Term Paper: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires 1850-1930

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Cousins and Strangers

Moya, Jose. Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos a ires, 1850-1930. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998

Jose Moya wrote his text, Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850-1930 to address what he saw as a deficit in the scholarship of he area. This historical project which was just as important to the author as advancing the book's content and central thesis is stated blatantly and abruptly in the text's introduction. The historian believed that insufficent attention had been paid to the Spanish immigrant community that came to Buenos Aires during the 19th century by contemporary historians, despite the existence of extensive data that would enable a comprehensive study of the area. He believed the absence of an adequate study and history of these people and the location was due more to historian's inconsideration and oversight, and not a lack fo data.

Thus, Moya embarked upon a monograph of the early 19th century period in Argentina, and of these people that immigrated from European Spain to Hispanic South America. Most of these individuals were of the 'lower' or working classes. Yet despite this fact, despite the unlettered status of so many Buneos Aires immigrants, most left extensive historical documentation in their wake. Thus, because this historical area of Spanish immigration to Argentina, according to Moya, was so understudied and underesearched from a quanititative as well as an analytical framework, and the documents crying out for greater research were rotting in files across the nation, he chose the medium of the historical monograph to create as accurate and unbiased a portrait of these Spanish immigrants as possible. He wished to bring the paper legacy they had left into the light of day.

According to Moya, statisically, Buenos Aires in South America had the third largest Spanish population in the world, after Madrid and Barcela in Spain. This surge in population occured after four million Spaniards immigrated to Buenos Aires in the 19th century. Moya suggests that methodologically, the large proportion of the Spanish population that immigrated to Barcelona was ignored by historians because these individuals were not seen as exotic in comparision to other immigrant communities in Argentina. While it is true that the nation as a whole experienced an increased rate of immigration during the 19th century, the Spanish immigrants were viewed in a uniquely complex way, in regards to their Hispanic heritage. They were poor and of working class, yet they spoke Spanish. They were of despised groups and professions, quite often, but they were seen as embodying the local heritage.

Ironically, this is why these immigrants continue to be overlooked by historians. for, despite the tremendous influence the large population had upon local culture, both influencing it and by bringing Spainish influences of the native Iberian penninsula back to Argentina, this has caused the wave of Spanish immigrants to be understudied because they do not seem sufficicently exotic, according to Moya. Moya believes this omission is particularly glaring in history books because, as his quantitative data demonstrates, more than 60,000 individuals left their legacy in historical documents.

Government documents of marriages and births, published censuses of the Argentinian goverment, government statistical analysis of the population, recorded documents catalogued in records of immigrant association groups and unions, as well as more convenitonal primary source documents such as newspapers and magazines travelouges and tourist guides, as well as fiction all coaleses to show a community that was diverse and vibrant and expansive in its class and gender breakdown.

But why did so many individuals leave their native Spain? Moya's central thesis regarding the reasons for immigration is that Argentina provided a familiar territory for oppressed groups, yet also a new mode of 'escape' and uncharted watering hole for working class people who had insufficient opportunities in class-conscious Europe in which to prove their worth and merit. The first chapter of the book suggests that in the 19th century, the economic and social conditions in Europe made it very difficult for the vast majority of prei-mmigratis to feel economically confortable in Spain.

Rather than focus on the period of the greatest immigration, like most historians, from 1880-1930, Moya, instead focuses farther back, durin thee period in Spain when most of the immigrants were still in that nation, struggling with social problems. This helps to better establish the reasons that immigrants left the nation. Thus, the macro perspective Moya provides is more far reaching than most historians, and more encompassing of social documents of a specific variety of targeted local communities.

Moya calls this the 'macro' part of his analysis, his skillfully painted potrait, in statistics and documents, his eye with a broad perspective upon the social community and cultural context the immigrants left. His microhistoric analysis examins various communities, such as the towns, villages, and communities and why certain areas had more immigrants than others. Although powerful in its documentary analysis, this aspect of the book contains certain weaknesses, as the part is meant to stand for the whole, for instance, as several communities come to 'represent' in their totality nonimmgrant conditions, while others are shown as fostering immigrations, the effect upon the reader tends to be either/or, rather than an examination of a constellation of factors contributing to an individaul's decision to stay or leave. Ultimately, although this analysis is called 'micro' it leaves little voice for individuals, and tends to subsume individual immgrant famlies into catagories rather than communities.

The micro analysis proves to be more fruitful when the immigrants come to Buenos Aires, as Moya has more concrete documentary prose as well as statistics to work with. There, the essential conflict between Catillian and non-Catillan immigrants comes to the forefront, through the humor of newspaper editorial pieces, as well as the struggle of allimmigrants to blend into the local population. Individuals did not leave their class beind, moreover, and Moya is unsparing in the fact that there were no Horatio Algers, no meritocracy, for the Spanish immigrants to Argentina, coming to make their fortune in an Old, rather than a New World of immgrants and immigration.

Moya is perhaps at his strongest, not when examining individual communities, but at cataloging in the documents, newspapers, and other prose of the Argentine state the social attitudes towards lower class immigrants. Although Hispanic and seen as a purer connection to true national roots, immigrants were often stigmitized because of a percieved lack of cultural refinement. They were, suggests Moya, much like lower class British immigrants to the United States of the period, an intentially ironic comparision, given the British aristocratic influence present in Argentina. He also suggests simlairites betwene the way Spanish immigrants and Portugese immigrants were greeted with a lack of warmth in Brazil, and French immigrants were despised for their linguistic differences of accent and vocabulary in Canadian Quebec.

However, the very specific local focus on communities, and also upon the micro as well as the macro environment fo Spain and Argentina causes Moya overall to see immigration to be a complex and diffuse process throughout Argentina, creating what he calls dormant chain of social connections, a series of connections that waxes and wanes in its ability to improve the immigrant's lot, that becames inactive under certain circumstances that made life for recent imigrants difficult, but when it changed, economic and political circumstnaces in a highly volatile land, couls be quite helpful in encouraging new immigrants to assimilate, as they come to stand for Argentine, versus British colonizers.

The way immigrants were viewed, and viewed one another, provided a barameter and reading of the way Argentina thus percieved itself.

Argentina saw itself as higher class, refined, and above some of the petty squabbles of the proletariat, and also needed these immigrants to provide vital labor and connections to European Spain. Moya shows these… [END OF PREVIEW]

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