Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Ethnic groups of Argentina

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Ethnic groups of Argentina

The ethnography of Argentina makes this country, along with other areas of relatively modern settlement like Canada or Australia, a crisol de razas (race crucible), or a melting pot of different peoples. In fact, immigration to Argentina was so strong that it eventually became the country with the second highest number of immigrants, with 6.6 million, second only to the United States with 27 million, and ahead of such other immigratory receptors such as Canada, Brazil and Australia.


Upon the independence of Argentina, the newborn country had a large territory but was thinly populated, and its ethnic composition was largely the same from the colonial era that had lasted from 16th to early 19th centuries. In the mid-19th century, a large wave of immigration started to arrive due to newly established Constitutional policies that encouraged immigration, and due to issues in the Old World such as wars, poverty, hunger, social unrest and pursuit for opportunities or a better life in the New World. This immigration was mostly from Europe but also from the Arab world, Russia and Japan.

Thus, most Argentines are descendants of these 19th and 20th century immigrants, with about 97% of the population being of European or partial European descent. Arab descent is also significant (mostly of Syrian and Lebanese origin), and the Jewish population is the biggest in all Latin America (7th in the world). Mestizo population in Argentina, unlike in other Latin American countries, is very low, as is the Black population after being decimated by diseases and wars in the 19th century, though since the 1990s a new wave of Black immigration has been arriving. Native Argentines on the other hand have significant populations in the country's North-West (Quechua, Diaguita, Kolla, Aymara); in the North-East (Guaraní, Mocoví, Toba, Wichí); and in the Patagonia or South (Mapuche, Tehuelche). Asian peoples have increasing minorities in some Buenos Aires neighborhoods and are expanding to other large Argentine cities. Through the centuries people from neighboring countries like Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru have also immigrated to Argentina and established important communities.

Arrival of the European immigrants

The number and composition of the population was stable until 1853, when the national government, after passing a constitution, started a campaign to attract European immigration to populate the country. This state policy lasted several decades. At first the number of immigrants was modest compared to other countries such as the United States (though the number of immigrants was steadily increasing as they moved to the rural areas to settle and to found colonias like those of Italian, German, Swiss, or French origin), but in the 1870s, due to the economic crisis in Europe, it started to increase, reaching an extremely high rate between 1890 and 1930. Unofficial records show that, during the 1860s, 160,000 immigrants arrived in Argentina, while in the 1880s the net number increased to 841,000, almost doubling the population of the country in that decade.

Between 1857 and 1950, 6,611,000 European immigrants arrived in Argentina, making it the country with the second biggest immigration wave in the world, only second to the United States with 27 million, and ahead of such other areas of new settlement such as Canada, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay; and permanently changing the ethnography of Argentina.

Immigrants arrived through the port of Buenos Aires and many stayed in the capital or within Buenos Aires Province and this still happens today. In 1895, immigrants accounted for 52% of the population in the capital, and 31% in the province of Buenos Aires (some provinces of the littoral, such as Santa Fe, had about 40%, and the Patagonian provinces had about 50%).

Waves of immigrants from European countries arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over 30 percent of the country's population was born overseas by 1914, and half of the population in Buenos Aires and Rosario was foreign-born. Over 80% of the Argentine population, per the 1914 Census, were immigrants, their children or grandchildren.

The Hotel de Inmigrantes, built in 1906 to accommodate the 100,000 to 200,000 yearly arrivals at the Port of Buenos Aires, was made a National Historic Monument.


Italian immigration to Argentina began in the 19th century, just after Argentina won its independence from Spain. Argentine culture has significant connections to Italian culture, in terms of language, customs and traditions.

Italians became firmly established throughout Argentina, with the greatest concentrations in the city of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires Province, Santa Fe Province, Entre Rios Province, Córdoba Province, Tucumán Province, La Pampa Province, and the nearby country of Uruguay.

There are many reasons for the Italian immigration to Argentina: Italy was enduring economic problems caused mainly by the unification of the Italian states into one nation. The country was impoverished, unemployment was rampant, certain areas were overpopulated, and Italy was subject to significant political turmoil. Italians saw in Argentina a chance to build for themselves a brand new life.

The Italian population in Argentina is the second largest in the world, by numbers, outside of Italy, some 25 million people. Italians form a majority of the population of Argentina and neighbouring Uruguay as up to two-third have some Italian background; among the Latin American countries, only Brazil has more people of Italian descent (28 million, approximately 15 percent of Brazil's total population).


German immigration to Argentina occurred during five main time periods: pre–1870, 1870–1914, 1918–1933, 1933–1940 and post–1945.

Argentina and Germany have long had close ties to each other. A flourishing trade developed between them as early as the German Unification, and Germany had a privileged position in the Argentine economy. Later, Argentina maintained a strong economic relationship with both Germany and Great Britain and supported them with supplies during World War I.

There are around 50,000 German descendants living in Buenos Aires. After the United States and Brazil, Argentina is among the nations with the largest number of German descendants in the world, together with Canada, South Africa, France, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia. They arrived in the 19th century and then before and after World War II. Their arrival continued over an extended period, from the middle to end of the 19th century, until 1960 of the 20th century. Germans, Swiss, Belgian, Luxembourg and French people founded the Colony of Esperanza, establishing the first agricultural colony and then founding others.

Germans are one of the largest ethnic groups of Argentina and have had one of the biggest impacts in the Argentine culture. The influence of their culture has also impacted Argentinian cuisine; this trend is especially apparent in the field of desserts. The pastries known as facturas are Germanic in origin: croissants, known as medialunas ("half-moons", from German "Halbmond"), are the most popular of these, and can be found in two varieties: butter- and lard-based. Also German in origin are the "Berliner" known as bolas de Fraile ("friar's balls"), and the rolls called piononos.

The facturas were re-christened with local names given the difficult phonology of German, and usually Argentinized by the addition of a dulce de leche filling. That was also the case with the "Kreppel", called torta fritas in Argentina, which were introduced by German immigrants, and similarly with the "Achtzig Schlag" cake, translated as torta ochenta golpes. In addition, dishes like chucrut (sauerkraut) and many different kinds of sausage like bratwurst have made it into mainstream Argentine cuisine.


French immigration has left a significant mark on Argentina, with a notable influence on the arts, culture, science and society of the country. Many emblematic buildings in cities like Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Córdoba were built following French Beaux Arts and neoclassical styles, such as the Argentine National Congress, the Metropolitan Cathedral, or the Central Bank building. In particular, landscape architect Carlos Thays, in his position as 1891 Director of Parks and Walkways, is largely responsible for planting thousands of trees, creating the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden and giving the city many of its parks and plazas that are sometimes compared to similar designs in Paris.

While Argentines of French descent make up a substantial percent of the Argentine population, they are less visible than other similarly-sized ethnic groups. This is due to the high degree of assimilation and the lack of substantial French colonies throughout the country.


Argentine elites diminished the Spanish culture from their culture in the newly independent country and created Argentine culture.

Between 1857 and 1940 more than 2 million Spanish people emigrated to Argentina, mostly from Galicia, Basque Country, Asturias, Cantabria in northern Spain, Catalonia in northeast Spain, and also from Andalusia in southern Spain.


Scandinavians arrived in Argentina around 1909. The first ones settled in the northeastern area and founded a city called Villa Svea (now called Oberá). It was composed of Swedes, Norwegians and Finns. Russians, Germans, English and Danish joined them before and after World War I and spread throughout the country.


Austrians settled throughout the country in the late 19th century.


Approximately 44,000 Swiss emigrated to Argentina until 1940, and settled mainly in the provinces of Córdoba and Santa Fe and, to a lesser extent, in Buenos Aires.


Around 100,000 British immigrants arrived between 1857 and 1940. The British community founded solid institutions like the British Hospital in Buenos Aires, the Herald newspaper, prestigious bilingual schools and clubs as the Lawn Tennis Club and Hurlingham Club. British immigrants had a strong impact on the taste of Argentine sports through the development of football, polo, hockey, and rugby, among others.

Today, there are over 350,000 Argentinians with ancestry from the British Isles.


The Armenians came in different time periods. The first wave was in the late 19th century, as a result of the Adana massacres and such targeted at Armenians in the region of Cilicia. The second (and largest) wave was from the 1910s to the 1930s, originated solely by the Armenian Genocide. Armenophobia rose again in Turkey in the mid-20th century, and created the final migration of Armenians to the world - some of them arrived in Argentina and formed a separate third wave. The last wave was a result of the fall of the Soviet Union.

There are around 100,000 Armenians in Argentina, most of them in the Palermo neighborhood, Buenos Aires.


Bulgarian immigration in Argentina began intensively in the 1920s and had a second boom period between 1937 and 1938. Most of them were farmers from the northern regions of Bulgaria. Most settled in the province of Chaco.


The Czechs were also part of the great immigration of the early 20th century. Most of their descendants live in the provinces of Chaco and Mendoza, in the country.


The Irish emigrated to Argentina in the 19th century, between 1830 and 1875. They extended throughout the country, especially in the provinces of Santa Fe, Entre Rios and Cordoba. The modern Irish-Argentine community is estimated at 500,000-1,000,000. Argentina is the home of the fifth largest Irish community in the world.


The Lithuanians arrived mostly after the First World War, between 1925 and 1930, and settled mainly in Buenos Aires, Berisso and Rosario.


The first organized immigration from the Netherlands occurred in 1889, when immigrants came from the area of Friesland. A second immigration took place around 1924. Most of them settled in Mar del Plata, Bahía Blanca, Comodoro Rivadavia, and Chubut.


Organized Polish immigration began in 1897 and had a decisive influence in the Argentine population. Between the two world wars (1918–1939) large numbers of Poles emigrated. They mostly settled in Llavallol, San Justo, Valentín Alsina, San Martin, and Quilmes. Between 1946 and 1950 around one hundred thousand Poles settled in the country.


There is a significant number of Russians in Argentina. Most reside in Buenos Aires and northeastern areas. The majority of them arrived between 1880 and 1921. Another small wave arrived in the country in early 1990.


Ukrainian regular immigration to Argentina began in the 19th century. The first Ukrainian settlement in the country was in 1897. Subsequently, groups of immigrants settled in Buenos Aires, Misiones, Chaco, Corrientes, Formosa, Mendoza, Río Negro, and Entre Ríos. Although the Argentine census does not provide data on ethnic origins, estimates of the Ukrainian population range from 305,000 to 500,000 people (the latter figure making Ukrainians up to 1% of the total Argentine population).


The Welsh settlement in Argentina – known in Welsh as "Y Wladfa" – began in 1865 and occurred mainly along the coast of Chubut Province in the far southern region of Patagonia. In the 19th and early 20th century the Argentine government encouraged the immigration of Europeans to populate the country outside the Buenos Aires region; between 1856 and 1875 no fewer than 34 settlements of immigrants of various nationalities were established between Santa Fe and Entre Ríos. In addition to the main colony in Chubut, a smaller colony was set up in Santa Fe by 44 Welsh people who left Chubut, and another group settled at Coronel Suárez in southern Buenos Aires Province. In the early 21st century, around 50,000 Patagonians are of Welsh descent. The Welsh-Argentine community is centered around Gaiman, Trelew and Trevelin. By Chubut's own estimate, the number of Welsh speakers is about 25,000.


The overwhelming majority of Argentina's Jewish community derives from immigrants of Northern, Central, and Eastern European origin (Ashkenazi Jews). Argentina's Jewish population is, by far, the largest in all of Latin America and is the fifth largest in the world. Buenos Aires itself is said to have over 100,000 practicing Jews, making it one of the largest Jewish urban centers in the world (see also History of the Jews in Argentina).

Arabs and Levantines

There are 1,300,000–3,500,000 Argentines whose ancestry traces back to any of various waves of immigrants, largely of levantine cultural and linguistic heritage and/or identity.

Most Levantine Argentines are from either Lebanese or Syrian background, originating mainly from what is now Lebanon and Syria. There are people from other Arabic speaking countries in lesser numbers. Most are Christians of the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic (Maronite) Churches. The first Levantines settled in Argentina in the 19th century, and most who came during this time period were Sirio-Lebanese. From 1891 to 1920, 367,348 people of Levantines heritage immigrated into Argentina. When they were first processed in the ports of Argentina, they were classified as Turks because modern-day Lebanon and Syria were then occupied by the Turkish Ottoman Empire.


There are Amerindian groups like the Tobas, Aymaras, Guaraníes and Mapuches, among others, who still maintain their cultural roots, but are under continuous pressure for religious and idiomatic integration.

The local natives who speak Quechua adopted that language either after they were conquered by the Inca Empire (that reached Tucuman) or by the teachings of the Spanish religious missionaries who came from Peru to today's Santiago del Estero Province; the language is quickly losing importance. The Survey on Indigenous Populations, published by the National Institute for Statistics and Census, gives a total of 600,329 people who see themselves as descending from or belonging to an indigenous people, representing 1.5% of Argentina's population.

According to a recent study of 246 individuals, up to 30% of this population could have varying degrees of Native American ancestry.


Up to 8.5% of the population identify as mestizo (of mixed European and Amerindian origins). They mainly live in the northern provinces, and in some districts within the Greater Buenos Aires area.


The black population in Argentina declined since the middle 19th century from 15% of the total population in 1857 (Blacks and Mulatto people), to 1% at present (mainly mulattoes, and immigrants from Cape Verde).

Afro-Argentines were up to a third of the population during colonial times, most of them slaves brought from Africa to work for the criollos. The 1813 Assembly abolished slavery and led to the Freedom of Wombs Law of 1813, which automatically freed slaves' children at birth. During the wars of independence (1810–21) and the War of the Triple Alliance (1865–70), the male cohort within this ethnic group was reduced when thousands of black citizens were forcefully recruited and used as front-line soldiers.


The first Asian-Argentines were of Japanese descent, arriving in the 1900s. For most of the 20th century they were the only Asians in Argentina. Japanese immigrants were primarily from the island of Okinawa; the majority of dry cleaning establishments in Buenos Aires were, by the mid-20th century, Japanese businesses. During the 1970s the main Asian influx was from China, and during the 1990s from South Korea and Laos. Unlike most immigrants who arrived earlier in the century, they tended to remain in close social circles and not mix with other local ethnicities. This excluded the Japanese who were the first to arrive and therefore the first to produce a native generation of mixed race Japanese-Argentines, thus integrating more so than the other Asian groups.

The Japanese-Argentine population assimilated well into Argentine society, and nearly 78% of the fourth generation of Japanese-Argentines (Yonsei) are of mixed European and Japanese descent, mostly intermixed with immigrants from Italy and Spain, and in lesser number from the United Kingdom, France (mainly Occitania), Germany and Switzerland. The use of Japanese language has declined in Argentina and the Japanese-Argentine citizens speak the nation's national language, Spanish, although a minority of them only speak Japanese when living with a Japanese-born relative at home, but when they are living with Argentine-born relatives they only speak Spanish.

Intermarriage in the Japanese-Argentine community. Proportion of mixed-race in each generation (%):

  • Issei (immigrants): 0%
  • Nisei (children): 9%
  • Sansei (grandchildren): 66%
  • Yonsei (great-grandchildren): 78%
  • Immigration from neighbouring countries

    Among the most numerous immigrants from neighbouring countries are Paraguayans (the biggest foreign community), Bolivians, Peruvians, and in lesser number Ecuadorians and Brazilians. There have been reports of discrimination to these groups, as well as exploitation; Buenos Aires Police have released Bolivian citizens working in textile factories, some run by South Korean immigrants.

    Uruguayans represent a special case; many have crossed the Río de la Plata to live in Argentina, mainly in Buenos Aires, searching for opportunities in the bigger country. Given their cultural resemblances with the porteños, they are rarely discriminated against.

    Genetic studies of Argentinians' ancestry

    Although statistically not significant enough sample size to be a nationwide projection, a study on 246 unrelated male individuals from eight provinces of three Argentinean regions using ancestry-sensitive DNA showed a large fraction of European genetic heritage in their Y-chromosomal (94.1%) and autosomal (78.5%) DNA, but their mitochondrial gene pool is mostly of Native American ancestry (53.7%); African heritage was small in all three genetic systems (<4%). Another clustering analyses performed on data from autosomal ancestry-sensitive SNPs – providing somewhat approximate representation of the bi-parentally inherited part of the genome – demonstrated a major European component (overall 78.5%) in the pooled Argentinean sample, whereas the Native American component (overall 17.3%) was lower but considerable, and the African component was very small (overall 4.1%). Despite this general trend in the genetic variation, it should be noted that analyses revealed a considerable genetic heterogeneity at the individual level, also noticed before in a smaller number of Argentinean samples. About 40% of the sampled individuals attained more than 90% of European ancestry, but the Native American proportion was as high as 80% (although this was observed only in a single individual). Such findings reflect the dynamics of the recent demographic history of the extant Argentinean population, indicating that individuals retaining a higher proportion of European ancestry could be descendants from the recent newcomers to the Argentinean population, whereas those with a higher amount of Native American admixture could be descendants from the first contact between the European and Amerindian populations, starting approximately 500 years ago.

    Other Studies
  • Homburguer et al, 2015, PloS ONE Genetics: 67% european, 28% amerindian ancestry, 4% african and 1,4% asian.
  • Avena et al, 2012, PloS ONE Genetics: 65% european, 31% amerindian ancestry, and 4% african.
  • Buenos Aires Province: 76% european and 24% others.
  • South Zone (Chubut Province): 54% european and 46% others.
  • Northeast Zone (Misiones, Corrientes, Chaco & Formosa provinces): 54% european and 46% others.
  • Northwest Zone (Salta Province): 33% european and 67% others.
  • Discovery Studies: 52% european, 27% amerindian ancestry, 9% african and 9% others.
  • References

    Ethnic groups of Argentina Wikipedia

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