Italians in Argentina:
A Virtual Exhibit
"Argentina is very Italian" is something you often hear. What does that mean?
In this exhibit, you can learn more about the history of Italian immigration to the country from the 1850s to the 1950s. There are stories about Italian influences on food and dance, Jewish-Italian refugees, and Italian missionaries among Indigenous people. These videos, songs, blogs, and maps aim only to give a snapshot of Italian immigration to Argentina.
Italians came from all over the peninsula, and they settled in many parts of Argentina. But in the beginning, as the liberal republic looked to Europe to transform its economy and expand westward and southward onto Indigenous lands, “Italians” overwhelmingly from in and around the port city of Genoa. Shipping routes and personal networks were fundamental in enabling some people to migrate while others – in Italy and elsewhere in Europe – did not catch emigration for several more decades.
Italian immigration to Argentina is the ensemble of millions of individual experiences.
Many people came for work and opportunity. Knowing somebody who was already in the country was an important factor in encouraging others to similarly seek work and opportunity.
Others left because they had to. In the 1930s, Argentina welcomed (albeit hesitantly) approximately 40,000 Jewish refugees. Most came from Germany and few from Poland and eastern Europe. Some Italian Jews also came to Argentina, following the well-worn paths of millions of other Italians. Learn about the objects that refugees brought with them in this curator’s article about Elena Pirani and Mario Lowenthal, who arrived in Buenos Aires in 1938.
What is more Argentine than tango?
Yet it was not only a music and dance that immigrants – especially Italians – produced but it is something clearly marked by the multicultural environment of Buenos Aires in the first half of the twentieth century. Many famous tangos relate the immigrant experience, including stories of sadness, nostalgia, and estrangement. Tango lyrics are also filled with Lunfardo, a hybrid language that emerged in Buenos Aires that was highly influenced by Piedmontese, Lombard, Venetian, Tuscan, Neapolitan, Calabrian, Sicilian, and Genoese. Many distinctive words in Argentine Spanish (mina, cana, guita, fiaca, morfar, etc) come from this mixing and perhaps live on because of their prevalence in classic tangos.