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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Daniel Schávelzon Buenos Aires Negros, Jews and Nazis

I got to meet Daniel Schávelzon a few years ago when my wife was bringing his archeology to Howard University through the Spanish Department. He is an urbane, intelligent and wise person. And he was a friend of my wife. She had even interviewed him on one of our trips to Argentina! I had put his works on the back burner when I moved out here to Brunswick as they'd gotten packed up into Boxes, and as I'm not as connected to Howard as I was while my wife was alive. So it was a shock this week when I was sitting in my living room half awake and recovering from a broken leg. And they did an episode of "Hunting Hitler" -- and who was one of the archeologists helping them?! Daniel Schávelzon!

Argentina is one of my favorite countries. That doesn't mean it doesn't have a sanguinary past. On the contrary Buenos Aires and Montevideo both have a history that is as dark as any Southern City in North America. When we toured some of the archeology sites featured in "Buenos Aires Negro" -- they were exactly like what is in the basements of old houses in Alexandria or Georgetown. Shackles, private prison rooms, torture tools, used to subjugate and control slaves; all in the basements of upscale walk up townhomes (row houses) in fancy neighborhoods. At least places like "La Boca" were painted really pretty. The tourist traps focus on tourism, industry, and Tango. Daniel Schávelzon dug into some of these houses and found evidence of Argentina's past as a majority black city. Argentina, unlike Maryland or Virginia, freed it's slaves 5 or six times before civil wars and new methods of slavery made black chattel slavery uneconomic. The two cities were transhipment points to mines in the West of the country and plantations all over. The origins of Tango were in mulatto communities combining half remembered African religion and dances with European music traditions. Jaz, Tango and most of the really good dance music of the world, were invented by people who would die without the outlet of music and singing.

And so it is that oppressed people who weren't allowed into the USA wound up in Argentina. Jews, Syrians (including what are now known as palestinians), Italians, Spaniards,... We should have sent a copy of the statue of Liberty to Argentina; except many of the immigrants never could "rise" out of poverty.

And Racism has been part of the equation since the beginning. The racist leaders of Argentina tried to deal with their "negro problem" by drafting black folks. The civil wars and regional wars between provinces or between countries like Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina etc... were fought with drafted immigrants and former slaves. The women were left behind and scrambled for a living.

Jews fleeing the Holocaust, some of them, arrived in Argentina. They were followed by Nazis. Maybe even Hitler! The children of those Nazis would run the Argentine Military in the 70s and 80s.

Further Reading

Daniel Schávelzon
Archaeology and architecture prehispanico Ecuador. National Autonomous University of Mexico; 1981. ISBN 968-5800-20-0
Conservation of Cultural Heritage in Latin America. Restoration of pre-Hispanic buildings in Mesoamerica: 1750-1980 Studies in Conservation, Vol 37, No. 4 (Nov. 1992), pp.. 285-286.
Archaeology of Buenos Aires. Editors Emecé. 1999. ISBN 950-04-2044-9
Stories of eating and drinking in Buenos Aires. Editorial Alfaguara Argentina. 2000. ISBN 950-511-659-4
I believe I have a copy of the following:
Black Buenos Aires - Historical Archaeology of a city silenced. Editors Emecé. 2003. ISBN 950-04-2459-2
Tunnels of Buenos Aires, stories, myths and truths of the American Buenos Aires underground. 2005. ISBN 950-07-2701-3 Tourist tenements of Buenos Aires; 2005. ISBN 987-9473-54-X

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