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The Invention of the Jewish Gaucho

Villa Clara and the Construction of Argentine Identity

By Judith Noemí Freidenberg

Publication Year: 2009

By the mid-twentieth century, Eastern European Jews had become one of Argentina’s largest minorities. Some represented a wave of immigration begun two generations before; many settled in the province of Entre Ríos and founded an agricultural colony. Taking its title from the resulting hybrid of acculturation, The Invention of the Jewish Gaucho examines the lives of these settlers, who represented a merger between native cowboy identities and homeland memories. The arrival of these immigrants in what would be the village of Villa Clara coincided with the nation’s new sense of liberated nationhood. In a meticulous rendition of Villa Clara’s social history, Judith Freidenberg interweaves ethnographic and historical information to understand the saga of European immigrants drawn by Argentine open-door policies in the nineteenth century and its impact on the current transformation of immigration into multicultural discourses in the twenty-first century. Using Villa Clara as a case study, Freidenberg demonstrates the broad power of political processes in the construction of ethnic, class, and national identities. The Invention of the Jewish Gaucho draws on life histories, archives, material culture, and performances of heritage to enhance our understanding of a singular population—and to transform our approach to social memory itself.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Jewish Life, History, and Culture


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pp. ix-xii

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Latin American countries began to open their borders to European immigrants. The national goals were often expressed in racist terms of “civilizing the nation,” with the covert—and sometimes overt—aim of settling the immigrants in national territories still occupied by indigenous people. Argentina was late in extending the institutional organi- ...

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Preface: The Story Behind the Story

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pp. xiii-xvii

My Villa Clara experience started in 2001, when my mother and I embarked on a tour, the Circuito Hist


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pp. xix-xx

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Chapter One. Social Memory as Part of Villa Clara's History

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pp. 1-12

Several thousand Eastern European Jews immigrated to Argentina at the close of the nineteenth century, and Jews had become one of the country’s sizable minorities by the mid-twentieth century. The largest early influx of Jews arrived in the northeastern province of Entre Ríos and settled in an agricultural colony, Colonia Clara. ...

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Chapter Two. Entre R

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pp. 13-40

To understand the social history of Villa Clara in the province of Entre Ríos, we need to cast a wider net, including the history of European immigration. Despite the enormous geographical distance from their countries of origin, newcomers grounded their linked histories of emigration and immigration in the province, adopting the region of settlement as if it were the country of destination. ...

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Chapter Three. Colonia Clara and the Emergence of the "Jewish Gauchos" (1892-1902)

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pp. 41-64

The Jewish immigrant settled in rural areas upon arrival in Argentina: 64 percent of the total Jewish population of Argentina lived in Entre Ríos in 1895 (Elkin 1978), and Jews continued to be in the majority until the early 1940s.4 Colonia Clara and Colonia San Antonio, the first Jewish agricultural colonies in Entre Ríos, added 102,671 hectares to the JCA in 1892. ...

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Chapter Four. From Jewish Gauchos to Gaucho Jews: Regional Economic Development and Intercultural Relations at the End of the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 65-79

Through this expression of devotion to the new land, the man who coined the phrase gaucho judío ( Jewish gaucho) revealed how the natural environment of Entre Ríos inspired awe for the new homeland and helped effect the transformation from foreigner to national. But what are the links between citizenship (a legal status of belonging to a nation-state), immigrant identity (a sense of belonging to a diaspora), and nationality (a civic right conferred by birth or naturalization by a nation- state)? ...

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Chapter Five. The Rise and Demise of Jewish Villa Clara (1902-1930s)

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pp. 81-102

Two major sources of information to reconstruct the early history of Villa Clara are historical documents and recollected life histories, which generate two separate thematic data banks. While historical documents represent scholarly renditions of past facts, the testimonial record expresses how historical facts were experienced, what they meant to real people, and how facts were perceived as changing or otherwise affecting daily lives. ...

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Chapter Six. Rural Depopulation and the Emergence of a Multiethnic and Socially Stratified Landscape in Villa Clara (1940s-1990s)

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pp. 103-122

In the postwar era Argentina experienced a decrease in the size of European immigration and a decline in its international role as a major exporter of basic foodstuffs. Although its status as a “promised land” or a “mill of the world” became untenable, images of infinite wealth were still crafted in political discourse, particularly during the presidency of Juan Domingo Perón (1945–1955). ...

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Chapter Seven. The Present as Politicized Past: Legitimizing Social Structure through Heritage (1990s-2000s)

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pp. 123-141

A social history of Villa Clara as a memory site and the examination of cases that illustrate the process of producing heritage through memorializing activities and invention of traditions are in order. Whether private or public, does the process of heritage production, dissemination, and use contribute to reifying and legitimizing the current social structure through created versions of the past? ...

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Epilogue: The Jewish Gaucho Revisited

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pp. 143-149

Integrating Argentine history and its social memory in a locality helps us understand the metaphor of the Jewish gaucho. Villa Clara as a case study of the construction of national identity can be broadened to stimulate research in three different fields of study: immigration, memory, and a historically grounded ethnography. None of the current theories of immigration processes seriously ...

Appendix I: Methodological Notes

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pp. 151-158

Appendix II: Chronology of Relevant Events in Villa Clara

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pp. 159-160


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pp. 161-170

Glossary of Terms

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pp. 171-172


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pp. 173-178


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pp. 179-184

E-ISBN-13: 9780292795150
E-ISBN-10: 0292795157
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292719958
Print-ISBN-10: 0292719957

Page Count: 206
Illustrations: 32 b&w photos, 6 maps, 3 graphs
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Jewish Life, History, and Culture
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OCLC Number: 560655365
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Invention of the Jewish Gaucho

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Subject Headings

  • Argentina -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
  • Entre Ríos (Argentina) -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
  • Europe, Eastern -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
  • Jews -- Argentina -- Clara -- History.
  • Gauchos -- Argentina -- Clara -- History.
  • National characteristics, Argentine -- History.
  • Oral history -- Argentina -- Clara.
  • Clara (Argentina) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Clara (Argentina) -- Social conditions.
  • Jews -- Argentina -- Clara -- Identity.
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