“Most Argentines, if you ask, will tell you: ‘In Argentina there are no black people.’” So opens AFROARGENTINES, a film which unearths the hidden history of black people in Argentina and their contributions to Argentine culture and society, from the slaves who fought in the revolutionary wars against Spain, to the contemporary struggles of black Argentines against racism and marginalization. The film uses historical footage from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, but is mostly based on interviews with black Argentines from a variety of backgrounds: intellectuals and taxi drivers, immigrants from Africa and native Afroargentines. The story that unfolds provides a counternarrative to the national myth of Argentina’s exclusively European heritage. Prizewinner at the 2003 CINESUL Festival, AFROARGENTINES is a refutation of the pervasive exclusion of blacks from official Argentine history. It shows that the first Argentine president, Bernardino Rivadavia, was of African descent. It details black Argentines’ important participation in the revolutionary wars. It shows how tango, a touchstone for Argentine national identity, is rooted in milonga, candombe, cañiegue, and other musical and dance forms of 19th century black Argentines.
AFROARGENTINES also exposes how the whitewashing of the Argentine self-image came about. Racist ideas about blacks as dangerous for national progress brought about such genocidal official practices as the drafting of blacks into the most dangerous positions in the army and their quarantining during the cholera epidemics, even as race mixture both diminished the black population and spread African blood throughout the Argentine population, including those who now consider themselves “white.” But the descendants of the first black Argentines live on, their numbers bolstered by black immigration from Cape Verde (such as the parents of Afroargentine co-director Jorge Fortes) in the early 20th century, and in the last 10 years, from West Africa.
These immigrants have made their own contributions and faced their own challenges in Argentine society.AFROARGENTINES responds to contemporary racism and marginalization by presenting the voices of individual Afroargentines, who recount their experiences of workplace discrimination, skinhead violence, the difficulty of interracial relationships, the double burden of black women, and the dangerous internalization of stereotypes by black Argentines themselves. They describe how Afroargentines have resisted racism by recourse to the media, through music, and through an incipient but growing political mobilization. AFROARGENTINES provides an important challenge to the marginalization of blacks in Argentine official history by rescuing the story of Argentina’s black cultural legacy from oblivion. It is also a gripping tale of the ways in which individual black Argentines have resisted and coped with everyday racism and are claiming their rightful place within Argentine history and culture.