Argentines are Latinos

10/04/2011 07:13 am ET | Updated Nov 22, 2011

For many who have arrived from countries south of the Rio Grande, it is not complicated at all to define themselves as Latinos. Their references are thousand-year old civilizations such as the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas. But there are some Latin Americans who, on the other hand, do not want anything to do with the idea of being Latino, and even less to be associated with pre-Columbian civilizations.

Some fellow Argentines, for example, who developed their ideology in a cultural world dominated by an Eurocentric discourse, seem as if they wanted to put as much distance as possible from any symbols of indigenous people. A sentiment that has historical roots that go back to the stage when the Argentine state was being established and that here, in the United States, is used to justify a confused rationalization of why Argentines are not Latinos.

In the second half of the XXth century, Argentina debated what kind of social organization should be adopted. Juan Bautista Alberdi, the father of the National Constitution, had proposed to bring more English and French immigrants "to improve the species", and wanted to adopt French as the national language.

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, president in 1868 and one of the greatest national heroes, was a strong supporter of the Europeanization of Argentina. Not only did he favor immigration from the Old Continent, but also supported the annihilation of the indigenous peoples. His position was quite clear, as suggested in a speech that was published by El Nacional on November 25th, 1876: "I feel...repulsion for the savages of America... Unable of progress, their extermination is providential and useful, sublime and great. They should be exterminated not even forgiving the young one..."

These ideas did not remain within the realm of intellectual debate, but were implemented in a drastic manner. With the approval of Act 947, in 1878, a juridical framework was established for what became known as the Conquest of the Desert, a clear example of regional genocide.

As it was stated in the Official Report of the Scientific Commission that traveled with the army soldiers, "It was necessary to conquer effectively 15,000 leagues, clean them of Indians in a absolute...unquestionable... manner..."

At the end, it was estimated that about 90,000 Native Peoples died. The policies of annihilation included attacks against encampments when warriors were no there to be able to kill women and children; concentration camps such as Valcheta that was surrounded by a 3 meter-tall barbed wire and where Natives starved to death; and the forced marches of up to 1,000 kilometers in which anyone who fell exhausted to the ground was summarily executed.

About half a century later, with the Argentine industrialization of the 1940s and 1950s, the same sentiment of the Alberdis and Sarmientos promoted the victimization of the migrants from the provinces who arrived to Buenos Aires searching for better economic opportunities. The "cabecitas negras" (literally, little black heads), as these people from the provinces were called, had dark skin, their formal education was limited and, in addition, they were poor. In other words, the antithesis of the European that had been idealized in the utopia of some Argentines. In the decades of 1990 and 2000, with the increased immigration of Bolivians and Paraguayans, intolerance multiplied.

It is the historic heirs of this vision; those who insist on defending, in Argentina, the anachronistic discourse of Sarmiento's European modernization and Alberdi's racial purity; those who feel apprehension of people from the provinces; and those who support the forced repatriation of Bolivians and Paraguayans; it is them who, when they arrive to the United States, do not wish to be Latinos.

What they fail to comprehend is that in the complex American racial equation, all those who come from countries south of the Rio Grande are automatically Latinos in the social consciousness of the American citizen. Instead of rejecting this ethno-cultural category that includes a rich variety of subcultures and regions of this immense Latin America, they should accept it because to be Latino in the United States it is to be the best of what can be offered by Mexico and Argentina, the best of Guatemala and Uruguay. To be Latino is to be part of the future of this great nation where we already are more than 50 millions. For that reason, regardless of what a small minority may think, we, Argentines, are Latinos.