Culture Name

Argentine, Argentinean

Alternative Names

National culture, ser nacional (national being), cultura rioplatense , cultura gauchesca , cultura criolla (creole culture). In Argentina the word creole often has a different connotation than in the rest of Latin America. While in most countries the word is used to refer to the offspring of Europeans born in the Americas, in Argentina it generally connotes a person of mixed origins, European (mainly Spanish) and Native American. Many people use it as a synonym for gaucho (Argentine cowboys) and mestizo. It is also known as cultura rioplatense (River Plate culture). This is a more inclusive concept, as it refers to the culture of Uruguayans and Argentines inhabiting the River Plate Basin region. Official conservative interpretations of the Argentine culture have often emphasized the Spanish and Catholic heritage, rooted in the early contributions made by Queen Isabel of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, artifices of the conquest of the Americas in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Latin Americans often identify Argentines as " Ches ," a colloquial form of address for the second person, similar to the American "hey, you." This is the reason Ernesto Guevara, the Argentine-born commander of the Cuban Revolution, was called " el Che ."


Identification. It is generally claimed that by the end of the sixteenth century, Martín del Barco Centenera first used the current name of the country in the poem "Argentina y Conquista del Desierto." The name derives from the Latin word for silver, the metal the Spanish thought they would find in this land. What constitutes Argentina's national culture is a politically loaded debate. Some nationalist and populist sectors see only the gaucho tradition as the defining element of Argentine culture. Only male models enter into these interpretations. The gauchos were horsemen who tended cattle in the central plains region of Argentina. These men were mestizos , the product of colonial hybridization who were the offspring of Europeans (mainly Spanish), and indigenous peoples. Ultra-nationalist versions of this culture stress the arabic origins of gaucho culture, claiming that arabic traits were brought by the Spanish who had been profoundly transformed by centuries of Muslim occupation. Nationalist versions also often acknowledge the contributions of indigenous peoples to the national culture. Conservative elite sectors historically traced the origins of the national culture to the Roman Catholic and Spanish tradition. Threatened by the influx of European immigrants at the turn of the century, some landed elite sectors chose to adopt gauchos as a cultural icon. These rural versions of nationality generally clashed with more secular, urban, and modern versions of national identity. Ambivalence dominates the Argentines' self-identity. Depending on the political climate of the times and the dominant ideological orientations, residents of this country oscillate between an identity stressing commonalities with other Latin-American nations; a shared history of four centuries of Spanish rule; and an identity highlighting the uniqueness of this nation, an alleged Europeanized cosmopolitan national culture. Some regional cultural traditions are quite distinct. In the northwest the influence of Pre-Columbian Andean indigenous traditions is very strong while in the northeast (mainly in Corrientes and south of Misiones province) the Guaraní indigenous influence is apparent in speech styles, music, food, local customs, and beliefs.

Location and Geography. The Argentine Republic is located at the southernmost part of South America. It extends along 2299 miles (3,700 kilometers) between parallels 22 and 55. It occupies an area of 1.4 million square miles (3.7 million square kilometers). This includes the Antarctica and the South

Atlantic Islands, territories over which Argentina claims national sovereignty. Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world. The country borders Chile to the west, Bolivia to the north, Paraguay to the northeast, and Brazil, Uruguay, and the Atlantic Ocean to the East. The country is organized into twenty-three provinces. Because of its vast length it is comprised of very diverse environments. A large part of the territory is in a temperate zone, mainly plains and the pampas grazelands which are ideal for ranching. These lands occupy 826,254 square miles (2.14 million square kilometers). There are considerable climatic, soil, and vegetation differences, from subtropical, hot, and humid forests and wetlands in the northeast to arid plains and sierras with dry grasses, scrub, shrubs, and hardwoods in the Chaco, Patagonia, and in the Andes. Uneven regional development characterizes Argentina. Wool, refrigerated meats, and grains are the basis of the thriving economy of the pampas region. Changes in the transportation infrastructure, mainly the construction of railroads, facilitated the integration into the world capitalist economy, from which Buenos Aires and other port cities benefitted greatly. Buenos Aires, the capital, acquired such a dominance that it led many observers to refer to it and its culture as if it were the whole country. The city and the rural areas surrounding it are the source of the most powerful understanding of national identity. The agrarian construct of a national identity is formed by the customs and beliefs of the gauchos of the pampas, a group that disappeared with the modernization of the rural economy. The urban constructs of a national culture are centered in the city of Buenos Aires. A dominant version portrays Argentines as sophisticated and highly educated people of European origin. Another urban version highlights aspects of popular culture seen as a product of internal and foreign immigration. Population and wealth are unequally distributed. As of 2000, a third of the national population lived in metropolitan Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires and the neighboring pampas region have a concentration of most of the wealth of the country (roughly 80 percent of Argentina's industrial activity and 70 percent of the agrarian production) and most of the inhabitants (nearly 70 percent of the total population of the country). In the early 1980s President Raúl Alfonsín failed in his efforts to move the capital city to more neutral space to compensate for regional imbalances and to encourage the emergence of other commercial activities.

Demography. Argentina's total population is 36.1 million. Estimates for the indigenous population vary. There is no consensus on how an Indian is defined (e.g. place of residence, self-identity), and provincial governments have adopted different definitions.

Linguistic Affiliation. The majority of the population speaks Spanish. Argentines say that it is more appropriate to call their language Castilian, because this term expresses more clearly the region in Spain where it originated and from where it was imposed on other peoples. There are slight regional variations in vocabulary, intonation, and in the pronunciation of certain sounds such as " y " and " ll. " At the time of the Spanish conquest, the land was inhabited by various indigenous groups, but most of the original languages and communities have been irrevocably lost. Two indigenous languages, Quechua and Guaraní, became lingua franca and were learned by scholars and by nonindigenous settlers in specific regions of Argentina. Quechua was mainly used in northwestern and central provinces, while Guarani was mainly spoken in the northeast. Today, they are spoken by some residents in provinces such as Santiago del Estero and Corrientes. Knowledge of these languages is generally devalued and rarely acknowledged. No serious official efforts exist to preserve indigenous languages. Only a few schools attempt to offer bilingual education for indigenous children. The Argentine school system has never developed special education programs for bilingual children, either during the great migration at the end of the nineteenth century or with the late twentieth century influx of Latin American, eastern European, African, and Asian migrant populations. Besides regional variations of Spanish and indigenous languages, Argentines often employ some lunfardo terms and linguistic structure in their colloquial language. Initially used by people such as criminals and prostitutes, Lunfardo became popular through tango music and has been gradually adopted by all class sectors. Lunfardo borrows and transforms words from Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, and indigenous languages such as Quechua, reflecting the complex processes of the formation of national cultures in both their popular and cultivated expressions.

Symbolism. Argentineans' cultural symbols are mostly the result of hybridization. Football (soccer in the United States) and tango (which encompasses more than just the dance itself) are probably the two strongest symbols of a common national identity. Tango refers to the music, the lyrics, and the dance itself and is a complex urban product that originated in lower-class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires city. The music, its lyrics, and the dance represent the profound transformation of the urban landscape at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the influx of diverse European immigrants. Tango expresses the amalgamation of already existing traditions, themselves a mixture of African, indigenous, and Spanish influences with elements brought by Italians, Spaniards, French, Germans, Polish, and Jews. Argentine nationalists felt threatened by the newcomers because they felt they jeopardized the existing hierarchical system of social relations and refused to see tango as a national cultural product.

Tango was also a moral threat. The sensuality of the dance and the lyrics emphasizing lowlife values and language challenged bourgeois morality and dominant views on appropriate female behavior. It also romanticized a particular male behavior that kept men away from the home. Tango men spent their days in bordellos, sites identified not only with sexual encounters, but also with intense political activity.

The popularization of football is partly explained by social reformers' concerns with appropriate behavior and the proper place of Argentine men and women. British citizens introduced football to the city of Buenos Aires in the early 1860s. The game went unnoticed until Argentine politicians deliberately promoted the sport. From the 1920s to the 1940s military and civilian moral reformers attempted to construct nationhood on the basis of the "true" traditions of Argentina. They encouraged folk music (the music of the motherland) and discouraged tango, which was believed to be the expression of foreigners with dubious morals. As part of this neo-Victorian prudery, Argentina's rulers promoted sports as healthy and hygienic pursuits which would keep men away from the cabarets and bordellos where tango music reigned.

Besides music and sports, food is also a powerful cultural symbol. Argentines sometimes use the expression "she or he is more Argentine than dulce de leche ." Dulce de leche is a milk-and-sugar spread used in a manner similar to peanut butter in the United States. It appears on toast, pastries, and various confections. Argentine asado , a barbecue that is part of the gaucho heritage, is still one of the most important meals in the Argentine diet. Like football, it is a strongly gendered cultural symbol, associated with manliness. Shopping for beef, sausages, and other animal parts that go into a barbecue, as well as the cooking itself, is a male activity. Asados are an important part of Argentine socializing on any occasion.

Mate drinking is also seen as a feature of the cultura rioplatense. Mate refers both to the container where a popular infusion is prepared and to the drink itself. The container might be simply made out of a gourd or might be carefully crafted in silver or other metals. It is drunk with a special metal straw with holes in one end to filter leaves. The slightly stimulating infusion is made with leaves

A fountain in the Plaza del Congreso in Buenos Aires.
A fountain in the Plaza del Congreso in Buenos Aires.
from the Yerba mate ( ilex paraguaiensis ) plant which is cultivated in northeast Argentina. Migrants adopted mate consumption and became so adept that some of those returning to their original countries carried this custom with them. Because of this, countries such as Syria and Lebanon now import Yerba mate from Argentina.

Certain men and women stand as undeniable national icons. Historical figures, sportsmen and sportswomen, politicians, and intellectuals contribute to a common identity. Who best represents or plays a role in shaping who Argentines are and had been is a highly contested issue. Several men and women are important in the development of argentinidad. However, there would be no agreement on whether they positively or negatively fostered the rise of some kind of national consciousness.

José de San Martín is probably the least controversial of many Argentine icons. Seen as liberator of the Americas in the nineteenth century, he stands as a moral model to be emulated. Some Argentines use him to represent how they would like to think of themselves vis-a-vis other Latin American nations: as messengers of modernity and freedom, without personal or national ambitions of domination. Juan Manuel de Rosas, a landowner from Buenos Aires province, who came to rule Buenos Aires province for almost thirty years and represents the interests of the provinces before Argentina became unified as a nation, is a good example of the schisms in the process of nation building. Derided by the liberal, modernizing, and urban-oriented sectors of society who regarded him as a tyrant who deliberately kept the masses ignorant, he was an idol for the traditionalists who saw him as and adamant defender of national sovereignty against imperial ambitions. While Rosas was at the center of the disputes around the fate of Argentina in the nineteenth century, Juan Domingo Perón, was the focus of impassioned divisions among Argentines during the last half of the twentieth century. He ruled Argentina from 1946 to 1955 and again in 1973 until his death in 1974. Although some analysts draw parallels between Rosas and Perón, insisting that the two have defended the interests of the people against a foreign colonial order, the two are the products of very different Argentinas. Rosas ruled in an agrarian society of landlords and rural workers; Peron ruled in a predominantly urban society in which internal migrants to cities and the children of immigrants strove for greater participation as well as for recognition as part of the nation. María Eva Duarte de Perón, universally known as Evita, is undoubtedly the most renowned Argentine woman. President Perón's wife played an important role in the political and social recognition of underprivileged groups, mainly workers and women, until her early death in 1952. While political opponents dismissed her by stating that she was a bad actress with questionable morals, the popular sectors were encouraged by carefully crafted governmental propaganda and idolized her, seeing her as a saintly figure. After her death people lit candles next to photographs representing her surrounded by a halo.

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a liberal president of Argentina from 1868 to 1874, is probably better known for synthesizing the dilemmas of Argentine identity in his famous literary work, Facundo . This text is seen by some critics as the cathedral of Argentine culture. It describes a fragmented country which is torn between civilization and barbarism, with a rural backward interior dominated by authoritarian charismatic populist caudillos who refuse to enter into an orderly and rational modern way of life. Sarmiento is held responsible for bringing the country into the modern, literate world; he is the teacher par excellence, the founding father of the Argentine school system, and a role model to be followed—even today attending school every day is equated with "being a Sarmiento."

Sarmiento is either glorified or vilified, but no Argentine is indifferent to him. Although Facundo is meant to attack a rural order and the gaucho way of life, Sarmiento prose ironically continues to mystify the pampas.

While Facundo was intended to highlight the backwardness of the mestizo population, Martín Fierro by José Hernández exalted the values of gaucho culture. Despite their differences, both literary works became canonical texts for those attempting to define Argentine culture.

Argentines are quite uncertain about who they are. They oscillate between seeing themselves as a highly educated western nation and defining themselves as a Latin-American mestizo nation. This often obsessive search for a national soul became exacerbated when this relatively young nation was dramatically transformed by urbanization and the influx of immigrants. Uncertain about the existence of commonalities, many Argentines tried to find clues about themselves by looking at how other nations saw them. Success of Argentine national or cultural products abroad is translated as approval of the whole national body. Whoever or whatever thrives outside national boundaries rapidly metamorphasizes into even more powerful cultural symbols. It happened with tango after it succeeded in Europe, with soccer and soccer players like Maradona, with tennis players such as Guillermo Vilas and Gabriela Sabattini, with Nobel Prize winners such as Bernardo Houssay, Perez Esquivel, and Saavedra Lamas, with classical dancers such as Julio Bocca, with music composers as different as Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazzola, with tango singers such as Carlos Gardel, and with folklore singers such as Mercedes Sosa.

Popular card games and table games also express the dilemmas of national culture and the way Argentines sometimes view themselves. One of the most popular card games is truco (trick). Supposedly a gaucho game in which country men displayed their ability to deceive their adversary, the game is accompanied by subtle body movements to warn partners about a player's strategy, and by recitation of country-inspired poetry. Country men known as payadores used to be valued for their ability to improvise in oral poetry duels showing their wit, sense of humor, and double entendre. Although payadores are a minority today and are unknown to the majority of the national population, many of their playful linguistic games are still present in everyday nicknames, jokes, and many other popular expressions as varied as graffiti and songs created by soccer fans and members of political parties.

For decades, estancieros (large landowners) were the richest and most politically powerful citizens. They constituted the ruling elite of the country for generations. For years, young children learned to accept this existing social order by playing games such as El Estanciero , a local version of Monopoly ,in which the players accumulate land, ranches, livestock, and grains. Likewise, the yearly massive attendance to an exhibition in Buenos Aires commonly known as "the rural exhibit," legitimizes the dominant commercial activity of the nation as producer of cattle and grains, ruled by a class of landowners. Although the economy and social structure of Argentina has been dramatically transformed and the landed elites have lost considerable power, it is still commonly suggested that young women marry an estanciero to secure their own and their family's future.

The Argentine flag, the national anthem, and the escarapela (a small ribbon or bow worn on patriotic occasions) are the objects of officially prescribed rituals that must be followed by the population at the risk of serious sanctions. These rules had been strongly enforced during authoritarian regimes to the point that people risked imprisonment or even death if they failed to follow them. The population at large feels very strongly about these symbols: they display flags when the country is

A couple dance to the music of street performers in La Boca, a working-class neighborhood in Buenas Aires which was the first stop for many immigrants coming to the New World.
A couple dance to the music of street performers in La Boca, a working-class neighborhood in Buenas Aires which was the first stop for many immigrants coming to the New World.
participating in world soccer cup matches or in war times such as when Argentina fought against the British during the Malvinas/Falklands conflict in the 1980s. At a popular level, large drums are always also present at any massive demonstration.

The ruling classes mobilize territory and sovereignty to develop a sense of national identity. The Malvinas/Falklands War clearly illustrates the importance of territory in the construction of national territory. Since early childhood, Argentines are repeatedly exposed to narratives emphasizing the importance of territory to the nation. They are taught that the British attempted to occupy the country on two occasions during the early nineteenth century, but the population resisted bravely by throwing burning oil from the roofs of their homes in Buenos Aires. Since the British occupation of the Malvinas Islands in 1833, statements claiming that the "islands are Argentine" and the demand for recovery have always stirred nationalist feelings. Argentine's takeover of the islands was presented as a way of healing wounds inflicted on the national body and as a means to recover dignity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. During the Spanish conquest the territory was occupied by different colonizing attempts. Two of these attempts originated in already established Latin-American colonial centers with one more directly connected to Spain. These early forms of occupation reflected the development of relatively economically and culturally distinct regions, conditioned by the contributions made by indigenous groups and the constraints set by very different environments. Beginning with the early years of the conquest, the majority of the regions maintained strong ties with important Latin American colonial centers, while what came to be known as the Littoral and the Pampas in the east of the territory were in more direct contact with Spain, and consequently, Europe.

By the end of the Spanish Empire, in the late eighteenth century, the Bourbon reforms marked the fate of some regions until today. By creating the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, and by choosing Buenos Aires as the residence of its authorities, royal authorities acknowledged a process already under way. Buenos Aires was the center of intense smuggling, an activity that flourished as a challenge to the rigid crown regulations on imports. Slaves entered through the Rio de la Plata ports, and hides and tallow were exported from Buenos Aires. Subsequent Bourbon reforms allowed free trade from Buenos Aires. These changes had an extraordinary impact in the configuration of the future national space. The major beneficiary was the city and the neighboring interior. Buenos Aires experienced significant construction and technological improvements. It became the most important commercial and cultural center in South America. Enlightened ideas also came from Europe and influenced the thinking of urban elites, who gradually championed ideas of autonomy and economic liberalism. Most of the interior provinces started an irreversible process of economic decline, intensified after independence because commercial routes and connections were altered. Local craft industries which had developed to supply the demands of the colonial regional markets could no longer compete with the imported goods entering through the port of Buenos Aires.

While independence from Spain was achieved in 1816, Argentina did not become a unified nation until 1880. Confrontations between those who wanted greater regional autonomy (federalists) and those who wanted more centralized forms of government (unitarians) characterized the early post-independence years. Argentine history, mainly written by the victorious liberal elite sectors, refers to these schisms in Argentine society as civilization and barbarism—the modern Europeanized sectors against a traditional rural society characterized as violent, primitive, and vagrant. Some analysts assert that this antimony is misleading because it masks the continuity in the maintenance of power in the hands of landed elites until well into the twentieth century. During the nineteenth century, local identities prevailed, and men were generally recruited by force to participate in armed confrontations. The term patria —motherland—was generally used to refer to the native province, rather than to the Argentine nation. The Argentine elites who started to organize the nation after the defeat of what they saw as backwards social forces despised Indians and gauchos and deliberately attempted to whiten and modernize the country by promoting European immigration. The newly arrived immigrants changed both the rural and urban landscape of the littoral and pampas regions.

By the 1880s, the majority of the indigenous populations were dominated and pushed to marginal and inhospitable regions. Victory over the Indians of the Pampas and Patagonia was described as the Conquest of the Desert. Vast tracts of land were distributed among the conquerors. The gauchos, who had roamed in open spaces and sometimes escaped into Indian lands to avoid the militia, gradually disappeared from the countryside as a social group. They competed with the immigrants for salaried work in the ranches that were demarcated with barbed wire fences. Many landowners believed that gauchos were ill-suited for agricultural labor and favored the hiring of foreigners. Immigrants arrived by the thousands, to the point that in cities like Buenos Aires foreign-born residents outnumbered the Argentines. Many immigrants joined the industrial labor force. The strategy of encouraging immigration backfired on the ruling classes, who now felt threatened by these newcomers, some of whom introduced such political ideas as socialism and anarchism. These new political ideas, as well as the emergence of forms of popular culture, defied traditional morals and the dominant social and political order, pushing intellectuals and members of the ruling classes to search for what constituted a national soul. They searched for clues in the gaucho culture. This culture which had been doomed to disappearance with the modernization of the country, was reborn as a national myth by the same groups who had contributed to its earlier demise. While the foreign immigrants shook the social order with their labor strikes, and their public behavior became immortalized in popular forms such as tango music and lyrics, many of their children displayed a more moderate behavior after increasingly becoming part of the mainstream national society and joining the rising middle class.

National Identity. The educational system played an important role in incorporating new social groups into the nation. Despite regional and class differences, state institutions were quite successful in developing nationalist feelings. Although Argentines are overall very nationalistic, there is no agreement on what the basis for the commonality is. Debates over what constitutes a "national being" have been the source of bitter and often violent confrontations. To some, the national culture is a mixture of indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Argentine traditions, dramatically modified by European immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century, and experiencing further transformations with globalization in the late twentieth century. For others "true" nationhood is an unmodified essence rooted in the Catholic and Spanish heritage. During the Malvinas/Falklands War the first definition proved to be more powerful. The military government, until then a defender of the more conservative nationalism that emphasized the connection with "Mother Spain" and the Catholic Church and rejected everything that developed in the West after the French Revolution, was compelled to adopt symbols embraced by the population at large to gain their support. The same singers and popular music the armed forces banned because they were not proper manifestations of a "Western and Christian" society, were suddenly summoned when those same armed forces decided to confront a Western nation and justify the war as an anticolonial enterprise. Popular folk music, tango, and national rock were back on the radio and national television to contribute to the national bonding.

Ethnic Relations. With the exception of some areas of the northwest, Argentina was not densely populated at the time of the Spanish conquest. Many indigenous groups disappeared because of harsh forced labor, compulsory resettlement, and diseases introduced by the Spanish conquerors. Those Indians who maintained their autonomy until well into the nineteenth century were brought to near extinction by military campaigns in the 1880s. In the last years of the twentieth century it was estimated that the Indians represent less than 1 percent of the total population (probably around 300,000 people). It is difficult to determine their numbers because those living in urban centers are rarely classified as Indians in official statistics. During colonial times there was an intense slave traffic in the Río de la Plata region. From the late eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, blacks and mulattoes of African and European origin represented between 25 and 30 percent of the total population of Buenos Aires. Their numbers decreased dramatically in the last decades of the nineteenth century: in 1887 only 8,005 Afro-Argentines lived in Buenos Aires out of a total population of 433,375. Epidemics, participation in civil wars, and intermarriage are the most common explanations for the staggering population decline of Afro-Argentines. Less than 4,000 people in Buenos Aires claimed Afro-Argentine identity at the close of the twentieth century. Mestizo rural workers and Afro-Argentines resented the presence of European immigrants who competed for scarce housing and sources of labor. By the beginning of the twentieth century, foreign-born immigrants had already taken over many low-paying jobs formerly performed by Argentines. They quickly dominated the urban landscape as they outnumbered Argentine nationals. This contributed to the way Argentines think about their ethnic identity. One of the most dominant defnitions of the country's identity is that the majority of Argentina's population is white with European ancestors. This image is promoted both by outside observers as well as by some local intellectuals. Most of these assertions derive from taking Buenos Aires as representative of the whole nation, but even this city is not as white as it is usually depicted. Industrialization and later economic stagnation both in Argentina and neighboring countries caused migration to the metropolitan area from the interior provinces and from neighboring countries. These new residents are predominantly mestizos. Migrants also include indigenous peoples and a small number of mulattoes and blacks from Uruguay and Brazil. During Perón's government, rural migrants to the city constituted his loyal political base. Middle class and upper middle class opponents of Perón despised these new social sectors and derogatorily called them cabecitas negras (black heads). This term, together with negro/a, is still used to refer to mestizo and indigenous peoples. While the social conflicts of the 1940s and 1950s were often described in racist terms as cabecitas, and as an "alluvial zoo" invading the urban space, the relationship with those perceived as non-whites by the dominant social groups, has acquired xenophobic overtones. Land and housing occupation, and an increase in crime are attributed to immigrants from neighboring countries. It is difficult to assess the number of Latin American immigrants and internal migrants to cities, and it is even more difficult to determine how they identify themselves. There are no reliable statistics in the 1990s regarding the ethnic composition of the country. Besides Latin American immigration, immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia were also arriving in Argentina in the late twentieth century. Most of these immigrants are illegal and nobody knows their real numbers.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Although most of the Argentine population is urban (87 percent), Argentina is still quite attached to its past rural glory as a grain and cattle exporter, activities that enabled it to rank among the six wealthiest nations in the world in 1914. The strength of rural imagery is confirmed in the way some Argentines represent themselves to foreigners. Tourists to major cities are offered souvenirs identified with a rural way of life—such as gaucho attire, silver, alpaca knives, and horse stirrups—and are invited to asados in nearby estancias where they can observe gaucho dexterity with horses. Cities founded during colonial times followed a very precise checkers pattern, with a plaza in the center surrounded by government buildings and the church. Since independence, the plaza has represented a place where the people can make claims to the authorities. Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires is the most important symbolic space. Major revolutions and popular protests chose this plaza as their epicenter. The Casa Rosada (Pink House), facing Plaza de Mayo, is the seat of the executive branch of government. Its color represents the unification of the nation after years of struggle between unitarians (represented by white) and federalists (represented by red). Architecture in major cities reflects the influence of immigrants as well as Argentina's semicolonial relationship to some European nations. Train stations and railroad neighborhoods (neighborhoods near the station that were built and owned until the 1940s—by the British to house railroad employees) follow a definitely British design. Public buildings and museums, many of them formerly the mansions of the landed elites, were generally inspired and/or designed by French architects. Major parks and botanical gardens were also modeled after French designs. Some avenues in Buenos Aires, such as Avenida de Mayo, have a strong Spanish influence in their architecture and resemble streets in Barcelona or Madrid. Some cities in the northwest and in the center of the country, such as Córdoba, Salta, Jujuy, and San Miguel de Tucumán, still have good examples of colonial architecture (adobe walls, central patios, and red-tiled roofs). Although plazas are still favored places for socializing and meeting friends, in some towns and cities the construction of shopping malls is changing the social scene and many people are choosing these sites to spend their leisure time.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Argentines are very fond of beef and pastas. Most restaurants offer a wide assortment of meat dishes and pastas. Spanish and Italian cuisine inspire everyday cooking, while French-influenced cuisine is reserved for special occasions. It is quite customary to buy fresh pasta for Sunday lunch, which is generally a family event (that often includes the extended family). Breakfast is very light and generally includes coffee or tea and milk, toast, butter, and marmalade. At restaurants and hotels, breakfast also includes small croissants. Lunch is served from 12:30 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. It used to be the biggest meal of the day. This is changing because of tight work schedules that cause some working people to eat increasingly lighter dishes. There is generally an afternoon break for tea or coffee with cookies, sandwiches, pastries, and/or a piece of cake. Dinner is served from 9:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. There are no rigid food taboos, but Argentines in general are not very adventurous when it comes to trying unusual foods, flavors, and combinations. The most popular restaurants are steak houses and pizzerias. Because of the strong Italian influence in foods, ice cream stores offering gelatto made on the premises are extremely popular. People meet at any time of the day at cafés for an espresso or a cup of tea. These places are the heart and soul of urban culture in Argentina. People meet there to discuss politics and soccer, to flirt and make new acquaintances, to study, and to socialize with friends and dates.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Any occasion is a good excuse for having a barbecue. Festive dishes include: locro (a stew made with corn, meats, chorizos , pumpkins, and sweet potatoes), empanadas (generally meat turnovers, but they might also be filled with corn, ham and cheese, or chicken). Spanish paellas are also sometimes prepared for special gatherings. As Argentina is a wine-producing country, wine is always served at special gatherings and on holidays. Mate drinks are sometimes offered at some public events.

Basic Economy. Since the late nineteenth century, Argentina had been mainly food self-sufficient. With the elimination of trade barriers, some food producers are finding it very difficult to compete with the price of some imports, causing a crisis in the agricultural sector. The majority of the population is urban and there are very few individuals who produce food for self-consumption. Large agribusinesses are mainly in charge of food production. Argentina's gross domestic product (GDP) is US$338.2 billion and the per capita GDP is US$9,520.

Land Tenure and Property. Most land is privately owned. All children have equal rights to inheritance from their parents irrespective of gender or majority. In some isolated areas, the population follows customary law to grant access to land and water. The state owns mineral resources such as oil, and contracts with private business for mineral exploitation.

Commercial Activities. Agriculture and livestock continue to be important economic activities, even though only a small number of Argentines live in rural areas. Argentina produces grains (wheat, corn, barley), soybeans, sunflower seeds, lemons, grapes, tobacco, peanuts, tea, apples, and peaches.

Major Industries. Argentina specializes in food processing, tobacco products, textiles and garments, shoes and leather goods, paper products, construction materials, domestic appliances, printing, electronics, medical equipment, cars and utility vehicles, furniture, chemicals and petrochemicals, metallurgy, and steel.

Trade. Argentine exports in 1997 amounted to approximately US$26 million while imports amounted to approximately US$30 million. Exports include farming and livestock manufactures, 34 percent; industrial manufactures, 31.3 percent; primary products (nonprocessed agrarian and mineral resources), 21.6 percent; and fuel and energy,12.41 percent. Major exports are cereals, animal feed, motor vehicles (trucks, buses, and tractors), crude petroleum, steel, and manufactured goods. Major imports are motor vehicles (automobiles), organic chemicals, telecommunications equipment, electronics, plastics, and papers.

Brazil is the most important business partner (31 percent exports; 23 percent imports). Other export partners are the United States, 8 percent; Chile, 7 percent; China, 3 percent; and Uruguay, 3 percent. Import partners are the United States, 20 percent; Italy, 6 percent; Germany, 5 percent; and France, 5 percent.

Division of Labor. Most jobs are obtained through specific training in technical schools or on the job.

Avenida 9, the widest street in the world, is a main thoroughfare in Buenos Aires.
Avenida 9, the widest street in the world, is a main thoroughfare in Buenos Aires.
Patron–client relations are mainly political and are sometimes useful to secure a good job. In principal, access to jobs is on the basis of merit and open competition. Traditionally, certain trades were identified with specific ethnic groups. For example, waiters and restaurant owners, grocers and bankers were Spanish; green grocers and contractors were Italian; cleaners and florists were Japanese; deli owners were German; railroad white-collar workers were English; and jewelers were Jewish. These distinctions are no longer meaningful.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Until recently, Argentina had a very large middle class. Upper-class and lower-class sectors can generally trace their origins to more than five generations in the country. Originally the upper class was mainly formed by landowners of large estates. Urbanization and industrialization processes intensified in the early decades of the twentieth century and greatly affected Argentina's social structure. Merchants and industrialists increasingly joined the ranks of the landed elite. The Argentine middle class was formed mainly by the descendants of immigrants who came to Argentina either at the end of the nineteenth or beginning of the twentieth century, settled in cities, and worked in the newly created jobs in the industrial, commercial, and public sectors of the economy. In comparison to other Latin American nations, Argentina's income distribution has been fairly equitable throughout most of the twentieth century. Together with Uruguay, it had a very large middle class until quite recently, but that situation changed with the economic crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. Social sciences literature refers to the "new poor," which is made up of former middle class citizens who experienced downward mobility.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Upper classes often wear expensive imported clothes and/or clothes from very exclusive Argentine stores. These distinctions are not fixed; they change with fashion and with the cultural models followed by elite sectors. In the past, British and French culture influenced elite taste. It was not uncommon to hire French or British nannies to educate the children of the upper classes, although this practice faded in the 1970s. North American models are favored by the younger rich generation. Social class also can be easily recognized by speech styles and body language.

Laundry hanging above a courtyard in La Boca, a working-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires. The economic crises of the 1980s and 1990s caused many middle-class citizens to experience downward mobility.
Laundry hanging above a courtyard in La Boca, a working-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires. The economic crises of the 1980s and 1990s caused many middle-class citizens to experience downward mobility.

Political Life

Government. Argentina's national constitution was adopted in 1853 and was changed in 1949 by the government of President Juan Domingo Perón. A new constitution was approved in 1994 to allow for a new term in office of former President Carlos Menem. It is a federalist constitution which recognizes three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The president and vice-president are elected by direct vote. They hold office for a four-year term and may be reelected for a second term. The legislature has two houses, the house of senators and the house of deputies. The supreme court and lower courts comprise the judicial branch. The power of the provinces is curtailed by the ability of central government to control the distribution of resources from the national to the provincial treasuries.

Leadership and Political Officials. The major political parties are the justicialista (formerly peronista party) and the radical party. In the presidential elections of 1999, an alliance between the radical party, the frepaso (a socialist front party), and other smaller parties won over the justicialista and other newly formed political parties. The two majority parties have a long tradition of populist politics and they are quite prone to create clientelistic relations.

Social Problems and Control. A police and judicial system is in place to deal with crime. The population is quite skeptical about the power of the police and the judicial system to control crime. There is a great concern about police corruption and police brutality. These issues are hotly debated in the platforms of political parties. The population is ambivalent about the role of the police. Concerned with the increase in violent crimes in the last decades of the twentieth century, many people are demanding a stricter police control and reforms in the penal system which would extend the time of incarceration. However, many people are not willing to grant more powers to the police force because they believe they are part of the problem. Insecurity and violence are closely associated with staggering unemployment, social anomie, and corruption at higher levels of government. There had been some cases of citizens killing criminals in robbery attempts, causing controversy and public debate on the role of common citizens in law enforcement.

Military Activity. Military service was mandatory until the early 1990s. The Argentine military seized power on various occasions. After their defeat in the

Local boys wait for the schoolbus in Lago Azul. Many middle and upper class parents are influenced by psychoanalytic schools for their children's education.
Local boys wait for the schoolbus in Lago Azul. Many middle and upper class parents are influenced by psychoanalytic schools for their children's education.
Malvinas/Falklands War by the British, the military lost a lot of support. With the return to democracy in 1983, the military budget has significantly been reduced and the armed forces did not escape pressure to privatize which affected other government sectors. Many of the armed forces assets such as factories, buildings, and land holdings had been sold or privatized.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Since the first presidency of Perón, the Ministry of Social Welfare was one of the most powerful governmental institutions. It was mainly used as a political weapon to distribute favors to potential allies. Besides its political goals, the ministry provided very important social services which contributed to the welfare of the population (housing, food programs, training programs, and healthcare). These actions were generally complemented by the social-welfare actions of trade unions. Structural adjustment policies, imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), forced the government to reduce social-welfare services to a minimum. In some parts of the country, nongovernmental organizations (NGOS) are now partially meeting the needs of the most disadvantaged groups.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The most important organizations involved in solving people's pressing needs are the Catholic Church, other religious denomination organizations, and trade unions. The Catholic Church has taken the most active role in denouncing the effects of globalization on the poor and it is actively involved in social programs to help the population. With the reduction of the labor force and changes in legislation regarding the economic resources unions may control, these organizations are no longer providing the health, housing, and counseling services they used to offer, but they still constitute an important source of help for those who are permanently employed.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Although there are no legal impediments to women performing most roles, their access to some positions of power is limited. Very few women are elected as senators, and there are fewer female than male deputies. The same applies to other governmental positions such as ministers and secretaries of state. There are some professions in which women outnumber men such as architecture.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Argentine law used to grant men special authority over the children ( patria potestas ). Current legislation states that parents share authority over their children. Children may not leave the country with one parent unless they have the written authorization of the other.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is freely decided by men and women. Only minors (younger than age 18) need parental consent to marry. Argentina is one of the countries with the largest number of consensual unions. The government only recognizes civil marriage. The Catholic Church is very influential in Argentina and has strongly opposed divorce. However, divorce was legalized in the 1980s.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the most common household unit. Small families of one or two children are the norm. Partly for economic reasons and partly because of tradition, sons and daughters often stay with their parents until they are well into their twenties or until they marry. Newlyweds find a new home in which to live, distant from all of their kin. Couples share household responsibilities, although women generally perform more household activities than men.

Inheritance. Land and houses are equally divided between female and male children. Women might inherit their mother's jewelry and some housewares such as china and silverware.

Kin Groups. The extended family gathers regularly. Some members of the extended family might meet on a weekly basis for Sunday lunch. Birthdays, Christmas, and New Year's Eve are also occasions for extended family reunions.


Infant Care. Nursing is not concealed as much as it is in the United States. Babies sleep in their own cribs. Child rearing is very similar to the United States.

Child Rearing and Education. Depending on the socioeconomic condition of the parents, children might be raised by nannies and/or baby sitters, maids, or child care providers in day care centers. This may happen even in cases in which the mothers do not work. Working mothers on a low income might rely on relatives and/or neighbors for child care. Large businesses and trade unions offer child care facilities for their female employees often for free. Most public schools have one or two years of kindergarten. Middle class and upper class families are strongly influenced by psychoanalytic schools for the education of their children. It is not uncommon for parents to seek psychological counseling to raise their children and to deal with learning problems at school.

Higher Education. There are 36 state (public) universities and 48 private universities. Public universities are free. Some of them have entrance exams. Higher education degrees are very desirable. Unfortunately, Argentine society cannot employ a great number of its university graduates. Many professionals resort to taking jobs for which they are overqualified.


Both men and women greet each other by kissing on the cheek. In very formal encounters men and women shake hands. People address each other with the colloquial form vos (singular "you," equivalent to tu in other Spanish speaking countries). To convey social distance, people employ the more formal usted (to talk to superiors or to elders). Social physical distance in everyday encounters is much closer than in the United States. Argentines might touch each other when talking and might feel awkward when North Americans reject physical proximity and contact. Women and men gaze at each other, and it is still quite common that men use piropos (flirtateous remarks) when a woman walks by.


Religious Beliefs. The majority of Argentines are Roman Catholics, even though not all of them actively practice the religion. Jews migrated to Argentina at the end of the nineteenth century from Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. A significant number also migrated during and after World War II. Estimates of the exact size of the Jewish population vary between 250,000 and 500,000. Pentecostalism and other Protestant denominations are becoming quite popular among the lower class (4.69 percent of the population was Protestant in 1998). New Age and Eastern religions are popular among some middle and upper class urban sectors. People from various classes consult

A protest in Buenos Aires in 1993. Argentines can be very vocal in their support of political figures and ideas.
A protest in Buenos Aires in 1993. Argentines can be very vocal in their support of political figures and ideas.
popular healers or "witches," and participate in folk rituals associated with popular forms of religions. For example, some Argentines believe in popular saints thought to have healing powers or to be capable of making miracles, such as Difunta Correa, San La Muerte, and Gaucho Gil.

Religious Practitioners. Along with various church specialists, sorcerers and healers are very popular. Some are immigrants from Brazil who carry their Afro-Brazilian beliefs, others combine elements of popular Catholicism with indigenous beliefs, and others are urban men and women who trained themselves in the secrets of the Tarot or I-Ching. Some of these practitioners are becoming so popular that many of them offer their services (mainly palm reading and Tarot) in very popular craft fairs on weekends.

Death and the Afterlife. Viewing of the deceased takes place immediately after death, either at a funeral home or at the home of the deceased. No special foods are served and only coffee might be available. In the northeast, there are special ceremonies called velorio del angelito for dead children. The ritual includes dancing and singing.

Medicine and Health Care

Modern medicine coexists with traditional medical beliefs. While some Argentines make use of a single medical system, others might use both for the same diseases, and still others might go to a doctor for some ailments and to a traditional healer for others. In some regions of Argentina, beliefs in cold and hot principles, which are very common in Latin America, guide the understandings of health. Even in urban centers, women might still cure an upset stomach by tirar el cuerito (pulling the skin on the back of the sick person), and they might also employ sulfur and other folk medicine for other sicknesses. Self-medication is quite common and people sometimes recommend medicines to friends for minor ailments. Herbal medicine is used extensively in some regions of the country.

Secular Celebrations

On 25 May, Argentina commemorates the May Revolution of 1810, when the population of the country decided to appoint its own government after Napoleon invaded Spain.

The Day of the Argentine Flag is 20 June and commemorates the death of the creator of the Argentine flag, Manuel Belgrano.

Independence Day is 9 July. Argentine representatives from various provinces decided to become independent from Spain.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Artists get support from private foundations and national institutions. Very few artists can support themselves. Early in the twentieth century, writers and painters formed groups that led major artistic movements. The two most important ones were the Florida and the Boedo groups. The former was elitist and closely followed European trends, while the latter attracted artists of more humble origins and had a more popular and nationalist orientation. Argentine artists compete for various national prizes offered by foundations and various businesses. Some of the newly privatized energy, telecommunications, and transportation companies sponsor the arts in innovative ways. For example, Subterráneos de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires Subway) offers dance and theater performances as well as art exhibits to passengers waiting for the train. There are also performances on board.

Literature. Argentina is internationally known for some of its writers. Jorge Luis Borges is probably the best known writer. Other acclaimed writers include Roberto Arlt, Ernesto Sabato, Julio Cortazar, Victoria Ocampo, Leopoldo Marechal, Jose Hernández, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Manuel Puig, Luisa Valenzuela, Ricardo Piglia, and Adolfo Bioy Casares. Every year, Argentina has an international book fair, with an attendance of more than one million people.

Graphic Arts. Institutions of higher education train artists in all types of fine arts. Many Argentine artists have been at the forefront of artistic movements. There are numerous art galleries in the major cities of the country. There are sixty art galleries in Buenos Aires alone. The Centro Cultural Recoleta, the Museo of Bellas Artes, and the Museo de Arte Moderno organize exhibits to promote the work of national artists. Xul Solar, Raquel Forner, Eneas Spilimbergo, Carlos Alonso, Antonio Berni, Carlos Castagnino, Raúl Soldi, Rómulo Macció, Centurión, Benedit, Pérez Celis, Lacámera, and Raúl Russo are renowned painters. Some sculptors such as Fioravanti, Lola Mora, Irurtia, Perlotti, Cossice, LeParc, and Di Stefano have created works for parks and other public spaces.

Performance Arts. Argentina has an opera house, the Teatro Colón, where world famous musicians and ballet companies perform. This theater has a classical dance school which produced world-class dancers such as Julio Bocca. Besides the Teatro Colón, other theaters specialize both in classic and modern music and dance and have touring companies. Argentines are very fond of theater. During the military dictatorship in the 1970s, actors organized a theater festival which constituted a very powerful form of social protest. Municipal governments support the arts and generally offer art classes and sponsor artistic events. They promote both classical and popular art expressions. Concerts and dance exhibits take place in parks and large stadiums. Attendance to some of these events is massive.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Argentina has many institutions of higher education. The majority of the provinces have national universities as well as various private institutions. The Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, and Universidad Nacional de Tucumán are some of the largest, oldest, and most prestigious universities in the country.

The major state agency supporting research in the physical and social sciences is the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET). Other state institutions conduct research in specific fields (for example, nuclear energy at Consejo Nacional de Energía Atómica; agriculture at Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria; geography at Instituto Geográfico Militar; and anthropology at Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Pensamiento Latinoamericano). Both private and public organizations are very actively involved in research. Financing of research is becoming very difficult and many young scientists are leaving the country.


Archetti, Eduardo. Masculinities: Football, Polo and the Tango in Argentina, 1999.

Bethel, Leslie, ed. Argentina Since Independence, 1993.

Burns, Jimmy. The Land that Lost Its Heroes: Argentina, The Falklands and Alfonsín, 1987.

Crawley, Edward. A House Divided: Argentina, 1880-1984, 1984.

Escolar, Marcelo, Silvina Quintero Palacios, and Carlos Reboratti. "Geographical Identity and Patriotic Representation in Argentina." In David Hooson, ed. Geography and National Identity, pp. 346-366, 1994.

Femenia, Nora. National Identity in Times of Crises: The Scripts of the Falklands-Malvinas War, 1996.

Foster, David William. The Redemocratization of Argentine Culture, 1983 and Beyond, 1989.

——. Buenos Aires: Perspectives on the City and Cultural Production, 1998.

——, Melissa Fitch Lockhart, and Darrell B. Lockhart. Culture and Customs of Argentina, 1998.

Goodrich, Diana Sorenson. Facundo and the Construction of Argentine Cultures, 1993.

Guy, Donna. Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina, 1991.

Keeling, David J. Contemporary Argentina: A Geographical Perspective, 1997.

Ludmer, Josefina. El Género Gauchesco: Un Tratado Sobre la Patria, 1988.

Masiello, Francine. Between Civilization and Barbarism: Women, Nation, and Literary Culture in Modern Argentina, 1992.

Rock, David. Argentina 1516-1982, from Spanish Colonization to the Falklands War, 1985.

Rowe, William and Vivian Schelling. Memory and Modernity: Popular Culture in Latin America, 1993.

Sarmiento, Domingo F. Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants or, Civilization and Barbarism, 1845, rev. 1961.

Savigliano, Marta. Tango and the Political Economy of Passion, 1995.

Shumway, Nicolas. The Invention of Argentina, 1991.

Sikkink, Kathryn. Ideas and Institutions: Developmentalism in Brazil and Argentina, 1991.

Slatta, Richard. Gauchos and the Vanishing Frontier, 1983.

Solberg, Carl. Immigration and Nationalism: Argentina and Chile, 1890-1914, 1970.

Waissman, Carlos. Reversal of Development in Argentina: Postwar Counterrevoultionary Policies and Their Structural Consequences, 1987.

Web Sites

Argentine Chamber of Commerce.

Interaramerican Development Bank (IDB).


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Thank you so much for such a great article. I am doing research on Argentina at a University and this was very helpful. I especially appreciate the list of sources at the bottom. Which of the sources did you use for these sections of the article?

"Most land is privately owned. All children have equal rights to inheritance from their parents irrespective of gender or majority. In some isolated areas, the population follows customary law to grant access to land and water"


"Land and houses are equally divided between female and male children. Women might inherit their mother's jewelry and some housewares such as china and silverware."

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