The Argentine national identity

by on October 14, 2009 at 5:51 am in Books, History | Permalink

Yet, unlike the Italian, the Spanish settler transition was incomplete.  Indeed, counterintuitively, the Spanish "actually assimilated to the new land more slowly and more reluctantly than did the "alien" Italians", who were not quick.  The Spanish rate of return was lower than the Italian, but still high at 46 percent by 1930, and in-marriage and voluntary segregation was high in both groups.  Above all, both Spanish and Italian immigrants avoided Argentine citizenship like the plague.  Fewer than 4 per cent of Spanish took citizenship, and the Italian rate was below 2 per cent.  Immigrants received most legal rights without citizenship, with the important exception of voting in national elections.  Aliens were also not liable for military service.  There was therefore "no incentive to become a citizen", and a considerable disincentive.  Nativist fears among the lower classes, and the fear of political competition among the elite, led Argentines to accept this situation.  Immigrants dominated the Argentine lower middle classes…The incomplete settler transition therefore meant that booming Argentina's middle class was much less committed to it, much less politically powerful, and much more prone to send or take its money home, than in the Anglo newlands.  The power and novelty of Spanish settler transitions helps explain Argentina's relative success to the 1920s.  But the incomplete nature of the settler transition also helps explain Argentina's relative failure from the 1920s.

That is from James Belich's Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo World, 1783-1939.

Steve McLeod October 14, 2009 at 6:35 am

This sounds similar to today’s scenario in Germany, apropos Turkish immigrants. I’ve talked to people born here in Germany whose parents are immigrants from Turkey, who don’t have German citizenship, who will lose their right to live here if they spend more than 6 months in one stretch outside of Germany and identify as Turks. “Why not get German citizenship?”, I ask. The answer: aliens are not liable for military service.

dearieme October 14, 2009 at 7:23 am

“Why not get German citizenship?”, I ask. The answer: aliens are not liable for military service.

So they pass up the chance of a free hair-net?

giuseppe Paleologo October 14, 2009 at 7:52 am

@John Mansfield: that cannot be correct. The law allowing Italians residing abroad to elect a representative in the Italian Parliament was signed in 2001. Residents abroad may have had a different incentive, e.g., with respect to estate laws, or military service. 1986 was also a contentious year between the then-communist opposition party and the government christian democrats and socialists. The common view is that emigres are more conservative than the aboriginal Italians.

farmer October 14, 2009 at 8:15 am

argentina is a strange bird. chile has almost identical immigration and incentive patterns (but substitute germans and croatians/jugoslavs for italians, although there was italian presence) and a very, very different outcome.

michael g. heller October 14, 2009 at 8:46 am

It’s interesting, if true, that Italian and Spanish immigrants for a time avoided taking up citizenship. And since immigrants (poorly paid themselves) had the effect of lowering wages and work conditions the response from poorer sections of the native population was more often violent than welcoming. The overall impact of patterns of settlement in Argentina is complicated enough for historians to have a good argy-bargy (no pun intended) for years to come.

I look forward to reading this book which is well reviewed†¦ But I wonder whether Belich takes account of the ‘golondrina’ effect before WW1. ‘Golondrina’ or ‘swallows’ were seasonal workers especially from Italy who came to Argentina each summer for cereal harvests and then returned home. That might partly explain the unsettled nature of settlement. Then during WW1 European powers enticed a substantial number of European migrants back from Argentina to fight on the battlefields, so evasion of military service in Argentina itself is unlikely to be the whole story. Also worth remembering that the native gauchos of Argentina were themselves a rootless population (which is one reason why elites wanted to populate the pampas with migrants). Although Argentina at times received more migrants than the USA between the two world wars – and increasingly they were from northern and central Europe, often Jewish – Argentina by then faced stiff competition for migrants from Australia etc.

So many factors played a part in that country’s reversal, among which the oligarchic land-holding system and artificial barriers to internal trade. Not sure that remittances to country of origin could have been such a significant factor when you think that the USA has long experienced a fairly stable ‘reconquest’ from Mexico (viz. Saumel Huntington) despite the massive remittances that remained constant until the recent US crisis.

I hear there may be something similar going on in reverse in Argetina 2009, with speculation rife that “North Americans are fleeing the crisis-ridden U.S. to escape to Argentina†, offset by speculation that “Americans [in Argentina] say Barack Obama’s election has made them want to move back to the U.S.† !!! Source at

Barkley Rosser October 14, 2009 at 12:50 pm

There is a bad old joke about Argentina. An Argentine is an Italian
who speaks Spanish and thinks that he is an Englishman.

jose October 14, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Not necessarily a bad joke. It shows Argentineans as not too nationalistic, perhaps the type of people we need in this globalized world.

In a more serious note, I am not sure about the author thesis. It would be nice to have a piece exclusively on that: comparative immigration outcomes between Argentina, US, Australia, etc.

There were policies that helped immigrants staying (for example, allotments of land in Santa Fe) and others that made them leave (not much land left in Buenos Aires province).

But it is well known that the Radical Party that governed between 1916 and 1930 (until the military did their first coup d’etat in what became a long series) had its strength in lower middle classes, immigrants, and sons of immigrants. Tulio Halperín Donghi, perhaps Argentina´s greatest historian, describes this well in Vida y muerte de la República Verdadera (1910-1930).

Hazel October 15, 2009 at 10:12 am

No no. the joke is bad because Barkley Rosser told it. He likes to fancy himself an ‘intellectual’ on blogs where ever he goes.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: