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  • Rethinking Race in Modern Argentina ed. by Paulina L. Alberto and Eduardo Elena
  • Alex Borucki
Rethinking Race in Modern Argentina. Edited by Paulina L. Alberto and Eduardo Elena. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015, Pp. xviii, 373. Contributors. Preface. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $120; hardcover. doi:10.1017/tam.2016.91

This much-needed volume gathers scholars based in Argentina and North America who examine race in relation to state formation, politics, and culture in modern Argentina. While the studies are largely focused on history, there are also contributions in anthropology and literary and cultural studies. Contributors pay close attention to regional differences within Argentina as they examine cultural representations emerging from Buenos Aires and the provinces.

In a useful introduction, the co-editors point out that Argentinean authors in the social sciences and humanities often show unease when employing race as an analytical [End Page 114] tool, which seems to relate somewhat to the absence of race as a common concept in public discourse. The paradigm of whiteness in Argentina portrays the country as lacking racial groups, which implies that racism is nonexistent. In this view, all are simply Argentineans: race as a concept has no place in the public arena. This situation makes it very difficult for racial minorities to voice their claims. However, this assimilationist ideology has also been employed historically by nonwhite Argentineans in their attempts to seize spaces and get full inclusion as citizens.

The co-editors remind readers that racial terms are relational and belonging to specific cultural landscapes. Lack of knowledge of such context inhibits the understanding of the cultural and social relationships shaping race. Given the differences between scholarly vocabulary in Argentina and English-speaking “North Atlantic” academia, most of the contributors act as translators of the concepts presented in this volume.

This work also provides comparisons between Latin America and the regions outside it. Contributors examine how whiteness was constructed in Argentina, in relation to a vanishing past where people of Amerindian and African ancestry had more significant roles, and also in relation to neighboring countries such as Bolivia. As a result of these multiple gazes, whiteness became naturalized and, given that it came to encompass all Argentineans, invisible. This cosmopolitan and inclusive sense of whiteness seems to “provincialize,” to a certain extent, Anglophone definitions of whiteness in Europe and in the “settler colonies” (the United States and Australia, for example). Although this book compares Argentina with the Latin American regions dominated by mestizaje, it leaves aside Chile and Uruguay, whose local elites took paths somewhat similar to Argentina’s upper classes on race and differentiation. This issue is noted by George Reid Andrews in his analysis of demographics, in the book’s epilogue.

By suppressing the categories describing them, this inclusive sense of whiteness in Argentina broadened to incorporate people of mixed origins, and at the same time narrowed the labels of “black” and “Indian” to the limit of disappearance. Such constructions of the Argentine nation consciously erased the nonwhite past, but celebrations portraying non-whiteness as part of the past (or as an exotiziced internal “other”) also contributed this social narrative. Even though seemingly going in contradictory directions, both were part of the same paradigm of whitening and whiteness.

Some contributors, such as Sandra McGee Deutsch on Jews and whiteness in the early twentieth century and Chisu Ko on Asian Argentineans and multiculturalism in the present, look at in-migration. Other focus on the production and consumption of culture: Oscar Chamosa examines on the tourist literature’s depictions of the Argentine interior in the early twentieth century; Matthew Karush writes on the black Argentinean guitarist Oscar Alemán; and Rebekah Pite looks at food. Other authors consider the meanings of terms such as “criollo” and “paisano.” The chapter by Mariela Rodríguez, a watershed for the volume, examines how the concept of “descendiente” erased terms describing Amerindians in Southern Patagonia and introduces the question of politics. [End Page 115] Ezequiel Adamovsky and Eduardo Elena examine race and class in the visual culture of foundational Peronism (Adamovsky), and the issue of color in Argentine politics from Perón to the present (Elena). Though neither the first Peronism nor its...


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