Not As European As Believed: The Construction of the Mestizo Poor in Argentine Media, Folk Music, and Youth Culture: 1930–70

AHA Session 253
Conference on Latin American History 49
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)
Rebekah E. Pite, Lafayette College
Mark A. Healey, University of California at Berkeley

Session Abstract

The Argentine historiography tends to emphasize the place of European immigration in the formation of Argentine nationality and overlook the role of the large minority of mestizos, individuals of mixed indigenous, African and European descent, as both active historical subjects and objects in public discourse on race and nationality. And yet, because mestizo internal migrants were one of Perón's most dependable constituencies, historians pay more attention to the overlap of class and ethnicity during the Peronist period, highlighting how both positive and negative views about Argentine mestizos fell along the lines of the Peronist/Antiperonist divide. The papers in this panel transcend this traditional focus, looking at the periods that immediatly preceded and succeeded the Peronist era and discussing how the media, folk music, and radical youth culture in these periods all assigned a place to the mestizo in the public representation of the nation. Matthew Karush's paper is set in the 1930s and centers on the trend among media producers to represent Argentines as dark haired and dark skinned individuals. This is evident in the cinematic renderings of poor and working class characters, frequent heroes in the social melodramas favored by the nascent Argentine film industry. For Karush, the association between ethnicity and class was primarily a filmmaking device to differentiate Argentine products in a market saturated by the Hollywood fare. Oscar Chamosa's contribution explores the political and social dimensions of a folk music revival that took place between 1958 and 1966. Chamosa finds that the highly popular folk music festivals offered relatively politics-free places where urban, white, middle-class individuals mingled with working-class rural mestizos. These encounters took place in an environment that celebrated the mestizo folk culture as the ‘soul of the nation,' but at the same time dissociated mestizo culture from Peronist identity. Valeria Manzano's paper starts where Chamosa's ends. After 1967, radicalized youth increasingly constructed an alternative view of Argentina that accentuated its structural and cultural similarities with the rest of Latin America and the Third World rather than perpetuating the view of Argentina as exception. To help build this narrative of a Third World Argentina, groups of urban youngsters traveled to the northern provinces and returned with stories of poverty and exploitation. In this version of Argentina, the peasantry exemplified the Third World status of the country while the knowledge of their living conditions catalyzed the young people's desires to hasten national liberation via social revolution. In the three cases studied here, different factors convened to associate non-white Argentines with poverty, working class and rural conditions. At the same time urban individuals of European descent summoned mestizo and peasant images to define the Argentine national character. This model Argentine was dark skinned, traditional, and subjected to the plight of his fellow Third World citizens. The pervasiveness of these images in the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s calls into question the oft-repeated Argentine pride is its characteristic Europeaness, and helps to incorporate this country into current discussions of ethnic identities, mestizaje, and multiculturalism in Latin America.

See more of: AHA Sessions