The world may have its eyes on the election taking place in the north, but November 8th has a different significance in Argentina — The Day of Afro-Argentines and African culture, thanks to a relentless fight to establish law 26.852.
Identity politics is a tricky subject for many, and despite running the risk of sounding like we are getting semantic, it’s important to clear up the working definition of a few things. Afro-Argentines are part of the African Diaspora, an all encompassing term that includes anyone, regardless of nationality, whose ancestors are from Africa. Afroargentino refers to people of African descent who are Argentine citizens, ranging from those whose ancestors were slaves brought directly to Argentine, those whose family have been here for a few generations, and those who are first generation Argentine and citizens. This term is important because there is a general misconception that anyone who appears to be part of the African diaspora can’t be from Argentina, and are either recent immigrants from a country in Africa or from neighboring Brazil.
Then there are recent African immigrants, who move directly from the continent of Africa to Argentina with a large population coming from Senegal. This difference matters, not only to the people whose history it reflects, but also is necessary if a productive discussion on race in Argentina is going to take place. One that goes beyond saying “Argentina doesn’t have Black people”. Because it most certainly does.
November 8th is a day to celebrate all of these groups that are united by their experiences of the African diaspora and the diverse cultures that develop from it. Why do we celebrate on November 8th? This date was chosen to commemorate the death of María Remedios del Valle, an Afro-argentine woman who fought in the War of Independence in 1847. She was known as “Mother of the Nation” by her troops and given the title of Captain by military General Manuel Belgrano.
The Organizing Commission for the National day of Afro-Argentines and local community members planned several days of activities in collaboration with various embassies, non-governmental organizations, and national government committees. These activities create a space for the visibility of diverse practices and manifestations of African culture, while educating people on relevance it has in Argentina’s past, present, and future.
Tuesday through Saturday are filled with chances to join in on the discussion of current issues facing Afro-Argentine and African Diasporic communities, as well as to celebrate their achievements and culture. The opening event on Tuesday takes place at Salón San Martín in the Buenos Aires legislation building (Perú 160) at 6pm. There will be opening remarks from the organizing team of the week, round table discussion on the political advances made by the community, and a few artistic performances. Wednesday through Friday feature various round table discussions tackling topics like the visibility of Afro-histories within schools, decolonized feminism, the youth population as protagonists, and legacy, history, and memory within African Diasporic culture.
The program concludes on Saturday with the Quilombo Festival. This event is described as a “mega-artistic and musical celebration” with artisan goods, traditional foods, live performances, a fashion show of traditional and contemporary styles, and a candombe procession. The festival takes place in Parque Lezama in San Telmo from 12pm to midnight, and the full schedule of events can be seen on their Facebook page.
While this space for discussion and celebration of Afro-Argentines and the African Diaspora is a step in the right direction, there is still a lot of work to be done it terms of recognizing and appreciating the influence this culture has on Argentina. When speaking to Sandra Changes, a prominent Afro-Argentine activist and member of the MATAMBAS organization, she expressed that she demands more from the state and its politicians.
“Since 2013, we have been spreading awareness of the Ley 26852. We have always known about our existence as Black people in Argentine, and the only ones who have questioned this are the various governments of our nation. After three years of having a law to support our community, we are waiting for Education, Human Rights, Social Development, and Culture sectors of government to include us in their politics. This shouldn’t be a request but rather a basic human right.”