Europe in Latin America; Latin America in Europe

The Lonely Planet guidebook to Buenos Aires says "Maybe it's the beautiful, model-like women sauntering down hip Av Florida, or the handsome dark men power-suiting their way under the classic buildings in the financial district" (2005:8). And when I prepared to go to Porto Alegre, I read the comment on a respectable travel website "[Porto Alegre] is widely known in Brazil as the city with the most beautiful women in the country."

Such remarks are often accompanied by descriptions of how European Buenos Aires and Porto Alegre are. And, sure, there is much beauty to be seen here. I'm a sucker for wrought iron and Italian architecture. But isn't it possible that there's something a little problematic about the way beauty is being defined here? What strikes me and has me quite unsettled is how, well, racially homogenous both cities are. And how comments about the "beauty" of this part of Latin America, by their very nature comparative to other (less "beautiful"? more native? more African?) parts of the region, have a racial component that's unnoticed and uncritiqued.

I was on the subte today and I looked around at the crowded train car and realized that I was the darkest person on the train. This is like the time my sophomore year of college when I had lunch at Eliot House and looked at the packed dining hall and realized that, among hundreds of students, I was one of the three darkest.

The story of the settlement of this region includes a very deliberate policy to whiten the population and downright hostility to immigration from non-European parts of the world.

And now, the tide has turned, and Spain has to deal with a new phenomenon: migration. For the past 500 years, Spain has been a sending country. In less than 30 years, this has reversed and now it finds itself as the destination for Latin Americans (as well as North Africans). What to do about the spike in [undocumented] immigration, the sounds of Latin American Spanish on the streets and in the restaurants, applications for citizenship based on the nationality of a grandmother who scrambled to a rural village in Latin America because there she wouldn't starve has become a major issue for Spanish politicians, academics, and journalists.

Documentaries, conferences, seminars all wrestle with how to understand what this change means for Spanish identity. All in the context of a growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Spain... a discourse that sounds strikingly similar to that in the US ("they bring crime" "they're taking our jobs"). The newness of this shift makes the Spanish example an incredibly interesting study: a 180 degree change in less than a lifetime.

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