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Thu, 11.08.1500

The Afro Argentine Community, a story

*Afro Argentines are celebrated on this date in 1500. They are Argentine people of Sub-Saharan African descent. We chose this date because it is the National Day of Afro Argentines and African Culture.

According to the Argentine national census of 2010, the total population of Argentines was 40,117,096, of whom 149,493 (0.37%) identified as Afro Argentine. The Afro Argentine community resulted from the Middle Passage transatlantic slave trade. In the case of Argentina, the influx of African slaves began in the Rio de la Plata colonies in 1588. Slave traders kidnapped Africans, who were then sold and shipped from West Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean. Trafficking flourished through the port of Buenos Aires when the city allowed English traders to import slaves.

To provide slaves to the East Indies, the Spanish crown granted contracts known as Asientos to various companies from other countries, mainly Portuguese, English, Dutch, and French. By 1713, Britain, victorious in the War of the Spanish Succession, had the monopoly of this trade. The last Asiento was established with the Royal Society of the Philippines in 1787. Until the 1784 ban, African slaves were measured and then branded. Approximately 12 million African slaves reached Latin America, mainly arriving at Buenos Aires and Montevideo ports, with many transshipping to other regions through Valparaíso and Rio de Janeiro.

An estimated 10-15% of slaves died during the passage across the Atlantic. However, many more died during the enslavement, traveling through the interior of Africa and while awaiting shipment, with an estimated 40 deaths for every 100 slaves who reached the New World. Studies have shown that owing to their immunological isolation from the peoples of the Old World before the first contact with Europeans from 1492 onwards, some 50-90% of the indigenous population throughout the Americas died from epidemic diseases exacerbated by the stresses brought on by violent conquest, dispossession, and exploitation.

The Spaniards supplemented aboriginal manpower with slaves from sub-Saharan Africa. Well into the 19th century, mining and agriculture accounted for the bulk of economic activity in the Americas. African slave labor held the advantage of having already been exposed to European diseases through geographical proximity, and African laborers readily adapted to the tropical climate of the colonies. Before the 16th century, slaves had arrived relatively small numbers from the Cape Verde islands. Thereafter, most Africans brought to Argentina were from ethnic groups speaking Bantu languages, from the territories now comprising Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo.

Few Yoruba and Ewe were taken to Argentina; more significant numbers of these groups were taken to Brazil. The slaves were forced to work in agriculture, livestock, domestic work, and craft to a lesser extent. Many slaves made handicrafts for sale in urban areas, while revenues went to their masters. The Buenos Aires neighborhoods of San Telmo and Monserrat housed many slaves, although most were sent to the interior provinces. The 1778 census showed a high concentration of Africans in provinces where agricultural production was the greatest. An essential part of the African population also inhabited other provinces. Today, one of the slums of Corrientes is still known as "Camba Cuá," meaning "cave of the Blacks."

Although most of the gauchos were mestizos, some were also of African ancestry. In 1806-1807 the city of Buenos Aires had 15,708 Europeans, 347 indigenous, and 6,650 Africans and mulattoes, while in 1810, there were 22,793 whites, 9,615 Africans and mulattoes, and only 150 indigenous and cholos. The area most densely populated by Africans was in the neighborhood of Monserrat, just a few blocks from the Congressional Palace. Slaves would group themselves in societies they called nations, including Conga, Cabunda, African Argentine, Mozambique, etc. During the centuries of Spanish domination of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, which had a major role in Argentine history.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, they accounted for up to fifty percent of the population in certain provinces, deeply impacted Argentine culture, and still do. Some theories hold that in the 19th century, the Afro Argentine population declined sharply due to the Argentine War of Independence (c. 1810–1818), high infant mortality rates, low numbers of married couples who were both Afro-Argentine, the War of the Triple Alliance, cholera epidemics in 1861 and 1864, and a yellow fever epidemic in 1871.

By the late 19th century, the Afro Argentine population consisted mainly of women, mixed with many European immigrants. After the abolition of slavery, many Afro Argentines lived in miserable conditions and faced widespread discrimination. The fourteen schools in Buenos Aires in 1857 only admitted two black children, although 15% of students that year were of color. In Córdoba in 1829, Afro-Argentine children were entitled to only two years of secondary schooling, while white Argentine children studied for four years. Universities did not admit Blacks until 1853. 

Afro Argentines began to publish newspapers and organize for their rights. One paper, The Unionist, published in 1877, published a statement of equal rights and justice for everyone regardless of skin color.  Other newspapers were The African Race, the Black Democrat, and The Proletarian, all published in 1858. By the 1880s, about twenty such Afro Argentine published newspapers were in Buenos Aires. Some researchers consider these social movements integral to introducing socialism and the idea of social justice in Argentine culture.

Some Afro Argentines entered politics. José María Morales and Domingo Sosa were in action as senior military officers and held significant political posts. By the late 19th century, the Afro Argentine population consisted mainly of women, with large numbers of European men. Even though in the 1960s, it was calculated that Argentina owed two-thirds of its population to European immigration, over 5% of Argentines state they have at least one black ancestor, and a further 20% do not know whether or not they have any black ancestors. Genetic studies carried out in 2005 showed that the average level of African genetic contribution in Buenos Aires is 2.2%. Still, this component is concentrated in 10% of the population with notably higher African ancestry levels.

There is still a notable Afro Argentine community in the Buenos Aires districts of San Telmo and La Boca. In the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, several African-descended Argentines in Merlo and Ciudad Evita exist. Since 2013, November 8th has been celebrated as the National Day of Afro Argentines and African Culture. The date was chosen to commemorate the recorded date for the death of María Remedios del Valle, a rabona and guerrilla fighter who served with the Army of the North in the War of Independence. In the 21st century, there is still a notable Afro Argentine community in the Buenos Aires districts of San Telmo and La Boca. In the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, several African-descended Argentines in Merlo and Ciudad Evita exist.

Today, in Argentina, the Afro-Argentine community has reemerged. There have been Black organizations such as "Grupo Cultural Afro," "SOS Racismo," and perhaps the most critical group, "Africa Vive," which helps to rekindle interest in the African heritage of Argentina. There are also Afro-Uruguayan and Afro-Brazilian migrants who have helped to expand the African culture. Afro-Uruguayan migrants have brought candombe to Argentina, while Afro Brazilians teach capoeira, orisha, and other African-derived secular. It has been well over a century since Argentina has reflected African racial ancestry in its census count. Therefore, calculating the exact number of Afro-descendants is difficult; however, Africa Vive estimates about 1,000,000 Afro-descendants in Argentina. The last October 27, 2010 census introduced the African ancestry survey.

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