Antepasados: los afroporteños en la cultura nacional [“Ancestors: Afroporteños in National Culture”] was the first major museum exhibition in Argentina that addressed the question of Afro-descendants in Buenos Aires. It was opened to the public in April 2016 by the Language and Book Museum and sponsored by the Argentine government. The exhibition showed how scholars, curators, and the government itself have reflected about the presence of Afroporteños –a term which refers to the Afro-descendant population from the Port of Buenos Aires– as they reappraise the construction of a predominantly white national identity. While this institutional recognition of Afro-Argentinean cultural heritage should be praised, the works of Argentinean black writers, artists, and intellectuals were still missing in the exhibition. The main purpose of Antepasados was to fill what the organizers saw as “regrettable absence” in national discourses about identity by recapturing Afroporteños’ cultural heritage. However, it is my contention that this void was only partially filled.
In this presentation, I examine the ways in which the museum –as an institutional space– played a key role in displaying Afroporteño identities, history, and memory albeit within certain limitations. I argue that, although Antepasados recognized the erasure of Afro-descendants in official discourses, it problematically relegated Afroporteños to a historical and cultural past, showing a lack of connection with the vibrant black community that still lives in the city. My study helps to understand how a variety of cultural expressions such as canonical literary works and this exhibition articulate the logic of whiteness in Argentina while trying to make visible culturally and socially marginalized groups. This presentation, as well as my larger project, inscribes the case of Afroporteños into broader discussions about race in Latin America by reframing discourses of national identity in more inclusive terms. Finally, it aims to highlight Afro Latin American cultural heritage in a country where an emphasis on whiteness has been the norm.