Posted by Keyanah Freeland, PhD Student Department of History
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As I noted in my last entry, the Biblioteca Nacional de Uruguay houses a collection of Afro-Uruguayan periodicals spanning the mid-nineteenth century well into the twentieth. For the past few weeks, I have been conducting research there, parsing through the periodicals of the late nineteenth century in order to track the social, cultural, political, and intellectual exchanges between Afro-Uruguayans and their Afro-Argentine counterparts living in Buenos Aires. While the periodicals continue to confirm my aforementioned insights around the relationship between the making of diaspora and intellectual production, they also have revealed new developments around the contentious relationship between the Uruguayan state, the Afro-Uruguayan communities living in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, and the rationale behind the significant numbers of Afro-Uruguayans emigrating across the Río de la Plata at the turn of the twentieth century.
In June and July of 1889, the Afro-Uruguayan periodical, El Periódico, published extensive accounts of the Centro Uruguayo’s various celebrations of Uruguay’s national independence, written and sent back to Montevideo by their own correspondents in Buenos Aires. Founded in 1884, the Centro Uruguayo functioned as a mutual aid society for Afro-Uruguayans who had immigrated to Buenos Aires. Despite the relatively short institutional history of this mutual aid society, the 1889 coverage of the center suggests a strong political and social presence in Buenos Aires. According to El Periódico’s published reports, the center’s festivities not only attracted Afro-Uruguayans and Afro-Argentines alike, but in a brilliant act of political theatre —or perhaps protest— members of the center even visited the current President of the Uruguayan Republic, General Máximo Tajes, as he visited Buenos Aires.
Posted by – Keyanah Freeland, PhD Student NYU Department of History
January 11, 1885 Edition of the Afro-Uruguayan Newspaper “La Regeneración” discusses and critiques an anti-black article that appeared in another Montevideo periodical
Historically separated and linked by the estuary of the Río de la Plata, the cities of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay are not often figured as important sites within the historic formation of the African Diaspora within the Americas. Indeed, since the arrival of millions of European immigrants (mainly Spanish and Italian) to the region at the turn of the twentieth century, both nations have, to varying degrees, fashioned themselves as “white nations.” On the one hand, the precipitous decline of both cities’ populations of African descent from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth lent some credence to the presumed new racial homogeneity of both cities. According to the national censuses of both countries, the population of African descent in Buenos Aires had decreased from 25% to less than 2%, and in Montevideo from 10.7% to less than 1% (Reid Andrews, 1980, 2010). On the other, the ideological erasure of blackness on both sides of the Río de la Plata through the writings of prominent intellectuals and politicians contributed to a process of Europeanization, of reconstituting Europe physically and socially in the Americas. Blackness, as well as indigeneity and any other form of unaccepted nonwhiteness, thus had no place in the vision and constitution of these “white nations.”
However, as early as the 1930s, historians, anthropologists, and literary scholars have argued against the narratives of erasure that either deny the presence of people of African descent beyond the end of the nineteenth century (in the case of Argentina) or distort their contributions and importance to national history (in the case of Uruguay). From the pioneering works of historians Elena Studer, Miguel Angel Rosal, and George Reid Andrews, to the more recent scholarly contributions of historian Alex Borucki and anthropologist Lea Geler, a variety of counter-narratives have demonstrated the importance of slavery to the region throughout the colonial period, the profound contributions of men of color to the region’s wars of independence, the rich tradition of nineteenth and twentieth century black intellectual and journalistic production, and finally, the sustained fight for civic and political equality amidst continued discrimination. Continue reading