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Nearly a decade ago, María Eugenia Lamadrid, founder of Africa Vive–a grassroots organization that promotes knowledge of Black history and identity in Argentina–was detained by immigration officials in Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport under the pretense that she had presented a falsified passport. Their justification–that Argentina did not have any black citizens. This case of blatant racial discrimination and ‘whiteness watchmanship’ stirred up debate around the world, denting the hardened shell of a collective mentality in which nationalism is synonmous with the myth of universal European citizenship. In “Argentina White,” cultural critic Amy Kaminsky writes, “…the Argentine immigration police detained her for six hours, refusing to believe that she, a Black woman was Argentine. They asked if she spoke Spanish (one sign of Whiteness/citizenship in Argentina) and told her quite simply that her passport could not be real..the anecdote renders literal the metaphorical color line that Blackness cannot cross with a passport, illustrating vividly the color line Argentina draw around, not through, the nation.”

Mapping Progress: National Policies and International Declarations

Albiet an ongoing battle for visibility, this past year has been significant in consciousness raising events– In 2010, Argentina held the first National Festival of Afro-Argentine culture. Likewise, it launched the first national census to include the racial category ‘Afro-Argentine,’ a category which had not be avaliable since 1895. This push to identify the number of citizens of African descent has been crucial to the undoing of a national myth and that has marginalized Afr0-Argentines and deemed them invisible.

This year, the United Nations declared 2011 as the year to celebrate the rich cultures and histories of people of African descent throughout the world. Argentina once again took a huge stride forward by hosting the first National Congress on People of African Descent and Afro-Argentines, of which Afro-descendant delegrates from 7 Latin American countries, as well as Angela Davis and Martin Luther King III convened to discuss various topics pertaining to national and Afro-Diasporic communities.

Most significant has been the ways in which youth have mobilized in response to the declaration, as a group of young leaders from nine Argentine provinces convened last month to discuss current and future actions to promote Afro-Argentine culture, one of which lead to the proposed creation of ‘Red de Jovenes Afrodescendientes de Argentina.”

The promotion of forums such as these, in which the elements of visibility and the celebration of Afro-Argentine history and culture are taken and transformed into a Pan-African and youth-focused debate marks a turning point in Argentina’s monochromatic national narrative. These events are the necessary steps for a positive and impacting cultural intervention.