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Academic Minute

Dr. Bridget Chesterton, Buffalo State University – European Emigration and Argentina

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Bridget Chesterton of Buffalo State University reveals the common experience of European immigration to the Americas.

Bridget Chesterton is an assistant professor of history at Buffalo State University where her research interests include Paraguay and Argentina. Her current focus is on ideas of frontier and nation in the southern cone of Latin America. Her research can be found in numerous articles and the forthcoming, The Grandchildren of Solano López:  Frontier and Nation in Paraguay 1904-1935. She holds a Ph.D. from the State University of New York Stony Brook.

About Dr. Chesterton

Dr. Bridget Chesterton – European Emigration and Argentina

The wars, the unrest, and relentless poverty drove millions of Europeans to leave their homes for the promise of economic opportunity and religious freedom the New World promised. Once they arrived, they lived in tenements in large crowded cities, but they worshipped as they chose and their children, through free public schools, had a chance at entering into the middle class. Many took railroads or oxcarts to head west to take advantage of homesteading opportunities that were created after the native people were driven from their land during the Indian wars."

Many Americans know this story as well as they know their own names. What they don’t know is that this is an Argentine story.

Between 1880 and 1930, the years of the massive migration of Europeans to the Americas, Argentina welcomed European immigrants, especially from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Ireland. Argentina was an attractive destination instead of the US, Canada, or Australia for Catholics and for those who spoke a Latin-based language. In Buenos Aires, Immigration Hotels were set up to welcome immigrants.

Of the millions of Europeans who immigrated to South America, the largest percentage went to Argentina. For much of this period, Argentina was the richest country in the Western Hemisphere, thanks to its large agricultural exports. Argentina was the breadbasket of Europe, selling enough wheat and beef to have the highest per-capita income and gross domestic product in the Americas. It wasn’t until the Great Depression of the 1930s that the market for Argentine exports dried up, and the country suffered tremendous upheaval.

But despite much turmoil since then, Argentina’s population still reflects this massive migration of a century ago; 97 percent of its population self-identifies as of European descent.

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