Del quechua muruch’u ‘variedad de maíz muy duro’.
1. adj. Arg., Bol., Par., Perú y Ur. Dicho de una persona: Que tiene la piel morena.
2. adj. Arg., Par. y Ur. Dicho de una persona: Que tiene pelo negro.
Diccionario de la Real Academia Española
In many ways Argentina, my country of birth is no different from the United States of America. Unlike Mexico and Perú, there were no “advanced” pre-Columbian civilizations. In Argentina, Argentine generals and great armies pushed the native Argentines west and shot them. Black slaves were brought in the 1700s but few have remained through the years to notice.
Late 19th century and early 20th century immigration brought the Spanish, the Irish, the English and the Italians. Jews that came from Europe after WWII are uniformly called rusos (Russians) by Argentines.
As a little boy I was not aware of any racism perhaps because I went to an American school full of people that looked like me. But it was in the very early 50s that President Juan Domingo Perón coined the expression “descamisados” or the poor shirtless ones who were (to use the Trumpian term) his base. It was then that I first heard another epithet (positive or negative depending who used it) “cabecitas negras” or “those dark haired”.
Because Buenos Aires is cosmopolitan European-inspired city, it is rare to see a native Argentine. You have to look closely. You see Argentines of English, Spanish and Italian descent. Other “minorities” are invisible. The city is glorified by the sophisticated tango while the interior of the country has a completely different music calle folclore .
Without knowing, when I was 8 or 9 when asked what kind of music I liked I would answer, “I like music from the Teatro Colón (what did I know of classical music?).
And so now I can discern a most palpable racism based on those with darker skin, who may be poor (and they are) who follow their football team called Boca while those on the other end might be fans of River Plate. There are these almost unseen differences that still divide the country into a racism that cannot be legislated out of existence.
The average Argentine is a patriotero, or uncommonly patriotic. They will point out to you when an Argentine soccer team wins abroad or how wonderful Gabriela Sabatini was. But in his zenith, Maradona was seen as a cabecita negra. He was judged to be uncouth and uncivilized not like the light skinned Messi who rarely loses his temper on the field or does fake falls to get fouls in his favour.
Those who are white skinned and with money and some sort of education look down on the masses that live in the villas miserias (shanty towns).
The coming presidential elections in October will have no winners as the country is bankrupt. Members of my privileged family point out the massive infrastructure projects of the present Macri government. My friends from the left say, “They can walk on nicely paved sidewalks to new schools with no food in their stomachs.”
It was Perón and his wife Evita who promised the food and the cheap utilities that those masses waned and want. My privileged family will always manage to survive any economic downturn.
But then they would not understand how I can have a friend who is a retired city bus driver or that my son-in-law works for Translink. There is that class system that makes Argentina extremely polarized and racist, too.
You might find the photographs illustrating this ranting blog strange. But I want to show that the Argentines have a term for a dark-haired person that is a pleasant euphemism (if that can be true) especially when used to describe him/her as someone with romantic and striking (and dark) good looks.
I met Susan Jane at a party in the late 90s. She was thin, boyish and had very striking eyebrows. She danced up a storm from my vantage point of the eternal wallflower. I went up to her and asked her, “Would you pose for me for a project that I have for a gallery opening that involves women in tubs?” She said yes.
It would be difficult for me to perceive now the difficulty of approaching perfect strangers (of the female kind) and asking them to pose for me in this 21st century.
Susan Jane had very black hair, lots of body hair including heavily populated armpits. She was ahead of her time.
Nobody in my Argentine family, I believe, could grasp the beauty of these three images. Or would they?