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Oy, My Buenos Aires

Jewish Immigrants and the Creation of Argentine National Identity

Mollie Lewis Nouwen

Publication Year: 2013

Between 1905 and 1930, more than one hundred thousand Jews left Central and Eastern Europe to settle permanently in Argentina. This book explores how these Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi immigrants helped to create a new urban strain of the Argentine national identity. Like other immigrants, Jews embraced Buenos Aires and Argentina while keeping ethnic identities—they spoke and produced new literary works in their native Yiddish and continued Jewish cultural traditions brought from Europe, from foodways to holidays. The author examines a variety of sources including Yiddish poems and songs, police records, and advertisements to focus on the intersection and shifting boundaries of ethnic and national identities.

In addition to the interplay of national and ethnic identities, Nouwen illuminates the importance of gender roles, generation, and class, as well as relationships between Jews and non-Jews. She focuses on the daily lives of ordinary Jews in Buenos Aires. Most Jews were working class, though some did rise to become middleclass professionals. Some belonged to organizations that served the Jewish community, while others were more informally linked to their ethnic group through their family and friends. Jews were involved in leftist politics from anarchism to unionism, and also started Zionist organizations. By exploring the diversity of Jewish experiences in Buenos Aires, Nouwen shows how individuals articulated their multiple identities, as well as how those identities formed and overlapped.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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pp. 1-3

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

In both college and graduate school I was lucky enough to have mentors who encouraged me. Without them, this book would not exist. I became interested in this topic as an undergraduate at Whitman College, under the supervision of Julie Charlip. She helped me become a better writer and scholar. My mentor, Jeffrey Lesser, deserves my eternal thanks. Throughout the entire ...

A Note on Translation and Transliteration

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pp. xiv-xiv

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pp. 1-13

On January 5, 1918, the popular illustrated weekly Caras y Caretas (Faces and masks) ran an article about the Jewish press in Buenos Aires.1 The piece, which included photographs of Jewish writers and a building where one of the newspapers was housed as well as examples of Yiddish script, showed non-Jewish readers how Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants had become part of the porteño ...

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1: Argentina: A Land of Immigrants

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pp. 14-24

Through immigration, a growing middle class, and a government that consciously tried to remake the city in a European image, the Buenos Aires of 1905 bore little resemblance to the city it had been only decades before. Hundreds of thousands of European immigrants had already arrived and the city reflected its cosmopolitan population. Economic growth from exporting ...

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2: From Colony to City: Jewish Immigrants, 1889–1930

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pp. 25-51

A cartoon that appeared on the front cover of a Yiddish-language magazine in June 1923 (figure 1) starkly illustrated two choices available to Jewish immigrants, with one man choosing to “beggar-wares through the streets of Buenos Aires” while another worked the fields, “where God’s sun shines and brings prosperity.” Despite the fact that farming life sounded so lovely in ...

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3: “And from a gringo I was transformed into a criollo:” Deploying Markers of National Identity

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pp. 52-63

Politician Enrique Dickmann was skilled at recognizing and using symbols of national identity. When he arrived in Argentina as a fourteen-year-old immigrant in 1890, he faced an array of choices about how to integrate himself into Argentine society and embrace the national identity. Food and clothing were often central to these transformative experiences. While waiting to ...

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4: Building the City, Forging the Nation: Ethnic and National Spaces

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pp. 64-74

Most immigrants knew exactly what Yiddish poet José Rabinovich meant about conventillos, the crowded tenement housing where many people lived when they arrived in Buenos Aires. Rabinovich’s poem articulated the promise of Argentina in the “streets . . . spent in sun,” yet many immigrants were stuck in the dusk of the conventillos. The tenements were so evocative that ...

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5: From Stolen Textiles to Off-Track Betting: Urban Crime and Disorder

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pp. 75-89

Samuel Susman, Nisen Gerovich, and Menach Aisemberg did not expect to get caught by the police when they went to a café on November 18, 1914. They had just carried out three successful robberies in downtown Buenos Aires and had an appointment to try and sell some of their stolen textiles. The three men headed to a café in the heart of the Once neighborhood. Perhaps they ...

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6: Eating, Drinking, and Dancing: The Gendered and Generational Nature of Social Lives

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pp. 90-106

Dances were a place to socialize, but they also highlighted the gender and generational divisions that were typical of the era.1 Women were very involved in the organization of social events, and many aspired to appear in the social pages of periodicals, where they could be recognized by their peers as social leaders.2 By being photographed for the social pages of Jewish newspapers ...

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7: Individual Lives: Helping Create the Porteño Identity

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pp. 107-119

On January 1, 1925, Pinie Katz, Pinie Wald, Berta Singerman, and Max Glücksmann appeared together in the pages of a supplement to the Yiddish daily Di Presse. Katz and Wald, as members of the editorial staff of Di Presse, wrote articles reflecting on the past year. Singerman was featured in a photograph and long caption, reciting poetry at the fairground at La Rural, while ...

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pp. 120-124

When Ashkenazi Jews began arriving in Buenos Aires by the thousands in 1905, few could imagine how the city would be transformed by 1930. Though Jewish life in Buenos Aires started as a few scattered immigrants unfamiliar with life in Argentina, by 1930 there were over one hundred thousand Jews in the city, living, working, and traveling through all of its neighborhoods, interacting ...


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pp. 125-139


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pp. 140-152


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pp. 153-157

E-ISBN-13: 9780826353511
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826353504

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 854585552
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Oy, My Buenos Aires

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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Argentina -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jews -- Argentina -- Buenos Aires -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jews -- Argentina -- Social life and customs.
  • Jews -- Argentina -- Identity.
  • Argentina -- Ethnic relations.
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