their rival Boca Juniors, calling them "fag negroes from Bolivia and Paraguay", due to Boca being a lower-class club.[48]

Another incident was the racially motivated murder of Marcelina Meneses and her ten-month-old son Josua Torrez who were pushed under a moving train near the Avellaneda station on July 10, 2001. The Bolivian community in Argentina protested with the slogan "Do not forget Marcelina".[49]


Contemporary demographics

The current Argentine population reflects the former immigration policy conducted by the government in the 19th and 20th century only partially, considering that Italians and Spaniards were not intended to predominate as they do. There are also significant Germanic, Slavic, British and French populations.

See also


  1. Los migrantes y la discriminación en Argentina, por José Sáez Capel, Scripta Nova, Revista Electrónica de Geografía y Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de Barcelona, 2001
  2. 1 2 3 "La escuela es el peor nido de los prejuicios y el racismo en Argentina", Interview with Víctor Ramos, president of SOS Internacional (Spanish) Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism
  4. "Ruso", Jergas del habla hispana
  5. Sociedad Científica Argentina (1946). Anales de la Sociedad Científica Argentina, Volumen 142, p. 241 (Spanish)
  6. Margulis,1998:79 y ss
  7. Pelé desestimó racismo: En Argentina me decían «negro sucio» y no pasó nada, Radio Cooperativa, 27 de abril de 2006
  8. Argentina: empanada, asado de vaca y mucho racismo, por Marina Ari, Argentina Indymedia, 30 de abril de 2003
  9. "En Argentina 'no hay negros'", BBC, 28 de septiembre de 2002
  10. Denuncia por discriminación en Escobar, Clarín, 22 de julio de 2006
  11. La construcción de la derrota, by José Pablo Feinmann. Página 12, June 25, 2007 (Spanish)
  12. "¿Hay negros en Argentina?", BBC Mundo, 16 de marzo de 2007
  13. "De donde sos?", The impossible Union of Blackness and Argentinidad by Arielle C. Knight, Wesleyan University, 2011
  14. La Negra Sosa emocionó a 75 mil personas, Clarín, 19 de febrero de 2006
  15. Preocupación por una encuesta a aspirantes de la nueva Policía, Clarín, 26 de junio de 2006
  16. wordnetweb.princeton.edu
  17. Groncho (2000), Babasónicos
  18. El pianista Miguel Angel Estrella recuerda la tortura en Uruguay: Me decía «te formaron para tocar para nosotros y elegiste la negrada», entrevista de Miguel Bonasso, La Fogata
  19. Incentivan a poner nombres indígenas, La Gaceta de Tucumán, 20 de diciembre de 2005
  20. Por la Ley 23.162 de 1984 se agregó el artículo 3 bis a la Ley del Nombre nacional, autoriza la inscripción de "nombres aborígenes o derivados de voces aborígenes autóctonas y latinoamericanas".
  21. MANN, Charles (2006), 1491, Apéndice A: Palabras lastradas, Madrid, Taurus, pag. 443-449
  22. Garbulsky, Edgardo (2003). La antropología argentina en su historia y perspectivas: el tratamiento de la diversidad, desde la negación/omisión a la opción emancipadora. Colegio de Antropólogos de Chile. Documentos. Retrieved 8 September 2006.
  23. INADI (2005). Buenos Aires: INADI, ed. La discriminación en Argentina. Diagnóstico y propuestas (PDF). ISBN 987-22203-0-1.
  24. Margulis, Mario; Urresti, Marcelo (1998). Buenos Aires: Biblos, ed. La segregación negada: cultura y discriminación social. ISBN 950-786-224-2.
  25. Navarro Floria, Pedro (1999). Un país sin indios: la imagen de la Pampa y la Patagonia en la geografía naciente del Estado Argentino. Scripta Nova, revista electrónica de geografía y ciencias sociales de la Universidad de Barcelona. ISSN 1138-9788. Retrieved 8 September 2008.
  26. La investigadora María Elena Sáenz Faulhaber sostiene que el concepto de "raza" debe ser referido al ADN y el de "mestizaje" a su combinación. Para ella "mestizaje" significa que "los respectivos cromosomas con sus genes se combinan entre sí, sin mostrar preferencia alguna por los de uno u otro grupo y con una independencia absoluta de la cultura". Sáenz Faulhaber, María Elena (1993). El mestizaje en la integración de la población colonial, en Bernardo García Martínez, Cecilia Rabell Romero, et al., El poblamiento de México. Una visión histórico demográfica, tomo II: El México colonial, México: Consejo Nacional de Población,pp. 86-107.
  27. Catalunya, crisol de culturas o elogio del mestizaje humano y cultural, Juan Agustín Goytisolo, La Factoría, Nº 9, Junio-Septiembre 1999
  28. Prócer mestizo. Investigadores señalan que el ideal americanista y popular del libertador fue impulsado por su sangre indígena, La Capital, 7 de noviembre de 2006
  29. El terremoto sanmartiniano, Los Andes, 31 de agosto de 2001
  30. Amia Cuba, Las 40 de la 22, 2002
  31. La discriminación en la discursividad social, por Mario Margulis, en Margulis (1998):17-37
  32. El racismo argentino es un racismo europeo, por Teun van Dijk, Centro de Documentación Mapuche, 2004
  33. Alberdi, Juan B. (1852), Bases y puntos de partida para la reorganización nacional, Cap. XV, pág. 90 consulta del libro en la Biblioteca Virtual Cervantes
  34. Bárbaros y civilizados, por Pacho O'DONNEL, Desarrollo y región, 30 de mayo de 2006 Archived October 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  35. Alberdi, Juan B. (1879) Bases y puntos de partida para la organización política de la República Argentina; Páginas explicativas de Juan B. Alberdi
  36. Alberdi, Juan B. (1879) Bases y puntos de partida para la organización política de la República Argentina; Capítulo XXX
  37. 1 2 Argentina: Grietas nazis en pasado encubierto, por Marcela Valente, 2005
  38. Senkman,1989
  39. Doce Años y aún sin Respuesta: El Impacto del Atentado a la AMIA Sobre la Comunidad Internacional, por E. R. Goodkind, 18 de julio de 2006, Washington, D.C. (ver)
  40. El libro "Nacionalismo y antisemitismo en la Argentina", de Daniel Lvovich, La Capital, 12 de octubre de 2003
  41. Carta del Cónsul argentino Marcos A. Savon al Ministro Carlos Saavedra Lamas del 14 de julio de 1937, ARCHIVOS: Informes de las misiones diplomáticas argentinas sobre la política racista Alemania y los paises de la Europa ocupada (1933-1945), Polonia (1937-1945), Portal Iberoamérica y el Mundo
  42. El antisemitismo y la Argentina, Mario Geller, Instituto Ana Harendt
  43. Ramón Camps: el peor de todos, Terra, 18 de marzo de 2006
  44. Jorge Rubinska, presidente de Atlanta, responde sobre el significado del antisemitismo contra su club y dentro de él, Página 12, 17 de septiembre de 2000
  45. La DAIA se reúne con Kirchner y le pedirá que sea firme con Irán, Clarín, 31 de enero de 2007
  46. Wikipedia en español (Spanish)
  47. Raúl Kollmann, Cónsul boliviano con los días contados, Página 12,9 de abril de 2006
  48. Libertad de circulación de los trabajadores en el Mercosur (OIT, 2004)
  49. Un testigo cuenta como una mujer boliviana fue arrojada del tren: Relato de un viaje a la xenofobia, por Cristian Alarcón, Página/12, 2 de junio de 2001
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