I was reading an article on the new Pope in the most recent issue of The Nation when I saw a phrase that made me pause in disbelief. According to the article’s author, Pope Frances comes “from the most Europe-like of Latin American nations.” The vicious, unapologetic racism of this statement made me gasp for breath.
In the XIXth century, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a leading Argentinean thinker and the future president of the Republic, argued in his book Facundo that all of Argentina’s ills were caused by its barbaric non-European populations. These useless, dirty, lazy animal-like non-Europeans had to, in Sarmiento’s opinion, be substituted by droves of clean, industrious, civilized European immigrants.
Sarmiento’s dream was brought to reality. The indigenous and mestizo populations of Argentina were exterminated and enormous numbers of European immigrants were brought in to replace them. This experiment in social eugenics didn’t bring the fruit Sarmiento had hoped for, however. Argentina did not escape the fate of its Latin American neighbors. Poverty, dictatorships, genocide, torture, an abysmal record on human rights, the horrific and shameful oppression of women – Argentina experienced it all just as much as Chile, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, and everybody else in Latin America did. To the shock of racists everywhere, the ethnic origin of a country’s people turned out to mean absolutely nothing.
Racists, however, are irredeemable. Argentinean racists still insist that they are “European.” Being European in this context means a single thing: being whiter than the neighbor. I’m sure that all of the non-white Europeans would take a huge exception to this but the racists among Argentineans (which, thankfully, are not the majority) keep insisting on their “Europeanness.” They do it because in their completely warped way of thinking it is somehow better or more prestigious to be European than anything else.
What I find especially sad is that this racist worldview is very popular among Argentinean intellectuals. I once caught flak in class from a professor for starting my presentation with “Argentina is one of the countries in Latin America which. . .” The professor insisted in a loud an irritable way that Argentina was located in Europe, and no appeal to geography could change his mind.
This is why it is so annoying that a journalist for The Nation should mindlessly repeat an offensive and stupid trope about Argentina. Argentina is a Latin American country and its future lies in the solidarity with other nations of Latin America, not in a mindless, misplaced pride in its imaginary Europeanness.