To Belong in Buenos Aires
Germans, Argentines, and the Rise of a Pluralist Society
Benjamin Bryce


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: The Future of Ethnicity
chapter abstract

The introduction discusses the importance of the future in shaping ethnic communities in Buenos Aires. Underlining the significance of temporality and the future for the social history of migration offers new perspectives on how state institutions developed, how a culturally plural society formed, and how immigrants and families participated in that society. Ethnicity is an unstable category worthy of analysis in itself, and that, as a result, ethnic communities should similarly be studied with that point in mind. The introduction also discusses the transnational turn in German historiography, which has highlighted how people and ideas outside the nation-state influenced conceptions of the nation during the Imperial and Weimar periods. German-speaking immigrants in Buenos Aires actively embraced the transatlantic relationship that groups in central Europe sought to establish, but they had their own ideas about their relationship with their nation of heritage and their nation of residence.

1Social Welfare, Paternalism, and the Making of German Buenos Aires
chapter abstract

This chapter argues that affluent immigrants used various social welfare institutions to shape the meaning of citizenship in Buenos Aires. Through German-language social welfare organizations, thousands of immigrants and second-generation bilinguals gave form to a vision of a German community in Buenos Aires. The community leaders who offered job placement, health care, and other services to workers promoted idealized notions of male breadwinners who supported their families, of productive and healthy workers, and of respectable female laborers. All of these community actions, however, were also civic actions, and the ideas of obligation to working-class immigrants were also ideas about rights and duties for members of Buenos Aires society. At stake for wealthy speakers of German was their social, gender, and class power, both within their own community and in Argentine society.

2Children, Language, and the Rise of a Pluralist Society
chapter abstract

This chapter argues that immigrant teachers and their pupils broadened the definition of citizenship in Argentina. Those who ran these schools and the parents who sent their children to them clearly believed that pluralism and Argentine belonging could coexist. Parents and teachers wanted children and young adults to grow up with an advanced proficiency in German, alongside Spanish, and with knowledge about both central Europe and Argentina. Through their actions and ideas, the children and adults involved with German-Spanish bilingual schools took an active interest in the future. Although they had various opinions about the educational project of the adults involved, Argentine-born children of German heritage grew up in contact not only with the German language and German culture but also with the Spanish language and Argentine civic education.

3The Language of Citizenship: Curriculum and the Argentine State
chapter abstract

Drawing from Argentine governmental and German-language sources, this chapter argues that bilingual schools pushed for a pluralist definition of citizenship and, in so doing, undermined many of the assimilationist goals expressed by a small group of Argentine elites. This approach contributes to a broader discussion of education and state authority in Argentina by highlighting how state officials attempted to confront cultural pluralism and how immigrants embraced and modified these efforts. Through a series of policies, the National Council of Education ensured that bilingual schools taught the Spanish language and a number of Argentine subjects that would equip children with civic knowledge for Argentine society. Yet that same system of regulation allowed immigrant educators to teach children a second language and other topics related to their parents' countries of origins.

4An Unbounded Nation? Local Interests and Imperial Aspirations
chapter abstract

This chapter argues that German-speaking educators in Buenos Aires took advantage of transatlantic support from Germany while navigating among their own interests in community, ethnicity, and belonging in Argentina. Focusing on the circulation of teachers, the flow of financial support from Germany, and a system that offered both Argentine and German diplomas, it offers new perspectives on how constructions of European ethnicity and Argentine belonging developed in a transnational context. For those in Germany, supporting schools and maintaining ethnic Germans within a territorially unbounded German nation reflected the nationalist aspiration to compete with other European empires on the global stage. For those in Buenos Aires, however, the same transatlantic relationship was oriented toward another set of expectations about the future. They instead believed that European support of German-Spanish bilingual schools would help educators and families succeed in their goal of pushing for a pluralist, multilingual society.

5Transatlantic Religion and the Boundaries of Community
chapter abstract

This chapter argues that denominational identities influenced how German-speaking Lutherans and Catholics in Argentina understood the boundaries of community and their sense of belonging in Argentine society. It charts the efforts of Lutheran and Catholic organizations in Germany to promote German-language religion in Buenos Aires and the Río de la Plata region, and it examines how these transatlantic ties helped shape some of the core German-language institutions of Argentina. German speakers maintained relations with various religious organizations in Imperial and Weimar Germany, but they drew selectively on this support to foster both religious and linguistic pluralism in Argentina. Ultimately, support from Germany came with few strings attached, and it gave German-speaking Lutherans and Catholics access to German-speaking pastors and priests, as well as extra financial resources.

6The Language of Religion: Children and the Future
chapter abstract

Immigrant adults participating in organized religion were fundamentally concerned with the place of their respective churches in Argentina. For German-speaking Catholics, that often meant using the German language to strengthen the place of their church in the face of a secularizing state. Some Lutherans were concerned that a shift from German to Spanish would prevent a new generation from remaining involved with their parents' denomination. At the same time, other parents and children remain involved in religious communities while also demanding services in Spanish. In striking a balance between German and Spanish in order to create a united ethno-religious community, Lutheran and Catholic leaders also excluded many German speakers. The way that they chose to create community blocked out not only people of other denominations but also anyone who was not interested in organized religion.

Conclusion: Citizenship and Ethnicity
chapter abstract

Between 1880 and 1930, German speakers in Buenos Aires, together with hundreds of thousands of other immigrants and their children, created a framework that defined the relationships among the state, the public sphere, religious institutions, ethnic organizations, and family that then evolved throughout the twentieth century. The definitions of German ethnicity slowly changed in Buenos Aires, as did the nature of the linguistic and cultural pluralism of Argentine society. Ideas about the future drove German-speaking immigrants to build and support a range of institutions. In so doing, however, these immigrants and second-generation bilinguals created overlapping German communities in Buenos Aires. They navigated among denominational, linguistic, German, and Argentine identities. Their ideas and actions about citizenship and belonging helped give shape to the meaning of ethnicity in Argentina.