Buenos Aires is one of the largest urban areas in the world. Approximately 3 million people live in Buenos Aires proper, and 13 million people in the Greater Buenos Aires metropolitan área.
Ethnicity in Buenos Aires is a topic that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while as I’ve been studying Spanish here for many months and the city´s cultural abundancy interests me so much. After my first arrival to BsAs a couple of years ago, I instantly realised what a cultural melting pot this city was. Walking down any street in this city and you are able to see, hear and experience multiple Spanish accents, skin tones, body and face structures, styles of dress and of course, numerous languages. All of these things have contributed to my staying long-term as this diversity is exactly what I’m looking for out of an overseas experience. In my opinion, it’s these qualities that have allowed so many foreigners to fall in love with this place and end up staying months or even years.
So, amazingly 85% of Argentina’s population traces back to European heritage-an incredible figure right? The other 15% comprises of populations from neighbouring nations, Asian, Native American, African American and Middle Eastern backgrounds. As migration flows to Buenos Aires and Argentina are constantly shifting, the composition of the community is changing with that. As you can imagine, what results is a very complex intermixing of races, sharing of traditions and consequently a very interesting city to explore in terms of cuisine, religious celebrations, architecture and people-watching!
Despite this constant state of cultural change stemming from immigration in Argentina, I would like to mention just a few ethnic groups here that may not be obvious to the tourist’s eye. Sometimes to see and experience this ethnic diversity, it’s worth a short ride to Buenos Aires’ more residencial neighbourhoods.
Spaniards and Italians are the largest and most influential of the several European ethnic groups in Argentina. The first wave of Spaniards and Criollos came in the 16th century with the exploration and further expeditions of the continent. By 1778, there were 25000 living in the región. A further census in 1824 noted Buenos Aires city had 55,416 inhabitants, of which 40,000 were of European descent. From the year 1856, policies were implemented that encouraged massive European immigration. Consequently, Argentina’s population almost doubled with arrivals of European immigrants from Italy, Spain, Germany, Wales, Poland, Croatia, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and Belgium. Smaller but significant numbers of immigrants included those from France, Austria, Hungary, England, Scotland and Ireland.
Obviously many of these European races consist of having quite fair complexions, therefore it is very easy to assume someone on the street or in a bar is a fellow traveller, only to then discover that they are actually from here. I still experience this often and it’s always one awesome surprise (especially when you are able to practice your Spanish with them and they are always happy to help).
Moving onto one of the largest minority groups here in Argentina-there are an estimated 180 000 Argentines of Asian ancestry! 120 000 of these are of Chinese descent, 2 000 of Japanese descent, 25 000 of Korean descent, and 2 000 of Lao descent. Consequently, it’s of no surprise that their culture has become a part of modern Argentine society.
In Buenos Aires, the “Jardín Japonés” (Japanese Garden and Teahouse) has become a traditional landmark of the city since its opening 30 years ago.
Koreans live primarily in Balvanera and Flores (where the Koreatown is located) districts of Buenos Aires, and are mainly involved in the manufacturing and selling of textiles.
The Chinese group of immigrants were largely entrepreneurs who settled in Buenos Aires during the 1990s. There is a Chinatown with a Buddhist temple in Belgrano. Much of the population are involved with grocery retailing which has caused Chinese-owned stores to become a common feature of Buenos Aires and referred to as simply ´chinos´. Other important businesses include textile manufacture and buffet-style restaurants. Aside from generating local businesses, the Chinese have made their mark in the country in many other ways. Mandarin Chinese has become increasingly prominent in Argentina, as it is considered an appealing language to learn and master in business, given the expanding Chinese market and its rising clout in international diplomacy, trade and finance in South America. Today, Chinese are the fastest growing community in Buenos Aires.
Today, approximately 250,000 Jews live in Argentina. It is the largest Jewish community in Latin America, the third-largest in the Americas (after that of the United States and Canada), and the sixth-largest in the world. The neighborhoods of Villa Crespo, Belgrano and especially Once (the oldest and most traditonal) are home to thriving Jewish communities where you’ll find synagogues, kosher restaurants, delis, butchers, supermarkets, panaderias, and other supplies of needs for those who keep kosher. Amazingly enough there is also a kosher McDonald’s in Abasto Shopping Centre in Once.
In town, the Israeli Congregation Synagogue, otherwise known as the ¨Liberty Temple¨ was the first synagogue built in Buenos Aires and declared a National Historical Monument in 2000. The building next door houses the Jewish Museum of Buenos Aires. Go to Plaza Lavalle (Libertad 733) to see these beautiful monuments.
Argentina has the largest mosque and Muslim population in Latin America. It is home to nearly one million Muslims, representing 2.5% of the total population. Between 1860 and 1954 many Armenians, Syrians, Iranians and Lebanese came to Argentina as a consequence of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Second World War and of the Iranian Revolution.
The Armenian community of Argentina in particular has maintained its identity with flying colors thanks to its devotion to the church, school and the family structure. Also, visit the neighbourhoods of Once, Villa Crespo, y Calle Armenia in Palermo Soho to experience the best of Arab food and atmosphere.
Since the 1980s, much immigration from Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru has had a huge impact on ethnic society here in Buenos Aires as much of the population are here without the appropriate visas. However, the Argentine Government has launched a program to encourage ilegal immigrants to regularize their status. Putting the illegality aside, this immigration has brought prosperity too like increased work opportunity, and sharing of traditions.
As I lived in centro for the first few months of my stay here, I frequently stumbled across great cultural street parties on the weekends, usually on Avenida 9 de Julio (below) or Avenida 25 de Mayo. I came across this one late last year where thousands of Bolivian dancers and musicians were performing on the widest avenue in the world and it was truly one of the coolest things I’ve ever witnessed.
Happy exploring in Buenos Aires and I’m sure you will love these cultural aspects of the city!