In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Italians
  • Spanish
  • Arabs
  • English, Irish, and Welsh
  • Germans
  • French
  • Other Immigrant Groups

Latin American Studies Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
Alejandro Meter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0163


In his exploration of the dichotomy between civilization and barbarism in 1845, Domingo F. Sarmiento, an Argentine intellectual who would become president some years later, proposed Argentina should seek European immigrants to help populate and modernize the large Latin American nation. The Immigration and Colonization Act of 1876 became the catalyst for what would become known as the “era of mass immigration” (1880–1930), a period in Argentine history that would see a continuous, uninterrupted flow of people across the Atlantic. There were many reasons why Europeans desired to migrate to the Americas in general, and to Argentina in particular. Most immigrants sought to leave behind the difficult economic times that led them to experience hunger and poverty, while others wanted to escape discrimination and persecution. The longing for a better life, for themselves and their families, led them to leave their countries of origin for a chance at a more promising future. Innovations in technology—namely the steamship, but also the railroad—made this odyssey possible for millions of people. The 1876 law offered immigrants food and lodging upon arrival, promised to help them find work, and provided them with a free train ride to their final destination. These, and other incentives, in addition to the global and regional mechanisms in place, made Argentina one of the largest immigrant destinations in the world during the era of mass migration, second only to the United States. It is estimated that between 1850 and 1930, Argentina received more than 6.6 million immigrants. Italians, Spanish, French, German, British, and others came to “make it in America” and, while not everyone stayed (approximately half of them either returned to their country of origin or continued their migration to another destination), it certainly forever affected the character of the Argentine nation. The government of Argentina attracted immigrants not only from Europe, but also from the Middle East and Asia. Jews and Arabs, for instance, arrived from three empires on the verge of disintegration: the Ottoman Empire, the Tsarist Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire of central Europe, making Argentina home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. Argentina thus became as much a country of immigrants as the United States. Yet, in contrast to its North American neighbor, the effects of immigration had a greater impact on Argentina because the proportion of newcomers to the existing population was much greater, thus affecting its language and culture in unimaginable ways. The purpose of this article is to focus on the historical and sociological aspects of immigration to Argentina in the period from 1880 to 1930. The impact of immigration on its cultural production—its literature, music, and art—is beyond the scope of this study.

General Overviews

Devoto 2004 provides an excellent point of departure to begin an examination of the phenomenon of mass immigration to Argentina. Broad in scope, it considers the global and regional causes that led millions of immigrants to leave their countries of origin and begin a new life in the Americas. Germani 1966 and Sarramone 1999 provide further general overviews of immigration to Argentina, with important charts and tables that help illustrate the this phenomenon. Bjerg 2009 examines the trajectories of European immigration through the testimonies of five immigrants from various backgrounds and regions of Europe—namely, Denmark, Ukraine, and Italy—that help paint a clear picture of the vicissitudes encountered upon arrival to Argentina. The essays found in Bjerg and Otero 1995 also bring into question and challenge previous interpretations of immigrants’ adaptation to their new country. The reaction by locals to immigration is discussed in Blancpain 2011 and Onega 1982, while Swidersk and Farjat 2000 provides invaluable resources regarding the infrastructure that awaited immigrants by focusing on the hotels that lodged them upon arrival.

  • Bjerg, María. Historias de la inmigración en la Argentina. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Edhasa, 2009.

    Divided in two parts, the book first frames the phenomenon of immigration to Argentina around a solid panorama that occupies the first five chapters. The second part of the book focuses on the lives of five immigrants to show what barriers they had to confront upon arrival to the country. The experience of adaptation, deterritorialization, and assimilation are all carefully considered from various angles.

  • Bjerg, María, and Hernán Otero, eds. Inmigración y redes sociales en la Argentina moderna. Buenos Aires, Argentina: CEMLA-IEHS, 1995.

    An important collection of essays dealing with the impact of social networks in the lives of European immigrants to Argentina. The twelve studies included in the volume challenge the traditional view that emphasized the immigrant’s unproblematic process of adaptation into Argentine society, presenting a more complex and diverse pattern of immigrant behavior.

  • Blancpain, Jean Piere. Les européens en Argentine: Immigration de masse et destins individuels (1850–1950). Paris: L’Harmattan Edition, 2011.

    Explores the reactions of the locals to mass immigration. Also examines the three minority contingents—the French, Germans, and English—as a qualified working force. The French and English had a big influence in urban architecture, administration, and education.

  • Bletz, May E. Immigration and Acculturation in Brazil and Argentina: 1890–1929. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230113510

    Explores questions of nationality in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo, in the context of mass immigration to southern South America. By examining fictional, journalistic, and (pseudo)scientific texts of the period, the author argues that processes of representation and identity formation between national and immigrant groups have to be examined within the historical context of the host nations.

  • Devoto, Fernando. Historia de la inmigración en la Argentina. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Sudamericana, 2004.

    This book constitutes the first synthesis of the history of immigration to Argentina. It examines the global and regional mechanisms that made migration to Argentina possible to millions of people, while also exploring the processes of insertion of immigrants in Argentine society.

  • Germani, Gino. “Mass Immigration and Modernization in Argentina.” Studies in Comparative International Development 2.11 (1966): 165–182.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02800543

    Examines the causes that led Argentina to promote European immigration, and considers the impact of mass immigration in demographic, economic, and social terms. The article also analyzes the process of assimilation of foreigners and its impact on Argentine culture. It provides numerous tables and charts that help illustrate said impact.

  • Onega, Gladys S. La inmigración en la literatura argentina (1880–1910). Buenos Aires, Argentina: Centro Editor de América Latina S.A, 1982.

    While focused on the literature produced between 1880 and 1910, Onega’s book provides a necessary reading on the intellectual debates going on in Argentina during the era of mass immigration.

  • Sarramone, Alberto. Los abuelos inmigrantes: Historia y sociología de la inmigración argentina. Azul, Argentina: Editorial Biblos Azul, 1999.

    A general overview of immigration to Argentina in the era of mass immigration. Offers a sociological study of agricultural colonization in various provinces of Argentina. It includes a summary of the main immigrant groups that settled throughout the country.

  • Swidersk, Graciela, and Jorge Luis Farjat. Los antiguos hoteles de inmigrantes. Colección Arte y Memoria Audiovisual. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Gráfica Integral, 2000.

    A comprehensive study on the lodging of immigrants to Argentina upon arrival. The book relies on extensive archival material, drawings, sketches, and photographs to explain the difficulties faced by immigrants in their first few days and weeks in the country.

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