If someone had told me when I was little what was happening, perhaps, today I would not be thinking in the same way.
The fact that my skin was darker than the rest placed me in a different spot, even though love was unconditional.
As an adult, I understand the unconscious reaction/action that comes from so many years back, a national legacy, and that despite the passing of years continues still.
The first movements of the unhealthy slavery maneuvers took place in Argentina at the end of the 16th century.
Those who were lucky and strong enough to stay alive during the extreme journey would be transferred from the port of migrations to public spaces where the crowd was grouped to the highest bidder.
The value was given by physical abilities: teeth, muscles in the case of men, and ensuring that they were not delivered carrying any disease.
Africans were “hunted” and involuntarily brought in for forced labor; detached from their families, from their parents, from the complicity between friends, perhaps from a love; of their joys and melancholies, of their dreams and daily life; just ripped off.
They would have an owner whom they would call "master", whom they should faithfully obey, and answer to their buyer's last name as part of their property.
The new acquisition offered the benefit of free labor for infinite and diverse tasks, including fighting in defense of a foreign homeland.
The master, in this case, donated his slave to the army.
Many escaped among bullets and wounded, screams and dead.
Many fought before the enemy in search of their freedom.
Heroes and heroines that until today have not been recognized by history.
The name of the Afro-descendant María Remedios del Valle, the Great Captain of Manuel Belgrano's army, does not appear in any textbook. Fighter on the fronts: military and nurse.
The answer is no. The answer is never.
The answer is that the only representation of the Afro presence in Argentina at school is in a situation of extreme poverty and marginality: street vendors with ugly, broken, dirty, barefoot clothes in the city; as opposed to light-skinned knights, carrying along with them suits and galleys; education, money, culture, power, possibility of thought and decent work. And the white women, with their fascinating brightly-colored embroidered dresses and flared skirts.
There is no exact date reporting when representations of Afro-descendants and Afro-Argentines began to be performed for the first time at school events, through the burning of a cork in order to obtain a black chalk-like material, and which would turn white skin to black.
The act is cruel, discriminatory and racist.
Currently and happily, various national and international mobilizations are calling for the urgent interruption of this aberrant action called "Black-painting".
In Argentina, poverty and ignorance are black.
Black people don’t think. Black people don’t know. Black people are only suitable to serve.
Then the antagonistic effect was immediate, like a cry for survival in the society that was trying to form its identity: the South American dream -I like to say it with irony. A white and European nation. A nation made up of immigrants brought by the ships, this time, from the old continent. A wish of General Sarmiento and the bleaching campaign. The miscegenation. The invisibility of the black population in Argentina begins.
I feel that, little by little, we are daring to question our history. What they taught us, what we read, learned and repeated.
Some “Great Heroes” that do appear in primary school textbooks, represented with grand statues on important avenues, and the use of their names for relevant streets and avenues of thousands of towns across the country; they have been the enemies of our roots, of our identity.
So, being black in Argentina is being a foreigner.
Being brown (a little black, a little white) is a life risk.
You don’t belong. There is no decent job for you. You will be poor. You are a criminal. You will not be an intellectual. You will never have a voice of opinion. Surely you are ignorant and have bad habits. A head to toe black person.
In America and in many parts of the rest of the world, if you are white and have light eyes, you will probably have more possibilities. You should not think that this has to do with luck alone.
Why do we use the color black for negative narratives?
"I am payed in black" (illegal) vs. "I am payed in white" (legal); black wardrobe for death vs. white wardrobe for love...
Today it is our duty to review history and to educate and build a present making the plurality of our nation visible. The most important contribution of the Afro in national traditions, in our most typical foods, in our popular culture.
I was born with my skin darker than that of my sister and my cousins.
When I was little, they called me negrita affectionately, but at school the call by the same name sounded without affection.
I now share a text that I wrote recently from my experience in relation to skin color:
“The lady, who was called by the name black like me, seemed to me the nicest; and something magnetic from the unconscious that tells you: it is one of yours. An older lady, with her brown skin, flirtatious, and red lips. We were smiling at each other. Black Aunt was my grandfather's sister, and I was her 6-year-old granddaughter. I don't know why I didn't see her anymore, and at times I missed our complicity.
In 1977 I began to take the first steps in primary education that would mark me forever. My parents propose a German nuns’ education. Again the bodies’ colors were protagonists. The yellow of the blond hair and the light pink of the skins, except for a single companion who was called as a mocking act of destiny, Luz. Alongside her, we were the absolute contrast.”
During the last national census in 2010, the Afro-descendant population of Argentina amounted to 149,493 people (0.4% of the total). Of this total, some 137,583 were Afro-Argentines (92%), and the remaining 11,960 (8%) came from other countries, mostly Americans.
This year, if the context allows it, will take place the next census, adding for the first time the question about self-recognition and belonging to the Afro population.
About 200 million people who identify themselves as descendants of Africans live in the Americas.
Law No. 26.852, passed on April 24, 2013, establishes November 8 as the "National Day of Afro-Argentines and Afro Culture" in commemoration of María Remedios del Valle, and incorporates it into the school calendar.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaims the "International Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development", which began on January 1, 2015 and will end on December 31, 2024.
Today a pandemic is calling for our attention in the form of a saber that breaks our thoughts and ways of existing. The world falls ill. The Covid-19 reveals problems that were previously covered by various individual priorities and power logics.
It reminds us that we are connected, that selfishness and prejudice condemn us.
I feel, despite the sadness of those who left, that there is an opportunity for us to reflect on the past-present, and reconfigure a caring society, something as simple as putting ourselves in the other’s shoes.
Gaby Messina is an Argentine visual artist. Her investigations and productions invite to reflect on behaviors, history, customs, documentary stories and interpretations of the imaginary; developing concepts that are built through contact with people. She uses cinema, photography, does installations, writes and publishes picture and text books in Spanish, English and Portuguese.