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  • Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found athttp://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=gide20

    Download by: [New York University] Date: 06 February 2016, At: 11:51

    Identities

    ISSN: 1070-289X (Print) 1547-3384 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/gide20

    Taking race seriously: Whiteness in Argentina'snational and transnational imaginary

    Galen Joseph

    To cite this article: Galen Joseph (2000) Taking race seriously: Whiteness in Argentina's nationaland transnational imaginary, Identities, 7:3, 333-371, DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2000.9962671

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1070289X.2000.9962671

    Published online: 04 May 2010.

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  • Taking Race Seriously: Whiteness inArgentina's National and TransnationalImaginary

    Galen Joseph

    Middle class porteos (the inhabitants of Buenos Aires) display theirambivalence about the whiteness of Argentina and their own belong-ing to the nation through their use of the intermittently racializingdiscourse of "seriousness." The discourse of "seriousness" is used totalk about the status of Argentina's political, economic, and cultural"development" and Argentina's place in the global hierarchy ofnations. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Buenos Aires, Argentina(1994-1997), this essay analyzes the contradictions of porteo articula-tions and disarticulations of their own Argentine-ness in relation to racialidentity. The analysis centers on how porteos' assessments of Presid-ent Carlos Menem's representative-ness reflect the instability of racialnorms in contemporary Argentina. Porteos' ambiguous position intheir own national and transnational imaginaryprivileged withinArgentina but marginal in the worldis reflected in their use of racialcategories and racializing discourses.

    Key Words: Argentina, Latin America, Porteos, Racialization, Race,Whiteness, Seriousness, Transnational, Nation

    Those Europeans, the Professor said, had managed to create the greatestinferiority complex that any national culture has ever suffered since theoccupation of Spain by the Moors... I was, according to Maggi, the lastlink in that chain: a Polish intellectual who had studied philosophy inCambridge with Wittgenstein and who ended up in Concordia, Entre

    dainties. Vol. 7(3), pp. 333-371 2000 OPA (Overseas Publishers Association) N.V.Reprints available directly from the publisher Published by license underPhotocopying permitted by license only the Harwood Academic Publishers imprint,

    part of The Gordon and Breach Publishing Group.Printed in Malaysia.

    333

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  • 334 Galen Joseph

    Ros, giving private lessons. In this sense, I tell him, my situation seemedto the Professor like the purest metaphor of the development and secretevolution of Eurocentrism as the cornerstone of Argentine culture since itsinception.

    Ricardo Piglia (1994:110)

    Colonialism. Yes, Argentina and colonialism. Almost two centuries offormal independence, of statehood, and still colonialism. Third World,underdeveloped, dependent and unevenly developed, semi-periphery,south of the North Sure, but still colonialism. A new stage of colonial-ism, neocolonial, of course. But colonial nevertheless. Stubbornly colonial.Incomprehensible. I agree. And this is one of the basic problems for usargentinos: We can't believe it ourselves. The underdeveloping process,the experience of becoming less and less "developed," more dependent,increasingly poor, more harshly exploited, economically and politicallymore polarized, of losing dignity, of compromising unnegotiable values,it is hard to admit.

    Marta Savigliano (1995: 20)

    In the context of Argentina's economic instability and re-demo-cratization efforts in the post-"dirty war" period (post 1983), "beingserious" has become an important criterion for interpreting contem-porary political figures and policies, the state of the nation, andArgentina's place in the world. As it is invoked by middle classpeople in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, the discourse of serious-ness is implicitly linked to middle class anxieties about the ways thatArgentine national identity is and might be racialized. In this article,I argue that racial identity is central to national identity, despite itsambiguity in the Argentine context, by demonstrating how race, asa category of both global and intra-national social hierarchy, isa mode of articulating Argentina's and particular Argentines' poweror lack thereof at critical moments. In these moments, I will suggest,whiteness crystallizes as a form of "cultural capital," a sign ofbelonging to an idealized European or first world community(Bourdieu 1984).1

    In making my claim for the centrality of a particular kind of white-ness in the national identity of middle class porteos (as the inhabit-ants of Buenos Aires are known), I also make a broader argumentabout racialization processes. I suggest that racial ideas can be articu-lated through idioms that appear not to be about race at all, such aseconomic development and democracy. Here I am drawing onDavid Theo Goldberg's argument that racialization can "include anyand all significance extended both explicitly and silently by racial

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  • Taking Race Seriously 335

    reference over discursive expression and practice" (1993: 2). InArgentina, an ideal white identity is implicit in the idioms of serious-ness and civilization through which middle class porteos discussnational identity and the dilemmas of economic development anddemocratic consolidation. These idioms articulate race not as anabsolute and unique medium, but rather as it is imbricated withclass, national, political, and cultural concerns. Through the associ-ation with places and cultures that middle class porteos considerfundamentally white, racialization remains implicit, articulatedthrough idioms like seriousness and civilization rather than throughthe register of biological essentialism. However, phenotypical or bio-logical characteristics crop up at critical junctures, with the effect ofracializing values like democracy and development, and particularcultural styles, people, and geographical locations. Porteos, forexample, claim the European-ness of Buenos Aires and its people,while distancing themselves from various non-white people andplaces (e.g. Indigenous people and the Argentine interior). Thus,Virginia Dominguez's argument that racialization occurs when "dif-ferences between human beings are simplified and transformed intoDifference, overvaluing particular bodily differences by imbuingthem with lasting meaning of social, political, cultural, economic evenpsychological significance" is also germane here (1994: 334). It isthrough the combination of these distinct racializing processesdescribed by Goldberg and Domnguez that Argentine whitenessemerges: indirectly in articulations of seriousness, civilization,European-ness, and first world-ness; and explicitly in porteos' enun-ciations of the simplified and solidified "Difference" of theirvarious "others."

    My interest lies in the contradictions of porteo articulations anddis-articulations of their own Argentine-ness in relation to racialidentity: if we are white, Argentina is white, or if Argentina is notwhite, we are not Argentine. Racial and national categories are notvalued equally. Whiteness, read across national boundaries, appearsmore flexible and enduringapparently more valuable and non-negotiablethan Argentine-ness. The implicit and intermittentlyracializing discourse of seriousness displays porteos' ambivalenceabout the whiteness of Argentina and hence their own belonging tothe nation. Thus, while the category of race has some shared valencesacross the globe, especially as it relates to hierarchy, the particularityof racial discourses in Argentina makes it clear that neither race norwhiteness is a category with universally shared meanings.

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  • 336 Galen Joseph

    RESEARCH METHODOLOGY AND ANALYTIC STRATEGY

    My claims about whiteness in Argentina and about racializationprocesses more generally have implications for research methodo-logy. How does one investigate an implicit discourse of race? I haverelied upon ethnographic immersion and participant-observation(over thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Buenos Aires,primarily in 1994 and 1995) as well as discursive analysis of textualevidence such as historical documentation and literature, politicalcommentary and cartoons, media images, and rumors. This com-bination of methodologies and the various forms of evidence it pro-duces allow for contextualized interpretations of subjects' commentsand for the emergence of patterns across distinct forms of evidence.The comments I cite from formal interviews and informal conversa-tions represent the patterns that emerged.

    A second methodological challenge has been to make sense ofrace in a location where the "natives" do not give it much stock.How does one interpret middle class porteos' claims that race isnot a relevant category in Argentina? Middle class porteos' fre-quent suggestions that race was irrelevant because "there are noblacks here" asserted the irrelevance of race by invoking an inter-national racial hierarchy in which whites are the non-racializednorm and blacks are the quintessentially racialized Other. Further-more, initial suggestions that racism did not exist in Argentinabecause "we are all the same" consistently fell apart upon furtherdiscussion. When I followed up such assertions that race did notmatter, middle class porteos' elaborations revealed that the "we"in the "we are all the same" was quite narrowly defined, excludingpeople from the provinces (el interior) and various immigrantswho, despite their location in Buenos Aires, were not consideredporteos or Argentine. "Race" was not something porteos acknow-ledged having; instead, race appeared to reside outside of BuenosAires if it existed within the nation at all, or outside the nationaltogether. Porteos did not talk spontaneously about being white(bianco), instead employing the term europeo or a specific Europeannationality like italiano. Sometimes they would talk about theArgentine melting pot (crisol de razas), but this generally referred tothe great mix of European people that came to Argentina at the endof the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century (Italian,Spanish, British, German, Russian, Polish etc.), not the mix ofSpanish, Indigenous, and African people who had shared the

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  • Taking Race Seriously 337

    Argentine territory until the late nineteenth century. In contrast,people from various provinces of Argentina were more willing to talkabout race explicitly, particularly in terms of the racism they experi-enced in Buenos Aires, if, for example, they were bajo y morochitoshort and a little dark. While I do not deny the importance of theclass and political divisions that porteos emphasized over race(especially as they are imbricated with racializing practices), orthat my interest in race has something to do with the yanqui obses-sion with the topic as I was sometimes teased, I believe that race inBuenos Aires, like class in the US, is taboo: the proverbial elephantin the room.

    Thus, in arguing that specific concepts of raceproduced loc-ally but within the transnational context of U.S. and European hege-monyare integral to middle class porteos' sense of their ownand their nation's identities, I am interpreting middle classporteos' statements about the unimportance of race as evidence ofits important place in their national identity. Race was used bymiddle class porteos to denote difference from the supposedlyhomogenous norm and to mark various "others" both inside andoutside the nation. It is through middle class porteos' transnationalimaginary (their understanding of their place in the world), aswell as their national imaginary (their understanding of their rela-tionship to others within the nation), that being white becomesmeaningful.

    My focus on the professional and intellectual middle class inBuenos Aires reflects my attempt to address directly the contempor-ary form of an historically predominant Eurocentrism amongArgentina's educated classes. Argentina's once large and prosperousmiddle class (the largest in Latin America for much of this century)has suffered political repression and violence; along with workers,middle class university students were highly represented among thedisappeared victims of the "dirty war" (1976-1983). The economicinstability of that period and the neo-liberal economic restructuringof the past decade have meant the loss of economic standing andsecurity for many in Argentina's middle class. In the context ofArgentina's prosperity in the first decades of the twentieth century,the recent instability has compounded the national nostalgia forArgentina's former wealth and status.2 Buenos Aires, since becom-ing the federal capital in 1880, has increasingly dominated political,economic, and cultural affairs, to the dismay of some in the interiorwho resist the mtonymie quality often assigned to Buenos Aires as

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  • 338 Galen Joseph

    representative of the Argentine nation.3 Like the inhabitants of bothParis and New York, porteos take pride in being in the center of theirworld and in maintaining intellectual and cultural connections to theother important cities of the world. The intellectual and professionalmiddle-classes for whom this image of Buenos Aires holds most trueare the focus of my research.

    I accessed the intellectual and professional middle-class ofBuenos Aires through the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires (CNBA),a magnet school offering a rigorous academic curriculum. Theschool, originally founded by Jesuits for boys in 1617, was trans-formed by the Argentine state in 1863 into the CNBA as part of thepublic education system that aimed to "civilize" the nation. It drawsstudents from all over the metropolitan Buenos Aires area, but moststudents are children of professionals and are descendants of theEuropean immigrants who arrived in Argentina around the turn ofthe century. The school is considered the best in the city, and per-haps the nation; many graduates are leaders in politics, business,and academia.

    The primary subjects of my research included a network ofstudents, professors, administrators, and alumni of the past thirtyyears with whom I conducted in-depth life-history interviews. Whilethere are particular features of the Colegio culture and history thatmake the alumni and others in the "community" unique (see Joseph1999), it is not neatly bounded. The people of the Colegio (and I)interacted with friends, family, and associates who were not directparticipants in life of the Colegio. For this article, I draw on thiswider network of people who, like the Colegio network, belongedto the educated middle classes of Buenos Aires and were mostlydescendants of European immigrants. While I do not discuss theschool directly here, any generalizations I make about middle classporteos are derived from my work with this CNBA centered widernetwork.

    The following analysis of racialization in discourses of Argentinenational identity is structured around middle class porteos' assess-ments of Argentina's President, Carlos Sal Menem (1989-1999), ininterviews and informal conversation and portrayals of him in themedia, political cartoons, and rumors. Menem was elected duringa period plagued by hyper-inflation and a series of military uprisings.He was the second democratically elected President following thereturn to civilian rule in the wake of the "dirty war" (El Proceso deReorganizacin Nacional [the Process of National Reorganization], as

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  • Taking Race Seriously 339

    the military called it) during which an estimated 11,000-30,000people were disappeared. Shortly after taking power, Menempardoned the leaders of the military dictatorship who had been triedand convicted of human rights abuses during the 1980s, successfullyquelling military unrest. In accord with the neo-liberal economicprinciples demanded by the IMF and other international lenders,Menem instituted a series of policies that successfully broughthyper-inflation under control. Inflation remained low throughouthis administration, but various adjustment policies like privatizationand labor "flexibilization" dramatically increased unemploymentand provoked widespread protest and some civil unrest. Neo-liberalreforms such as privatization of state-owned industries and austeritymeasures, in Argentina as in various other countries, have had thedual effect of rapidly expanding growth while creating high rates ofunemployment and spreading impoverishment.4 In Argentina, thelong-established middle classes are among those suffering the mostdramatic changes, and stories about falling from the middle classabounded during my time in Buenos Aires. Thus, while economicstabilization induced a "miracle" growth for some, for others it pro-duced a sense of persistent crisis.

    Generally, the middle class porteos in my study did not likeMenem. Their discussions about Menem, who as President is calledupon to represent the nation, provide striking examples of the idealof being serious and the widely held perception that Argentina hasfailed to attain that ideal. Middle class porteos' evaluations ofMenem as lacking seriousness were based on their perceptions of hislack of erudition and culture, his provincial roots, his "authoritarian"political practices, and his attempts to position Argentina for entryinto the "first world." Because Argentina's racializing discoursesarticulate ideas about race in terms of these issues (erudition,national geography, governing styles), Menem was racializedimplicitly through discourses of seriousness that often appeared notto be about race.

    My analysis centers on how porteos' assessments of Menem'srepresentative-ness reflect the instability of racial norms in contem-porary Argentina. The ambiguous position of middle classporteosprivileged within Argentina, but aware of their marginal-ity in the worldis reflected in their ambiguous use of racial categor-ies and racializing discourses. Argentina's increasing economic andpolitical instability over the course of the twentieth century has posi-tioned the nation uncomfortably in the "third world." Given its

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  • 340 Galen Joseph

    abundant natural resources and former wealth, Argentina alwaysseems poised to (re)enter the community of nations now referredto as "first world." Middle class porteos' struggle to balance aneo-colonial or subaltern global position with a nationally hege-monic position creates a particular set of meanings about whobelongs to the national "we" and what that belonging signifies.Middle class porteos simultaneously assumed that Buenos Aireswas European (the people, the architecture, the culture) and yetwere aware that many people in the places where people have thepower to make meaningful judgements (such as in the first world),do not consider Argentina European. Thus, middle class porteoswere constantly negotiating the norm of European-ness in BuenosAires with the awareness of Argentina's ambiguous place andreputation in the world. The "problem" of the not-quite-white and"backward" provinces emphasized the ambiguity of Argentina'snational identity. Was Buenos Aires enough to carry the nation, orwere the provinces the determining factor in how Argentinawould be evaluated? How might porteos negotiate the contradic-tions between the regions? Furthermore, in recent years, variousfactors, such as the brutality or "barbarism" of the "dirty war,"the loss of the Malvinas (Falklands) War to Britain (1982), hyper-inflation during the late 1980s, and the increased immigration ofnon-Europeans to Argentina/Buenos Aires, have eroded confid-ence that Argentina/Buenos Aires is European and led some toworry about the "Latin Americanization" of Argentina.5 Porteowhiteness thus has become increasingly de-stabilized in thepost-Malvinas, post-dirty war, neo-liberal period during whichMenem has predominated.

    I begin with a brief history of the nineteenth century discourseof civilization and barbarism, which I argue is an element in the "dis-cursive repertoire" through which seriousness becomes meaningfulas a racializing discourse (Frankenberg 1993). As a contemporaryarticulation of civilization, seriousness continues to reflect anxietiesabout Argentina's identity and place in the world. The discussionthat follows clarifies the definition and parameters of the discourseof seriousness. The rest of the article is structured to show linksbetween seriousness and Menem, seriousness and race, and finally,between Menem and race. These links demonstrate how Menem isracialized through the discourse of seriousness. For the sake of clar-ity, this organization imposes an artificial linearity onto a set of asso-ciations that flow in multiple directions.

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  • Taking Race Seriously 341

    CIVILIZATION, BARBARISM, AND THE INSTABILITY OFRACIAL NORMS

    The framework of civilization and/or barbarism came to promin-ence in Argentina through Domingo Sarmiento's 1845 work Facundo.This foundational text, combining historical, biographical, and fictionalnarratives in the services of Sarmiento's political ideologies, describesthe chaos of civil war during the decades following the Revolution of1810 (through which Independence from Spain was established) asfundamentally a struggle between the forces of civilization and bar-barism. The resistance to civilization by barbaric forces was evidentto Sarmiento as he wrote from political exile, characterizing his polit-ical foes who then held power (the caudillo Rosas and the Federalists)as barbarous. For Sarmiento (President of the Argentine Republic1868-1874), who like other nineteenth century Latin Americanleaders was deeply influenced by liberal Enlightenment philosophy,the progress and modernization of the nation required the conquestof barbarism by civilization. In Facundo Sarmiento locates the twoopposing forces of civilization and barbarism not only in politicalideas and policies, but also in national and global geography and inphysical bodies. The following lists provide the set of oppositionsexplicitly articulated by Sarmiento throughout the text:

    Civilization Barbarism

    geography:Cities (esp. Buenos Aires) Pampas, Llanos, rural areasEurope (esp. Northern) South AmericaUnited States of North America Arab world, Africa, Latin America

    politics:Unitarian Party Federalist PartyLiberals ConservativesPatriots RoyalistsEjecutivos CongresistaConsolidated Central Govt. Confederation of ProvincesConstitutional rule Arbitrary ruleScientific Warfare Brute forceRule by law, civil order Rule by terroreducated uneducated, ignorant

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  • 342 Galen Joseph

    society lack of societyprogress anti-progressChristianity 'superstition'bodies:

    Northern Europeans Indians, Africansfair skin dark skinclean uncleanmind body/matterEuropean clothing Indigenous clothing

    The length of these lists indicates the extent to which the civiliza-tion/barbarism dichotomy dominates Sarmiento's vision. However,while these lists may suggest that Sarmiento's vision of the divide isclear, defined, and composed of impermeable categories, the sociolo-gist Maristella Svampa argues that two versions of the dichotomystructure the text: civilization or barbarism, and civilization andbarbarism. The first (as I described above) sets up the two as dis-cretely opposed forces: barbarism must be eradicated for civilizationto be established. Here, Sarmiento articulates his political agenda, hisrationale for eliminating his political rivals. The second acknow-ledges that civilization and barbarism co-exist during the evolutionaryprocess of progress. Thus, some categories, like Spain, embodyaspects of both civilization and barbarism (Svampa 1994:46-54). In his1883 [1961] book Conflictos y armonas de las razas en Amrica, (Conflictsand Harmonies of the Races in America) Sarmiento elaborates theracial component of his civilizing and modernizing project forArgentina, exhibiting the increasingly prevalent biological concep-tions of race and eugenic "science" that undergird the "whitening"strategies of many Latin American leaders in the late nineteenth andearly twentieth century.6

    Despite the ambiguity of Facundo, racialized conceptions of whatcivilizing the nation meant led to real political policies that trans-formed the nation drastically during the so-called Modern LiberalEra of 1880-1930. Articulated in terms of a liberal, positivist discourseof progress and modernization, the goal of civilizing the nationdepended upon consolidating the national government, building anational economy, expanding public education, and "whitening" thepopulation. While the genocide of Native Americans in the Argentineterritory began long before the 1870s "Conquest of the Desert," thiscampaign was the final broad military assault to "clear the pampas"

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  • Taking Race Seriously 343

    and make room for the immigrants who were to help "civilize"Argentina (Martinez-Sarasola 1992)7 A disproportionate number ofAfro-Argentines were sent to the front lines in this campaign, whileimmigrants were welcomed as the bearers of civilization.8 However,the apparent "success" of the "whitening" component of the civiliz-ing mission was not necessarily viewed as such. Rather than thedesired Anglo-Saxons, the immigrants were primarily of peasantbackgrounds from Southern and Eastern Europe, and a significantnumber were from the middle and far east. Hence they did not fullysatisfy the expectation that they would bring civilization with them.At this time, not all of Europe was considered equally civilized or"white" (Harrison 1995: 50).

    Immigrant labor activism, the rise of anarchist, socialist, and com-munist parties, and the political incorporation of immigrants andtheir children through the establishment of universal male suffragein 1912 instilled fear in many among the governing elite. These con-servative elites (e.g., Manual Glvez, Gonzales and Ricardo Rojas,and Leopoldo Lugones) rejected immigration as the solution to Argen-tine barbarism and as the source of Argentina's modern identity. Inthe first decade of the twentieth century, they began to offer anationalism, supported by a revisionist historiography, that wouldvindicate the formerly "barbarous" as the true Argentine civiliza-tion. They deemed the mystical gaucho (cowboy) and criollo (descend-ants of Spanish colonizers) culture to be the basis of Argentina's truecivilization rather than the "exotic" European culture so admired bythe liberal elite. In the conservatives' view, the immigrants (withtheir material rather than spiritual interests and their potentialfor creating a "mulatocracia" or "gringocracia" [Glvez]) were thebarbarous threat to the social order (Svampa 1994: 89-107).

    This inversion of the meanings of civilization and barbarism is onein a series of important transformations throughout the twentiethcentury that demonstrates the instability of racial categories andracializing practices.9 While "civilization or barbarism" took hold asthe filter through which cultural, political, and economic ideas wereviewed, racial identity often functioned as a sign of civilization orbarbarism, rather than as equivalent to one or the other. For Sarmientoand others who subsequently employed the terms, civilized and bar-barous were, at times, racialized subjectivities, but they were notessentially civilized and barbarous according to race alone. Racial-ization was contingent on many factors specific to time and place aswell as Argentina's position in the global hierarchy (Gregory and

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  • 344 Galen Joseph

    Sanjek 1994; Harrison 1995; Jackson and Penrose 1993; Shaw 1995;Stepan 1991; Stoler 1995). The flexibility and contradictions of categor-ies like civilization and barbarism, and of the racial categories thatare sometimes attached to them, do not however, reduce their powerto produce meaning and material effects (Balibar and Wallerstein1991; Gilroy 1987; Harrison 1995; Twine 1998; Wade 1993).

    WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SERIOUS?

    In December of 1994, the headline on the opinion page of La Nacin,one of Argentina's main newspapers, asked, "Are we a nation of seriouspeople?" Under the rubric of this vexing question, Abel Posse, anArgentine novelist writing from Prague, like many Argentines beforehim, pondered the paradoxes of the Argentine condition through theimpressions of a foreign observer. In this case, the observer wasPosse's Irish friend, J. W. Kilkenny, an "anarchist conservative" con-sultant for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Develop-ment. According to Posse, Kilkenny is a true friend of Argentina. Heis an expert at getting out of Ezeiza airport without being ripped offby the taxi driver, and while he understands that "Buenos Airesbreathes many levantine tricks,... he is consoled thinking that it issomething of an ideal cross: a peripheral Europe wisely relieved bythe napoleonic tumult, an almost tropical city where one at timesencounters the discrete cold of Milan." Yet, despite Kilkenny's gen-erous evaluation of Buenos Aires as an "ideal cross" of East, West,North, and South, and his amused response to the "disquieted frivolity"of government ministers contradicting each other and their presidenton morning radio shows (something that apparently would not occurin Britain), Posse is troubled. He warns his Argentine readers that:

    It is this self-control or good sense to which the French refer when speakingabout the "seriousness" of being or not being serious. It is a very subtle,indirect value that should not be neglected. A country whose conduct whenevoked makes one smile, runs the risk of paying very highly and for a longtime for its loss of reputation.

    The men of the Generation of '80 and the conservatives who followed10made a great effort to affirm the concept of Argentina as a serious nation(at times to an extent that reached the solemn and starched). The Sarmientineeducation was the indispensable iveapon. Can a country that is not seriousdespite extreme efforts to organize its macro economy and its account ofexternal payments be internationally trustworthy?

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  • Taking Race Seriously 345

    It is an educational problem that depends primarily on the example and style ofthe political class. Also responsible are those who manage the so total anddangerous power of the audiovisual mass media.

    Through the comments of Kilkenny, unconditional friend of Argentinato the depths, I can intuit that he sees us won over by bad taste/vulgarity, bya dangerous, shameless hubbub that is undoing us to the four winds (Posse1994). (my emphasis)

    Posse thus answers his own question. No, Argentina is not anation of serious people. The Argentines' resigned acceptance of thefoolishness and frivolity of government ministers and other socialactors disturbingly suggests to Posse that these are the norms: theministers are displaying bad taste and the people are "won over" byit. Yet, Posse implicitly raises other questions. Can Argentina becomeserious, in the manner that the French describe it, and what wouldthat take? Or is Argentina merely destined to be a "fun country," thatis, at best, only an exotic and romantic place, perhaps magically real,and at worst, a chaotic mass of uneducated, vulgar, and shamelesspeople led by frivolous and corrupt politicians and media moguls?

    For Posse, the kind of nation Argentina is depends centrally onmatters of "self-control," political style, education, and taste: beingcultured in a particular way. Being cultured matters here because itreflects and affects Argentina's "reputation," its "international trust-worthiness," and hence the capacity of its economy to develop andits people to feel a sense of belonging to an international bourgeoisiedominated by European and US cultural standards. Posse suggeststhat education should be the tool for insuring the spread of serious-ness, much as it was used to "civilize" the masses in the late nine-teenth-century and nationalize immigrants in the early twentieth.By focusing on education, Posse hones in on the aspect of "culturalcapital" that might be controlled, and which also might work tocounter any perceived deficiencies in social origins based on race orclass. Partly a question of class, Bourdieu's concept of "cultural cap-ital" articulates an "aesthetic disposition" based on education andsocial origins that requires a distance or "withdrawal from neces-sity," and produces the ability to consume legitimate forms of cul-ture such as art or music (1984: 53-5). The stakes in the "subtle andindirect value" of seriousness lie, according to Posse, with issues ofeconomic development and political styles. Development, the surestsign of first world-ness, depends upon creating a safe and trust-worthy environment for investment: i.e. economic and politicalstability. Such stability has been especially scarce since the decade

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  • 346 Galen Joseph

    leading up to the "dirty war." Democracy and freedom from corrup-tion, while not required for foreign investment, operate as culturalcapital in contemporary global political-culture and as symbols offirst world-ness in Argentina. Given Bourdieu's argument that hav-ing cultural capital is about having the ability to make social distinc-tions and maintain social hierarchies, I consider not only what countsas being serious, but also how being serious might translate intoArgentine power in the global hierarchy of nations. That is, how isbeing serious an element in a transnational imaginary of belongingto the civilized or first world? I am suggesting that Posse's question,"Are we a nation of serious people?," while explicitly a questionabout national identity, taps into middle class porteos' anxietiesabout the ways that Argentine identity was and might be racializedin the global context.

    SCRUTINIZING MENEM FOR SIGNS OF SERIOUSNESS

    Porteos employed seriousness as a criterion to assess Menem'sachievements and policies primarily in relation to three areas: eco-nomic development, i.e. how Menem as President representsArgentina's first or third world-ness; democracy, or how muchMenem's authoritarianism and reputed corruption interfere withArgentina's process of democratization; and the culture associatedwith the capital city of Buenos Aires, i.e. how Menem's provincialbackground, Syrian roots, and personal style locate him within middleclass porteos' cultural value system. Thus, middle class porteosinterpreted Menem's identitythe son of Syrian immigrants whowas raised in, and began his political career in, the interior provinceof La Riojaand the physical characteristics they associated with it,as a lens for reading his appropriateness as Argentina's nationalleader and global representative. His identity provided material fortapping into the long-standing struggles over the meaning of Argen-tina's history as a nation of immigrants and the racialized dividebetween the (European/modern) capital city of Buenos Aires andthe (indigenous/undeveloped) provinces.

    In the Argentine winter of 1995, shortly after his re-election,Menem proposed a plan to solve the capital city's airport problemsby building an island in the middle of the Rio de la Plata." Menemsuggested that the national and international airports could be com-bined on this island, which would be connected to the city of BuenosAires by a three kilometer bridge. It would be closer to downtown

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    Buenos Aires than the international airport, now an hour away. Itwould create jobs during a time of high unemployment in BuenosAires and would free up expensive river front property, where thenational airport is currently located, for other uses such as luxuryresidences. The city, known to have its back to the river upon whichit sits, could finally face the shore.

    This island airport project became fodder for Menem's detractors.Building an island was received as an absurd proposition in a countryperceived since the nineteenth century to be "empty." The often-repeated nineteenth century pronouncement "to govern is to populate"articulated the problem of Argentina's "emptiness" or under popu-lation, and provided one of the rationales for immigration (Alberdi1979). In this context, the idea of creating more landa landfillislandseemed an extravagant irony.12 How could such an illogicalplan be taken seriously?

    Menem proposed the island project in the wake of his re-electionby nearly fifty percent of the vote, a victory often explained by therelative political and economic stability his administration hadachieved.13 He touted the benefits of the island project in terms of theemployment and new housing it would generate; however, in thecontext of Menem's anti-labor policies, cutbacks in social spending(e.g., higher education), and 18% unemployment in Buenos Aires,the project seemed unlikely to contribute substantively to solving thecomplex economic problems facing the country. Economists, envir-onmentalists, and airline executives were in remarkable accord withthe middle classes (many of whom had voted against Menem) intheir opposition to the extravagant idea. But Menem held onto themagical plan for months, as if, one middle class portea named Sara14suggested, he were a character in a Garcia-Marquez novel. Likemany porteos, Sara referred to the literary style of magical realismas a sign of Latin American-ness; such references were meant toillustrate Argentina's distance from the supposed rationality, con-trol, and intelligibility of the Anglo-Saxon world. Kilkenny, hadhe observed this episode, might have been amused, but Saraexplained the airport proposal to me as one more piece of evidencethat President Menem was not a "serious" person, and that despitehis successful re-election, he was not suited to run the country. Thisproposal did not display "good sense;" rather it was frivolous whencompared to real economic solutions. Though it might create somejobs and river-front luxury housing for the beneficiaries of Menem'sneo-liberal policies, it was the kind of extravagant project in which

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  • 348 Galen ]osephrich countries, not Argentina, might indulge. Menem's failure torecognize that this project was absurd, i.e. beyond Argentina's reach,made him seem "not serious." Acting as if Argentina were a rich (ser-ious) country despite evidence to the contrary, paradoxically high-lighted Argentina's third world-ness and Menem's own lack ofseriousness. While this island project proposal may seem like anordinary political blunder, its interpretation by middle class porteoslike Sara through the discourse of "being serious" reflects suchconcerns about national identity such as the struggle for a morepowerful position in the global hierarchy of nations against thedecline of Argentina's economic position, the struggle for democracyagainst a history punctuated by authoritarianism, and the desire tobe cultured, educated, and tasteful according to European/Westernstandards.

    Menem was a source of embarrassment to many porteos, who,though they may have been awed by his political skills and hubris,and even may have admitted that his neo-liberal economic policiesbenefited them, found him sorely lacking the culture and taste theywould have liked to see in a national leader. People would mockMenem for his poor speech and provincial accent, and for the frivol-ities he engaged in, such as plastic surgery and cavorting with supermodels and international movie or rock stars who passed throughBuenos Aires. Many believed the rumor that he had bought his lawdegree. And many criticized Menem for his authoritarian tendencies,most frequently citing his decision to pardon leaders of the militaryconvicted of human rights abuses,15 his extended term as president,and his authoritarian style of rule.16 In a variety of contexts, and inrelation to a variety of topicsthe island project and economicpolicy, democratization and corruption, and his personal stylePresident Menem's lack of seriousness was routinely condemned.

    RACIALIZINC SERIOUSNESS: RACIALIZING MENEM

    I taught a few private English conversation classes with middleclass porteos while living in Buenos Aires. (My students were usuallyfriends of my research subjects who needed short-term help to pre-pare for work assignments or vacations English-speaking countries).During a class with Elena, a freelance advertising producer in hermid-thirties, I asked her about her career: how long had she beenworking in this field? How had she gotten into it? Did she like it?

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  • Taking Race Seriously 349

    She had left the university, she told me, where she had begun tostudy philosophy, because of the military dictatorship. The faculty ofphilosophy and letters was one of the most severely repressed at theUniversity of Buenos Aires: it was temporarily closed down, and anumber of students and faculty were disappeared. Elena never wentback. She became an actress instead, she told me, because it was asafer way to deal with her anger at the military. "The democracy wehave now is better than the military but it is still not good," she con-tinued. "It is not a good democracy, but I don't do anything about it,I don't know why; to defend myself, I say that I am informed; butto stay informed is hard... I try to read foreign information, to get adifferent perspective."

    Her train of thought seemed to shift, as she talked about this for-eign information. She mentioned the problems in the Middle Eastand the rise of fundamentalist movements throughout the world.Then she began to comment on President Menem. Perhaps talkingabout the Middle East and fundamentalism reminded her that herPresident was the son of Syrian immigrants (this conversation withElena took place in December of 1994, only a few months after theterrorist attack on Argentina's main Jewish center, which provokedsuspicion about Menem's ties to the Middle East). "I don't likeMenem because he is not a serious person. Why do I know about hiswife, his kids, his girlfriends, but I don't know anything about [formerPresident] Alfonsin's personal life? It is Menem's fault, not the faultof the press."

    Alfonsin was the first democratically elected President ofArgentina after the military dictatorship. He oversaw the prosecutionof the military generals who had led the "dirty war." While deeplyrespected by supporters for his human rights principles and demo-cratization achievements, his failure to control hyper-inflation orproduce economic stability, combined with concessions in the pro-secution of the military in response to uprisings by military factions,led him to hand over the presidency to president-elect Menem sixmonths prior to the end of his term.17

    Elena then described a photograph she had seen in the newspaperfrom the Cumbre de las Americas, the meeting of heads of state of allAmerican nations (except Cuba) held in Miami in 1994. One of theissues at stake in that meeting was if and when Argentina and otherSouth American nations might be able to join NAFTA. As Elenadescribed it, President Clinton and his wife Hillary were picturedstanding next to and towering over, Menem and his daughter (who,

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  • 350 Galen Joseph

    since his divorce, often stood in as his First Lady). Elena said: "dospersonas, dos indiostwo people, two Indians. We are not of the firstworld." "What were those indios desubicadosthose out of placeIndiansdoing there? They were not where they belong."

    I asked if she included herself in the phrase "we are not of the firstworld." She responded: "I am not sure if I am Argentine, I couldhave a German passport, as my mother did, but I don't speakGerman so what would I do with it?" She claimed that many people inBuenos Aires feel this way, that is, not sure if they are Argentine orif they have a country at all. Indeed, this ambivalence about nationalbelonging was a sentiment I encountered often during my research.

    The progression of Elena's train of thought progressed from dictator-ship and democracy to concerns about Argentina's place in the world(how foreigners view them and her preference for foreign information),to the concern with Menem as Argentina's representative in interna-tional meetings, to a racialization of Menem as a de-humanized andout-of-place Indian, to ambivalence about where Menem and Elenaherself each belongsin Argentina? the first world? Europe (Ger-many)? This train of thought linked the set of issues (democrat-ization, economic development, and cultural European-ness) at theheart of middle class porteos' struggle over their national identity.The full significance of these issues can only be appreciated whentaken together; their inextricability reveals how each issue contrib-utes to the weighty dilemma about Argentina's place and powerorlack thereofin the world. The racializing piece of this web of dis-courses clearly evokes questions of power as it provides ground forstruggling over the ambiguities of Argentine national identity.

    Elena's train of thought references three racializing frameworksapplied to Menem and issues of seriousness. First, given the negativeconnotations of the term indio in Argentina, Elena's striking refer-ence to Menem as an Indian simultaneously denigrates him as anuncivilized, racial Other to the Argentine norm and ideal, and racial-izes categories against which the term is juxtaposed: economic devel-opment, democracy, education, and culture. Indio becomes a metonymfor Argentina's lowly place in the world. Second, while Menembegan his national political career attempting to fashion himself afterthe nineteenth century caudillos (personalist, charismatic, rural, oftenillegitimate leaders), since winning the Presidency in 1989, he has, inalmost full-sight of the Argentine public attempted to transformhimself into a "civilized," porteo sophisticate. Third, as the son ofSyrian immigrants who had settled in the Province of La Rioja in the

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  • Taking Race Seriously 351

    1910s, Menem was popularly viewed as a turco (Turk). It is in the per-ceived disjuncture between the ideals and hopes for the Argentinenation and the state of decline and disappointment in the failureto meet them, that Menem slips and slides among the categories ofArgentine President, indio, caudillo, and turco. For middle classporteos, each of these terms correlates with a particular aspect ofArgentina's history and national identitythe oft-negated Indianpast, the capital-provincial divide, and immigration. Furthermore,the terms indio, caudillo, and turco represent Argentina's failuresin these areasthe "backwardness" of the interior, and the survivalof some indigenous people, who most quintessentially representArgentina's "backwardness," third-world-ness and lack of develop-ment, and Arab (and southern/eastern European) rather than Anglo-Saxon immigration.

    MENEM EL INDIO

    Howin Elena's termsdid Menem, the son of Syrian immigrants,become an indio? I suggest that this discursive trick was possiblebecause of the specific cultural meanings attached to Indian-ness inArgentina and the specific ideals of the Argentine nation, which asPresident, Menem is called upon to represent. Indian-ness was posedas both the opposite of and a hindrance to the Argentine ideal. Thus,when Elena called Menem an Indian, she called attention to his inad-equacies, and concisely summed them up. The image conveyed herunderstanding of him as both causing and representing Argentina'sfailure to achieve its ideal European culture and the economic devel-opment necessary for belonging in the "first world." Menem's "bar-barism" actively resisted the efforts of civilization and may even havecontaminated the "civilization" that had already been achieved.

    For Elena to call Menem an Indian, simultaneously confirms andraises doubts about the European-ness that middle class porteoswant to claim. To call him an "out of place Indian" is to re-assert thatArgentina might be European, and hence should not have an"Indian" leader. Menem the indio is out-of-place as Argentina's repres-entative on the global stage alongside Clinton, but another Argentinemight not be such a misfit. If Argentina is white, Menem is not suitedto be its leader; he is out of place. By calling Menem an Indian, Elenamarks alterity within the boundaries of the nation, and that makesElena question her own belonging there. If Argentina is not white,Elena might not want to be Argentine. As a descendent of Europeans,

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  • 352 Galen Joseph

    she is out of place in Argentina, belonging instead in Europe. Butshe also recognizes that she does not quite belong in Europe. Shesuggests that she has access to German citizenship, but might notbelong there because of her linguistic (cultural?) difference. Elenawas not unique in expressing such ambiguity and confusion aboutwhere she belongs, and about what criteria best explain belongingrace, citizenship, culture (language). Other middle class porteosI talked with discussed their Argentine-ness as an accident, a fluke ofimmigration: their ancestors might just as easily have ended up inNew York (as mine did) rather than in Buenos Aires when they leftEurope at the turn of the century. Still others expressed a sense ofhome when they traveled to Italy or Spain. That is, there was nothingnatural or destined about middle class porteos' connection to theArgentine territory. Instead, they expressed that their destiny wasin the first world: after all, they were descendants of Europeans, andArgentina's wealth at the beginning of the twentieth century sug-gested where Argentina could and should be in the future (see note2). While Buenos Aires might feel like home, the rest of Argentina,like Latin America, felt foreign. Some people pointed out to me, as ifto provide evidence that they did not belong in Latin America, thatwhen they traveled there, they were often taken for gringos.

    The term indio has historically connoted culturally, socio-econom-ically, politically, and geographically marginal positions as well ascertain physical characteristics. Today, porteos use indio and ideasassociated with it, like the interior of the country, as an insult and away to mark difference. For example, Chiche Duhalde, candidate forSenator, campaigning in the Province of Buenos Aires in August of1997, said, "At times the arrogance of some porteo leaders surprisesme; they believe that we bonaerenses [inhabitants of the province ofBuenos Aires] are Indians." (A veces me causa sorpresa la soberbia dealgunos dirigentes porteos; se creen que los bonaerenses somos indios)(Clarn 1997).18 In her attack on opposition leaders, Duhalde usedindios to evoke and challenge the hierarchy between porteos andprovincianos. The porteos, she implied, were trying to raise them-selves up arrogantly by treating people who in actuality are peers(the bonaerenses) as if they were below them, i.e. indios. She accusedthe porteos of differentiating themselves from the bonaerenses, a subsetof provincianos, by treating them as indios. Instead, Duhalde sug-gested that the bonaerenses are equal to the porteos, and that the sig-nificant difference lies between indios on the one hand, and theporteos and bonaerenses together on the other, not between the

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  • Taking Race Seriously 353

    porteos and bonaerenses. Indios are thereby constituted (by bothDuhalde and the porteos as Duhalde portrays them) as essentiallydifferent, as Other to a Self, which for Duhalde, includes both bonaer-enses and porteos. Thus, Duhalde's comment did not challenge theracial hierarchy embedded in the distinction between the capital cityand the provinces; rather she merely asserted that the bonaerensesshould be included with the porteos at the top of the hierarchy,which is upheld through the exclusion and denigration of indios.

    According to Diego, a diplomacy student and politically savvy for-mer congressional aide, this comment referenced the long-standingbattle between the porteos and the provincianos. On the dayDuhalde's comment hit the papers, I had been interviewing Diego atthe British academy where his English classes were held; our conver-sation that day had focused on issues of race and discrimination. Onthe colectivo (bus) we took back to the neighborhood we shared,I asked Diego about Duhalde's comments. Diego explained thatpeople in the Province of Buenos Aires (i.e., outside the capital city)did not really have their own identity because so much of their iden-tity was tied to what happened in the capital, to the culture andmovement of the capital. This seems especially true for people likeDiego, who had grown up in a suburb of Buenos Aires, but attendedhigh school in the capital; I sensed that he drew upon his personalexperiences that made him technically a provinciano, but one whoseactivities tied him more closely to the urban core than to the indus-trial suburbs of the Province of Buenos Aires. It was also striking thateven after talking for a couple of hours about race and discrimina-tion, the phrase Duhalde used did not seem to suggest any racialconnotations to him. The use of the term indio as a form of denigra-tion was so ingrained, so naturalized, perhaps like "Indian summer"for many middle class whites in the U.S., that it was no longernoticed as term of racial significance. In a similar vein, a bank tellerin Buenos Aires apologized to me after misstating a figure by saying"hablo como un indio" (I am speaking like an Indian). Duhalde's com-plaint, "they treat us as if we were Indians," did not seem to call toDiego's mind human beings of indigenous descent, but rather only adegraded state of being.

    The international salience of this racial hierarchy was evident inmy first meeting with a professor at the school where I conductedmuch of my research. When I introduced myself as an anthropologist,the professor responded "ahh, so you've come to study us indios."This sarcastic reference to anthropology as a racializing mode of inquiry

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  • 354 Galen Joseph

    articulated an anti-imperialist distrust of the racism of anthropology,while expressing a certain ambivalence about the instability of Argen-tine whiteness when scrutinized by US whiteness. The professorsimultaneously disavowed his Indian-ness ironically while recon-firming it as a national dilemma in the face of US anthropology'scapacity to reduce Argentina to just another tribe of Indians.19

    FROM RURAL CAUDILLO TO "CIVILIZED" PORTEO

    Menem spent much of his first six-year term as President re-creating himself to fit the "civilized" standards of the Buenos Aireselite. From early in his political career in the Peronist party in LaRioja, Menem had modeled himself on the caudillos of the previouscentury. Gabriela Cerruti, in her best-selling biography of Menem,contends that he read and re-read Sarmiento's meditation on civil-ization and barbarism, Facundo, and that some friends suggested thathe modeled himself on the central figure of the caudillo Facundo.Menem's ex-wife Zulema and others suggested that he "had mys-tical fits in which he believed he was the re-incarnation of theCaudillo [Facundo]" (1993:15). Pictures from his early political careershow him wearing mutton chop sideburns, long hair, and the pon-chos of traditional caudillo attire. Then, ensconced in the capital asnational President, he cut his hair, shaved his long sideburns, hadplastic surgery, publicly displayed his taste for sports like golf andtennis, appointed Harvard MBAs to his cabinet, and made friendswith the likes of Claudia Schiffer, the German super model. That is,through a range of activities and comportment, Menem attempted tofit into the culture of the Buenos Aires elite.

    Why attempt this transformation? I contend that losing thedemeanor and associations of the caudillo was necessary for Menemto be taken seriouslyas a "serious" personby many porteos andperhaps also by international leaders. The caudillo, a personalist,charismatic, often dictatorial leader, has been an important figure inArgentine (and Latin American) politics since colonial times (Hamill1992). While the caudillo may be admired by some, many of thecaudillo's characteristics that Menem is perceived to embodypro-vincial roots, corruption (illegitimacy), authoritarianism, populism,and questionable racial identitychallenge Menem's ability to beserious or to be taken seriously.

    However, Menem's ability to transform himself from a caudillo toa civilized porteo has been limited. While he may have acquired the

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    right "look," some critics still see him as a caudillo. It is partlythrough the association with previous caudillos and their followers(Rosas, 1832-52; Yrigoyen, 1916-22, 1928-30; Pern 1946-55) thatMenem is associated with a racialized barbarism. Some politicalcartoons continued to portray Menem in the caudillo costume heonce cultivated, and they frequently emphasized Menem's provin-cial accent and poor speech and gave him a "short and dark" look.For example, the cover of a "guidebook" by the political humoristAtilio Zanotta called "How to Get into the First World When You areShort and a Little Dark" {Como entrar al Primer Mundo Siendo Bajo yMorochito) depicts Menem with darkened skin, thickened lips and anenlarged nose, who is only as tall as the ankles of those who sur-round him: that is, he is caricatured as the quintessential bajo ymorochito who is trying unsuccessfully to get into the first world (1995).These physical characteristics are associated with indios and migrantsfrom the interior to the capital, derogatorily known as cabecitasnegras.20 The term, literally "little black heads," came into commonusage during the first era of Pern (1946-1955), when thousands ofPern's supporters migrated from the interior to Buenos Aires,where they were received less than warmly by (anti-Peronist)porteos. As the oft-repeated tale tells it, the porteos were particu-larly appalled by the migrants, uncouth behavior, such putting theirfeet in public fountains to cool off. As leader of the Peronist party(Partido Justicialista) founded by Colonel Juan Pern, Menem is asso-ciated with the authoritarianism and corruption of his predecessor(1946-55; 1973) as well as with Pern's sometimes racialized sup-porters.21 This association enables an easy slide by the middle classesto envisioning Menem, despite his wealth and position, like thecabecitas, as a migrant from the interior, without the "civilization"appropriate to the cosmopolitan capital with its first world aspirations.

    Porteos' geography of identity mapped three primary locations: elinterior (the interior), el exterior (the exterior), and the capital city ofBuenos Aires. The interior referred to the provinces of the nation, theentire country except for Buenos Aires. While detailed discussionsabout how geography influenced identity often led to more nuancedarticulations of the characteristics of various parts of the country,middle class porteos initially tended to generalize that the interiorwas "totally different" than Buenos Aires. Unlike the cosmopolitan,Europeanized city of Buenos Aires (the "Paris of South America"),the interior was likened to the rest of Latin America. Middle classporteos distinguished the pace of life, the architecture, the wealth,

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  • 356 Galen ]osephtechnology, and even the Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires from thatwhich one finds in the interior. The exterior referred to the world out-side the bounds of the Argentine nation. Menem's lack of erudition wasoften noted through comparisons to the Presidents of the U.S. andBrazil and to his Harvard educated Minister of Economy, DomingoCavallo. Buenos Aires, a port city, lies on the boundary between thebarbarous interior and the civilized, advanced worlds of Europe andthe U.S. Porteos' articulations of the distance between Buenos Airesand the Argentine interior, and the "paradoxical" (dis)placement ofBuenos Aires within a third world nation simultaneously problem-atized and reaffirmed global discourses that place nations into hier-archies based on economic and cultural "development."

    Porteos' narratives about the city of Buenos Aires called upon bothnational and global discourses. The nineteenth century nationaldiscourse of "civilization vs. barbarism" was updated and transformedin contemporary political narratives about President Menem. Menem'scharacteristics reinforced stereotypes of people from the interior asless educated, more corrupt and prone to authoritarianism, and lessdeveloped economically and culturally; those stereotypes wereavailable to reproduce Menem as a caudillo leader of such people.Buenos Aires was thereby positioned as Argentina's base for strugglingup the global hierarchy of nations (or port of entry into the firstworld). By distancing themselves from the rest of Latin America,including the rest of their nation, porteos marked their connection toEurope and "the West." That is, they made progress toward the "firstworld" or European status idealized in global hierarchies throughthe contrast with the Argentine interior and the rest of Latin America.In this formulation, recent immigrants from Bolivia, Paraguay, andPeru threatened Buenos Aires with "Latin Americanization." Thus, innarratives about their city, porteos jockeyed between the Argentineinterior on the one hand, and the threatening (Latin American) andalluring (European) variations of the exterior on the other. From theperspective of middle class porteos, who live in a world saturatedby the international hierarchies and the national values I have beendiscussing, Menem did not aid Argentina's international reputationor the sense of a national self.

    MENEM EL TURCO

    And so, a herd of humiliated and oppressed came to replace the proud,defeated ones. Once the Indians were wiped out, the place was wide

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  • Taking Race Seriously 357

    open for all the conquered people of the earth to congregate. They came tobequeath the memory of their own fears to us who have a fear withoutmemory. But they had hardly arrived before they lost a fragment of them-selves, a piece of their identity, a bit of their proper names."What is your name?" asked the Port commissioner with his tanned

    face, ironic smile, and eyes slightly slanted from some aboriginal ancestor."Waschiszchicz.""Fine! I'll put: Bachich. Where do you come from?""From Turkey, but I am Armenian.""Your passport is Turkish, so you're Turkish, damn it!"In this way, the Armenians who had fled the Turks, and the Jews who hadfled the Russians found themselves turned into Turks and Russians inArgentina. History plays some good jokes! In Buenos Aires, the word"Turk" means "Arab" or "Armenian" and the word "Russian" means"Jewish..." (Dujovne Ortiz 1986-7: 78)

    Like most people of Middle Eastern descent in Argentina, Menemwas sometimes referred to as a turco. This label, porteos maintained,can be used benignly as well as derogatorily, though I heard it moreoften in the context of complaints about him. The Argentine writerAlicia Dujovne Ortiz focuses above on how this practice of groupingtogether different ethnicities under one nationality erases importanthistorical events and oppressions and contributes to the (reproduc-tion of oppression. Marta Savigliano (1995) offers another interpreta-tion, suggesting that this naming-practice may be an attempt to markimmutable differences in the context of a society that permits muchclass mobility and inter-ethnic mixing. In addition, I would arguethat the practice marks an ambivalence about how to make sense ofdifference and about which differences are worth marking underwhat circumstances.

    Menem's identity as a turco arose in public discourse in relationprimarily to religion, Arab-Jewish and Jewish-Argentine politics, andcorruption. Menem had to convert to Catholicism from Islam in orderto become President in 1989, as required by the Argentine constitution.One of the Constitutional amendments proposed by Menem andpassed in 1994 removed the requirement that the Argentine Presidentbe Catholic. Many Argentines believed Menem's conversion to bepurely political, and the burial of his son in a Muslim ceremony in1995 was offered as evidence of Menem's true beliefs for, as the Consti-tution had been changed, there was no need for Menem to continueto perform Catholic rituals. For example, I recorded in my field notesa conversation that I had with an anthropology student named Tato,who was from a traditional Catholic and nationalist background:

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  • 358 Galen JosephTato went off about Menem and the funeral of Junior [Menem's son wasreferred to as Carlitos or Menem Jr.], where apparently they performedsome Syrian ritual, lifting the casket with three fingers, chanting... Tatoseemed offended that Menem says he's Catholic and then partakes in suchrituals. He also said Menem's ex-wife and daughter claim they areMuslim. Even more, Tato said, Menem went to Lujan the very next day[the site of an annual pilgrimage to visit the Virgin of Lujan at one ofArgentina's great cathedrals]; Tato made a joke about how the only thingmissing was a visit to a synagogue and the performance of some sort ofBuddhist ritual... Tato also questioned Menem's Argentine-ness (argen-tineadad), citing his efforts to change the constitution so that the presidentno longer has to be Catholic. Then Tato told me an anecdote about callingsomeone turco and finding out that the woman he was talking with was ofArabic descent; he said that he didn't realize she was una turca because ofher name and because she was tall and beautiful...

    Tato's comments convey ambiguity about how to make sense ofMenem and the differences Tato perceived. Tato expressed threerelated concerns. First, he suggested that Menem's lack of honestyand trustworthiness (his seriousness) regarding his religious beliefsmeant he could just as easily participate in a Jewish or Buddhistritual as a Catholic one. His ex-wife's and daughter's claims to beMuslim were offered as further proof of Menem's "true" religion.22Second, Tato implied that if one could discern that Menemwas Muslim, his true religious difference would signify a lack ofArgentine-ness. Going to Lujan, perhaps a part of Menem's hypocrit-ical charade, showed a lack of respect for true believers. Finally,Tato's seemingly unrelated anecdote about the turca was evidence ofthe difficulty Tato had in determining who was turco, and it illus-trated how Tato imagined the embodiment of Turkishness. Heassumed incorrectly that a tall beautiful woman could not be Arabic.Menem's supposed duplicity made his "true" religious difference,and hence his Argentine-ness, hard to discern, while Tato's anec-dote about the turca reinforced the apparent difficulty of readingdifference.23

    Menem's identity as a turco was solidified in the popular imagina-tion by his stormy marriage into the Yoma family, which, since thenineteenth century, has been involved in Middle East politics(Cerruti 1993:22-25). Speculation about Menem's ties to the Middle Eastfollowed the terrorist bombings of the Israeli Embassy (1992) and theAMIA Jewish Center (1994) in Buenos Aires.24 In the years betweenthe bombings and May of 1998, when Argentine authorities accusedIran of masterminding them, the perceived lack of effort on Menem's

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    part to solve the crimes, and the arrest only of four Argentine policeofficers who allegedly protected and assisted the bombers, suggested tomany middle class porteos the possibility of official complicity(Faiola 1998).25 That is, the bombings again raised the question ofofficial corruption. Leaders of the Jewish community expressed out-rage at Menem when he offered condolences to Israel after thesecond bombing, given that the 86 people killed in the blast wereArgentine, not Israeli citizens. This mis-recognition of Jews asforeign to Argentinaas not Argentinehad two contradictoryeffects. On the one hand, it effectively re-inscribed Menem's ownArgentine-ness at the expense of theirs, normalizing the widespreadview that Argentinian Jews' allegiance is elsewhere.26 According to asurvey conducted for the American Jewish Committee in BuenosAires in 1994,47% of Argentines believe that "Jews are not part of theArgentine people [pueblo argentino]" (Wiazki 1997:97). On the otherhand, Menem's condolences to Israel raised Argentine Jews' suspicionthat his loyalty to Arabs in the Middle East (who were suspected ofinvolvement in the bombings) might make him complicit againstJews in Argentina. Most apparent in this paradox is the instability ofArgentine belonging, the incomplete incorporation of difference intothe Argentine pueblo.

    Speculation about Menem's corruption ran the gamut. Rumorsabout possible Mafia activities with illegal drugs and arms trade pre-ceded the accusation by Menem's ex-wife, Zulema Yoma, that hisMafia activities were responsible for the death of their son in a heli-copter crash. She suggested that the helicopter crash was not anaccident as reported, but rather some kind of "payback" by his enem-ies. More recently, one of the theories about the January 1997 murderof photojournalist Jos Luis Cabezas suggested that the order for thekilling originated with Alfredo Yabrn, a friend and business associ-ate of Menem who had benefited from privatizations carried outby Menem's government in the early 1990s.27 While these rumorsremain speculation without proof, they evidence a public ready tobelieve in various forms of corruption within the Menem govern-ment. Furthermore, degree of corruption, within Argentina and ininternational development discourse, is used as an indicator ofdemocracy. In the post-dirty war period, democratic consolidationhas been one of the primary concerns of the government whose abil-ity to acquire private investment and public loans depends uponproving its "seriousness." Democratic consolidation is of course alsoa concern for middle class porteos who suffered through the military

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    repression and who continue to observe frequent political violenceagainst journalists (Watch 1999).

    For middle class porteos, whiteness was an element of the culturalcapital that Menem lacked. However, their evaluation of Menem aslacking seriousness drew not only on historical discourses of race,but also on politics and geography to interpret his racial, ethnic, andreligious identity and to make sense of his authoritarian tendenciesand corruption, his education and lack of erudition, and his suppos-edly frivolous interests and lack of worldly sophistication. Despiteall of Menem's purported finagling and his critics' complaints, it isimportant to recognize that religion and ethnicity have played alimited role in Menem's political career: neither prevented him fromreaching the pinnacle of Argentina's power structure. While hisargentineadad (Argentine-ness) has been questioned and variousaspects of his identity and style of rule have been racialized, Menemstill has been a powerful leader of the Argentine Republic. Racealone is not the determining factor.

    CONCLUSION

    Middle class porteos' critiques of Menem display their own anxi-eties about their place in the world and the world's (racialized) per-ceptions of them. As Alicia Dujovne Ortiz described after theMalvinas War,

    Suddenly, Buenos Aires discovered that those blond colonizers [theBritish], so perfectly dressed in matching neutrals, simply regarded theArgentineans as 'dark-skinned.' Just like that. Indiscriminately. Categor-ically. Porteos, Bolivians, Mexicans. All in the same bag! We were filledwith indignationus, the whites of this part of the world: 'What? So thisis how Europe, the mirror of the world, sees us? Our worst nightmarecome to pass: the Europeans actually think we wear feathers on ourheads!' Perhaps for the first time, porteos looked at each other as if to say:'what if it's true after all? what if we do wear them? Not real feathers, ofcourse, but who knows if there aren't some lighter than normal feathersthat subtly wreath our heads, some feathers that float on a lostbreeze,... Who knows maybe we have a kind of incredibly subtle 'Indian-ness' that supersedes the thickness of blood and the boundaries of race?'(1990: 21-22) (my emphasis)

    The fear of a "subtle Indian-ness," which I have been suggesting isarticulated in middle class anxieties about development, democracy,

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    and the European-ness of Argentina, may "supersede" race, but raceremains a reference point, an idiom through which Argentina'slowly status is articulated. As "the whites of this part of the world,"porteos imagine their whiteness in relation to whites in other partsof the world; their imagined community crosses national borders,and draws boundaries of exclusion within their nation. Whiteness inArgentina is constructed and enacted through a set of discourses thatare distinct from, though not unrelated to, those that operate in theUS and other parts of the world. The black-white opposition so pre-valent in the US is related to the porteos' claim that because "thereare no blacks here" race is not a relevant form of difference or dis-crimination. And porteos' reaction to the anti-Latino immigrantrhetoric in California around Proposition 187 made clear that theywere aware that even if they understood themselves to be white,they might not be perceived that way elsewhere in the world.28

    Scholarship on whiteness in the US has been primarily focused onbreaking open from multiple angles the black-white divide thatmaintains whiteness as monolithic. This scholarship has examinedintra-white differences of class, ethnicity, and gender; it has analyzedhow whites' racial identities are formed through complex relationswith Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and African Americans, andhow they have been transformed across distinct historical moments.29My aim here has been somewhat different. While I draw on thescholarship on whiteness in the US, I have placed it in conversationwith recent scholarship on the transnationality of racializing pro-cesses (Brown 1998; Gilroy 1993; Poole 1997; Stoler 1995) in order todemonstrate how middle class porteos imagine whiteness transna-tionally, and as such to illustrate how their imagined belonging to atransnational white community reflects and produces an ambivalentnational identity. Neo-colonial Argentine whiteness comes to bethrough an ongoing search for and negotiation of its whiteness inrelation to whiteness elsewhere. Middle class porteos construct theirversion of whiteness through an "imagined community" that crossesnational borders and that is articulated through discourses that haveboth local and transnational resonance.

    In the face of narratives of development and progress that stilldominate international politics and economics, Argentina is caughtnegotiating its place in the world through categories like "first" and"third" world. Transnational discourses of economic developmentand political progress (democratization) operate powerfully to placeArgentina in the world and to shape the national sense of self. As

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    Renato Rosaldo argues in his Foreword to Nstor Garca Clanclini'sHybrid Cultures,

    In Latin America, modernization and development remain vital issuesthat are named as such in the discussions that reflect and create nationalself-understanding. In the United States, on the other hand, questions ofmodernization do not enter the public realm of grappling with vital socialissues. Such social issues as poverty and the shameful infant mortalityrates among African Americans and the poor, for example, are treated nei-ther as signs of underdevelopment nor as failures of uneven moderniza-tion (as they conceivably could be in principle and no doubt would be inLatin America) (1995: xiii-xiv).

    The evidence from Argentina suggests that the power dynamics ofsuch hierarchical categories and colonial narratives are played outpartly through racializing practices and discourses. That is, race isone of the domains in which Argentina's place in the global hier-archy of nations is measured. Middle class porteos' concerns aboutArgentina's international reputation, as well as about weak demo-cratic structures and economic instability, are articulated in theirintermittently racializing critiques of Menem through the discourseof seriousness.

    As I have tried to show, seriousness is an idiom that indirectlyarticulates racialized ideas about democracy and authoritarianism,economic development, cultural ideals, and education. Idioms suchas "seriousness" that appear not to be about race and that integratevarious forms of social differentiation (political, economic, geographic)reflect the ambiguity, instability, and fluidity that characterize racial-ization processes. Middle class porteos' discomfort with their nationand with Menem as Argentina's leading representative reflects theambiguity and contradictions of Argentina's racial identity. The wayMenem is mapped onto various regimes of Argentine Otherness,and the implicit mapping of sameness across national boundariesillustrates the fluidity between categories of Self and Other, as well asthe constructed nature of such categories. Yet, ambivalence, fluidity,and cultural construction do not make racial categories or racializingdiscourses less significant, and indeed do not mean that race doesnot matter (Wade 1993). On the contrary, the claim of many porteosthat race is not a relevant category is itself productive in the Foucaul-dian sense. It forms a part of racializing discourses in Argentina thatreflect and maintain racialized social hierarchies within Argentinaand in the international arena. Still, race, despite its global resonance,is not a universal category. The articulations I have described operate

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    within the historical, political-economic, and geographical contin-gencies of late twentieth century Buenos Aires, where a distinct andunstable notion of whiteness is expressed through the register ofseriousness.

    NOTES

    Galen Joseph271 Sanchez StreetSan Francisco, CA [email protected] JOSEPH received her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University ofCalifornia, Santa Cruz in 1999.Acknowledgements: I am indebted to the many porteos who shared with me their time,their views, and their lives. I am deeply grateful for their generosity. I am also gratefulto the people who read drafts of this article in its various incarnations. The criticalreadings of early drafts by Sonia Alvarez, Lisa Rofel, and Anna Tsing were crucial toits formulation. I am indebted to Nicholas De Genova, Felicia Fahey, Valerie Forman,Cori Hayden, Valerie Kausen, and Shari Seider for their insightful comments on laterdrafts, which pushed me to think through the issues I address here in transformativeways. I thank my colleagues in the Anthropology Department at the University ofCalifornia, Santa Cruz, who provided stimulating comments when I presented a versionof this material at a colloquium in the Spring of 1999. I greatly appreciate the closereadings and thoughtful suggestions offered by the three anonymous reviewers andthe editors Nina Glick-Schiller and John Hartigan, Jr. I also thank the Wenner-GrenFoundation for Anthropological Research for funding the fieldwork upon which thisarticle is based, and the Spencer Foundation for Research Related to Education forfunding the initial stages of writing.1. The U.S. and Europe had distinct meanings in the imagination of middle class

    porteos, and yet at times they were also collapsed into a general "first world" category.Europe, especially France and Britain, was admired culturally and intellectually,while the U.S. was admired for its wealth and economic power; U.S. cultural exports,e.g., Hollywood films, were often viewed as popular rather than high culture.Europe and the U.S. were collapsed into "the first world" in discussions of generalquality of life, economic development, political stability, and racial whiteness.

    2. William C. Smith argues that "In 1916, on the centennial of its independence fromSpain, Argentina had great prospects for joining the ranks of the most privilegedcore nations of the world economy... abundant natural resources, scant popula-tion, and great riches ranked it among the wealthiest of nations" based on percapita income. He continues that "By the 1950s, however, Argentina had entered aperiod of relative stagnation and never regained its status as an emerging nationpoised to join the ranks of the developed countries of the world" (1989: 16).Argentina's large middle class and high literacy rates also are often cited as evid-ence of Argentina's development.

    3. People in the provinces are surely correct when they assert that Buenos Airesdoes not represent all of Argentina. Indeed, the divide between Buenos Aires and

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    the interior is an important (and racialized) national trope, which I addressbelow. Yet, the Buenos Aires metropolitan area is now home to one-third ofArgentina's 36 million people. Its dominance of national affairs makes it more likeParis is to France than New York is to the United States.

    4. Neo-liberalism in Argentina shares some significant characteristics and effectswith neo-liberalism in other places; however, I do not mean to imply that it is auniform set of policies and practices. For an insightful exploration of the culturalparticularity of neo-liberalism, see Aihwa Ong's Flexible Citizenship (1999).

    5. Immigration to Argentina from Korea and from several South American nationshas increased dramatically since the 1970s (see Joseph 1999 and Mera 1995 forfurther details).

    6. Elites in many young Latin American republics advocated whitening as a route tomodernization, but they applied a variety of strategies to achieve the white repub-lics they sought (Andrews 1980; Chance 1978; Degler 1971; Graham 1990;Martinez-Alier 1974; Morner 1967; Skidmore 1974; Stepan, 1991; Twine, 1998; Wade1993; Wright 1990). For example, in countries such as Venezuela, Colombia andBrazil, intellectuals and politicians advocated mestizaje (miscegenation) as a strategyfor whitening the African and Indigenous populations, while in Argentina, genocideand isolation were the primary strategies.

    7. The pampas are the enormous stretch of plains that surround Buenos Aires wherethe cattle industry, the primary source of Argentina's wealth, was developed inthe nineteenth century.

    8. The indigenous population declined from 38.5% of the population at the time ofthe Argentine Revolution (1810) to 4.3% in 1895 (Martinez-Sarasola 1992: 322).Most immigrants arrived between 1880 and 1930, resulting in a 30% foreign bornpopulation in Buenos Aires by 1914 (Solberg 1970). African slavery was abolishedin Argentina in stages between 1813 and the 1850s. During this same period, theAfrican population in Buenos Aires (where most lived), declined from 30% to1.8% (Andrews 1980: 66).

    9. The scope of this paper does not permit a full examination of the historical changesin the discourse of civilization and barbarism. (For such an examination, see Svampa1994). For recent analyses of gender, national identity, and the discourse of civiliza-tion and barbarism in relation to Eva Pern, see J. M. Taylor 1979, and in relationto the "dirty war" see Diana Taylor 1997. For analyses of civilization in relation tocontemporary issues of Argentine education, democracy, and race, see Joseph 1999.

    10. The Generation of 1880 included prominent writers and politicians who setArgentina on course for the "modern liberal era" (1880-1930).

    11. The location of the city of Buenos Aires on the Rio de la Plata has been key to itshistorical character and development as a port city.

    12. Argentina has approximately one-third the geographic area of the US, yet hasonly 36 million inhabitants.

    13. Significantly, Menem's Harvard educated (MBA) economic minister, DomingoCavallo, was widely considered the mastermind of the economic policy and theresulting stability.

    14. This and all other names are pseudonyms.15. Menem's relationship to the "dirty war" is complicated. He was imprisoned for

    his political activities during the 1970s, and he has used this history to claim thathe un