Nélida Wisneke is Afro-Argentine. This teacher and writer says her ancestors were slaves who fled Brazil in the 19th century. At 55, she will see her ethnic identity recognized for the first time in the new national census: Argentina asks all the inhabitants of the country if they are descendants of Africans or indigenous people, one of the main novelties of the census and much celebrated. by the entire Afro-Argentine community.
“The state is starting to repay the historic debt it owes us. For the community, this is extremely important, because based on this data, it will be possible to develop public policies to emerge from invisibility and be able to access fundamental rights,” adds Wisneke, author of the novel. No te olvides de los que nos quedamos (or Don’t forget those of us who stay).
“I think this is a historic moment for the Afro-Argentine community because this census represents the fruit of several years of struggle. Beyond statistical data on economic and socio-demographic conditions, which are important to move towards a more inclusive society, it is also very important that they make the community visible. It changes the Eurocentric and colonial paradigm with which our society was designed,” explains musician Emanuel Ntaka, now head of the Afro program of the Argentine Ministry of Culture.
In the previous census, conducted in 2010, there was a question about Afro-Argentine identity as a sample in some forms, but not all. Now, it is one of 61 questions included in the survey that will be conducted across the country. The 2010 census recorded that nearly 150,000 people perceived themselves as of African descent, 10 times fewer than the estimate made by community leaders.
In the 12 years since then, Ntaka explains, Afro-descendant organizations have worked to try to reverse decades of policies of invisibility and social homogenization. Still, it is possible that the number is lower than the actual number because there are people of African descent who choose not to see themselves as such.
Prejudices set in from childhood, even at school. “In school events, the representation of Afro-Argentine is picturesque. They are the empanada sellers, the porridge sellers, the laundresses… it is the place that we Afro-descendants occupy in the construction of this country. But in reality, the African influence is everywhere, from the war of independence to culture, with influence in music, in cuisine, in language,” Ntaka points out.
In an official video released last week for the census, prominent Afro-Argentines appear proudly talking about their ancestors. “I am Miriam Victoria Gómes, I was born in the province of Buenos Aires and I belong to the Cabo Verdean community of Dock Sud,” says one of the people featured in the video. Ntaka says he is the son of a teacher from Argentina’s Santiago del Estero province and a South African singer and activist father. “Collecting data on our living conditions is going to be a necessary tool for public policy,” says actress Silvia Balbuena, a descendant of slaves who arrived in Argentina in the 15th century.
One of the community’s goals is to combat structural racism in Argentine society. Wisneke has experienced this first-hand: she is the only one of 10 siblings to have completed her studies. Born into a peasant family in Misiones, in the far northeast of Argentina, this teacher says her ancestors were slaves. “They came from Brazil and settled in Misiones. They were part of the quilombos [settlements], which nobody talks about here”, she points out as an example of the visibility of this community in a country proud of its European roots but not of the others. “Very recently, in the city of Córdoba, a plaque was inaugurated in commemoration of the first sale of slaves, in 1588. The African presence in Argentina is very old”, emphasizes Wisneke.
🇦🇷 Hoy conmemoramos el Día Nacional de las/los afroargentinas y afroargentinos y de la cultura Afro.
“Afrofragmentos” is an audiovisual project with the contribution of las/los afroargentinas y afroargentinos a nuestra historia y nuestra cultura.
👉🏿 https://t.co/JJh8R8lhsB pic.twitter.com/n4qFuTHh9k
— Cultura Nation (@CulturaNacionAR) November 8, 2020
Ntaka was 23 when a group of skinheads attacked him at a bus stop in 2001. “You fucking black man, go back to your country,” he heard them shout before they started beating him until which he loses consciousness. What country did we want him to return to if Argentina was the country he was born in? With this question in mind, the attack became the starting point of his activism for the rights of the Afro-Argentine community. The census will offer a first x-ray of who they are and how they are doing.