A Man in Life, but a Boy in This Court”: Nationality, Age, and Minority in Buenos Aires Civil Courts, 1890–1920

Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4C (Colorado Convention Center)
Juandrea Bates, Winona State University
Between 1870 and 1916, more than 6 million European immigrants came through the port of Buenos Aires. In recent years, historians have investigated the dramatic effects these people had on the demography, economic development and political stability of the Argentine nation. However, these studies have overlooked a fundamental aspect of this migration: over forty-six percent of Europeans entering the country were under the age of twenty-two. They were, therefore, legally minors.This paper investigates how nationality as well as age influenced the legal categorization of young immigrants in Buenos Aires and the subsequent affects this population had on Argentine understandings of childhood, youth and family. Utilizing two hundred custody cases lodged in Buenos Aires’ Civil Archives between 1880 and 1920, the paper demonstrates that since many Spanish and Italian minors crossed the Atlantic alone, or in the company of distant kin and neighbors, they arrived in Buenos Aires with no legally recognized guardians and had no one to represent them in civil court. As a result, judges regularly denied foreign both youth the protections they typically allotted native-born “children,” and legal autonomy they awarded most adults. These young people could not sign contracts, sue for damages, marry or receive inheritances on their own accord, nor would judges assign them a tutor to act on their behalf. Thus, the paper reveals that in turn-of-the-century Argentina, nationality as much as age dictated judicial understandings of minority and created multiple meanings of childhood.
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