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This article reexamines the legacies of Argentina's Conquista del Desierto (Conquest of the Desert, 1878-1884) by analyzing these expansionist campaigns through the lens of the ideology of manifest destiny in the United States. Using the racial, religious, and nationalist concepts constructed in the United States as part of the broader discourse of manifest destiny, I examine both the history of the Conquest of the Desert, focusing on how official narratives from the period created and sustained a notion of alterity, and more recent controversies over claims of "ownership" of the pampas and Patagonia, especially as they relate to ideas of originality and autochthony. The article draws on first-person accounts of the military expeditions of the late nineteenth century and situates these descriptions using literatures on whiteness, ethnicity, and nationalism in Argentina and the United States. I suggest that as a physical, discursive, and even religious space, the frontier became a critical site for national production in both countries. Further, "divine providence" played an integral role in justifying both the need for and the moral imperative of the state's expansionism. This combination of religion and territoriality raises questions about the place of the Indian/el indio in the future imagined nation. I argue that reading these cases together provokes new conversations about historical perspectives on the Conquista and contributes to debates on indigenous autochthony and authenticity and to the broader discussion of understandings of Argentine nationalism.


When John O'Sullivan coined the term "manifest destiny" in 1845 to promote the annexation of Texas and the Oregon territories, the westward expansion of the United States had already been under way for decades. Still, the articulation of this idea gave form to a belief that provided the ideological underpinning for the nation itself: that Providence had chosen the United States of America to establish a single country stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a beacon of civilization and liberty shining like a city on a hill for the rest of the world to follow. This acquisition of physical territory went hand in hand with the ongoing construction of a new national identity, which in the mid-nineteenth century reflected the dominant Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. (1) Founded on a set of racial and religious hierarchies, manifest destiny indisputably located the white male at its pinnacle, marginalizing or even negating any competing identity that might threaten the nascent production of a uniform national character.

This article uses the concept of manifest destiny as a point of departure for analyzing a similar expansionist project, using parallel discourses on race, religion, and civilization that was occurring at virtually the same time some 10,000 miles south. Under the leadership of General Julio Roca, the series of military campaigns that took place from 1878 to 1884, known as the Conquista del Desierto (Conquest of the Desert), sought to fully integrate the vast expanses of the pampas and Patagonia into the recently unified Argentina. I suggest that the conquest served two vital purposes for the new nation. First, these conflicts facilitated the consolidation of the national territory, stretching south and west from the urban centers along the Rio Parana; and second, the process helped define and solidify a new national identity, a necessity in the aftermath of the civil wars that had racked the country in the previous generation. For both objectives, the figure of "el indio" acquired enormous significance as the embodiment of alterity against which the idea of argentinidad could be constructed. I argue that rereading the Conquest of the Desert through the lens of manifest destiny opens a productive conversation between the histories of expansion in Argentina and the United States in the nineteenth century. Further, the discursive violence associated with the portrayals and erasures of indigenous peoples from official accounts in both countries illustrates the links between the actual bloodshed of the 1800s and the relegation of indigeneity to a foreclosed past in the twentieth century.

The article proceeds in four sections. The first examines the justification for territorial expansion in both the United States and Argentina. In the United States, the concept of manifest destiny demanded the westward growth of the nation; Argentines expressed a similar sense of divine obligation regarding the southward extension of their own dominion. Second, I consider the construction and reconstruction of national identities vis-a-vis the frontier and the notion of territorial acquisition. Specifically, I trace the significance of the parallel figures of the frontiersman and the gaucho in the United States and Argentina. In each case, these identities became part of a mythic past while the figure of "the Indian" was effectively erased, helping support claims of "whiteness" as the foundational element of the national character. The third section addresses the relationship between violence and the concept of the "Indian/mdio." (2) This violence encompasses both the physical violence committed during the Conquest of the Desert in Argentina and the Indian Wars of the United States and the discursive violence of official narratives as indigenous populations were systematically removed from the historical record. While I briefly discuss the "winning of the West" in the United States, this section focuses on primary documents from and official accounts of the Conquest of the Desert in order to highlight the value of manifest destiny as an analytical tool. Finally, I explore the legacy of this Argentine expression of manifest destiny in the present, looking at the situation of indigenous populations in Patagonia and the pampas. Using scholarship on the consequences of manifest destiny for First Peoples in the United States, I examine how the invisibilization of el indio has impacted the ability of Argentina's indigenous groups to gain recognition today.


In the introduction to his seminal work on race and manifest destiny, historian Reginald Horsman posits that despite O'Sullivans original language, by the mid-nineteenth century, "American expansion was viewed... less as a victory for the principles of free democratic republicanism than as evidence of the innate superiority of the American Anglo-Saxon branch of the Caucasian race." (3) This evolution from republican ideal to race-based hierarchy reflected and shaped the changing attitudes related to the United States' rights to the North American continent. If Providence, in its divine infallibility, had not intended for Anglo-Americans to establish dominion from sea to sea, how had it come to pass? The successful assimilation of the West into the nation, from the first mass migrations into the Great Plains in the 1830s-1840s through the conclusion of the Indian Wars in the 1880s, became post facto justification for the expansionist project. In an example of circular logic that proved foundational to the development of US national identity in the nineteenth century, the "victory" was evidence of its innate morality and historical inevitability. The predominant narrative of a white Christian triumph over wilderness and savagery underscored the religious and racial aspects of manifest destiny and demonstrated how the discursive production of the nation depended on the rhetorical elimination of challenges to a hegemonic Anglo-American Protestant identity.

Meanwhile, a hemisphere away, the Argentine government used remarkably similar notions of religious and racial superiority to celebrate the annexation of millions of square miles of previously unincorporated territory into the nation. During an 1889 speech, Vice President Carlos Pellegrini declared:
The fertile and immense deserts of our continent are not ours in the
sense that we are able to keep them from human demands; they were
placed by the hand of the Creator to serve all humanity, and if it is
our duty to rule them, it falls to us, our children and all the men of
the world who wish to cultivate them with their work, under the
protection of our liberal laws. (4)

Speaking just five years after the culmination of the Conquista del Desierto, Pellegrini highlighted the divine will that had bestowed these lands on Argentina. His speech overtly echoes Genesis, in which God gives man dominion over all living things with the condition that man be fruitful and multiply. Although his welcome was nominally open to "all the men of the world," Pellegrini made it clear that this hospitality was reserved for those who were able to labor "under the protection of our liberal laws." This qualification may not have been an overt racial and religious litmus test for future citizens. However, in 1889 only naturalized males of a certain economic status who overwhelmingly lived in Argentina's cities and who overwhelmingly understood themselves as "white" enjoyed the rights of full citizens, and it is not a stretch to suggest that Pellegrinis invitation extended to a limited subset and excluded those who did not fit this implicit ideal.

The statement's inherent presumption about a "real" Argentine identity reflected a longer history of interaction between the "civilized" descendants of certain European immigrants and the "barbarous" peoples of the country's interior who existed outside the reach of modernity. Domingo Sarmiento's 1845 novel Facundo: O civilizacion y barbarie established this dichotomy, laying out the stakes for the battle of words and arms over Argentina's national character. Sarmiento criticized the savagery of the untamed peoples of the interior, including their refusal to adopt the trappings of civilization and their lack of faith in God. Sarmiento believed that the combination of formal education and technological advancement would tame the wild pampas and bring progress to the entire nation. Those who would not or could not keep up would be left behind, becoming vestiges of a bygone era. Facundo is hardly the only text to advocate the critical importance of "whiteness" and civilization to Argentine national identity in the mid-nineteenth century, but it is perhaps the most significant. The extension of the civilization-barbarity dyad from the civil wars of the 1840s and 1850s to the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s and 1880s was a relatively straightforward rhetorical leap and proved instrumental in justifying the military campaigns carried out against the indigenous peoples of southern Argentina.


The expansionist projects of the United States and Argentina shared a paradoxical fascination with the frontier as a site of identity production. During the mid-nineteenth century, the literal and figurative border between civilization and wilderness became a critical, discursive space for the emergence of national character. In the United States, this took the form of the frontiersman, while in Argentina the gaucho became the embodiment of a particular notion of argentinidad. The paradox came from the tension between the romanticized acceptance of these figures as defining some piece of the national soul and the fact that they existed almost completely outside (or even opposed to) the urban centers where such identity-making was generally formalized. Both frontiersmen and gauchos occupied a liminal space in which they freely intermingled with native populations, disdaining the "civilization" of the East (in the United States) or Buenos Aires (in Argentina). And in both cases, the wars of conquest and subjugation against indigenous groups that culminated in the 1870s and 1880s marked the disappearance of that frontier and the beginning of the end for frontiersmen and gauchos.

Historian Frederick Jackson Turner's famous analysis of the American West and the role of the frontier in the construction of a national identity in the United States illustrated the lasting effects of manifest destiny in the collective US imaginary. Emerging from the Civil War (1861-1865), the newly coherent country faced a monumental task: healing the psychic wounds of a conflict that had literally rent it in two and (re)establishing a base for the construction of a shared future. From the perspective of the twentieth century, it might be easy to assume the "historical transcendence" of the United States. However, it was not until after the end of the war that the country moved from "these United States" to "the United States," a small but crucial distinction that highlighted the heterogeneity and the lack of a shared identity prior to the 1860s. (5) Turner, tracing the origins of a uniquely "American" character, argued that in the aftermath of the Civil War, the western frontier, as the contact zone between settled and free lands, functioned as the site of production for the new United States and for a new US citizenry. Turner's frontier thesis suggested that the people who populated this frontier experienced a profound psychological and spiritual transformation, ceasing to be Europeans and becoming, instead, Americans. (6) Within this imaginary, no single figure was as important as the "frontiersman," whose ability to provide for himself and his freedom from the constraints of civilization embodied the idealized individualism of the young nation. Significantly, Turner also held that this transformation from "civilized" to "primitive" put the frontiersman "on par with the 'savage' Indian." (7) This equivalency illustrated the depth of the personal change that Turner aimed to describe while simultaneously reinforcing the unbridgeable otherness of the indigenous population. US national identity came out of this clash between the civilization of its European past and the savagery of the untamed continent. However, the end product was not the frontiersman but rather an amalgam that combined the individualism and self-sufficiency of the frontier with the modernity and progress of the cities. The frontiersman became an evolutionary stage on the way to bigger and better things: the very national destiny that expansionist supporters rallied behind throughout the 1800s. Meanwhile, Turner's Indian was consigned to a far more limited fate. Although he provided the inspiration and guidance for the rugged survivalism of the frontiersman, the Indian did not have a place in the future nation. Instead, he remained trapped in prehistory, unable to contribute to the founding of a new people.

Argentina's colonial past differed significantly from that of the United States, but by the 1860s the country found itself in a similar position. Decades of bloody internal conflict between the Federalistas and the Unitarios effectively ended with the ascension of Bartolome Mitre as president in 1862. Between independence and unification, however, a figure emerged who mirrored that of the frontiersman in the United States, and came to be seen as the truest expression of Argentine national identity: the gaucho. Famed for his skill as a horseman and hunter, his ability to pass through dangerous territory and transcend cultural boundaries that separated worlds, the gaucho lived outside the law of the city, depending on himself for his survival. More than the frontiersman, the gaucho of the nineteenth century was a divisive figure. Sarmiento's Facundo and Jose Hernandez's Martin Fierro, the protagonist of two epic poems published in the 1870s, famously represented the complex and contradictory figure of the gaucho, even as they helped enshrine him as an ingrained part of the national character. The gaucho's existence apart from the constraints of modern society, exemplified by the liberal nation-state evolving primarily in Buenos Aires, allowed him a freedom and independence that helped define Argentina's national identity by the end of the 1800s and shaped its evolution in the twentieth century.

Following the battles of the 1840s and 1850s, Argentina needed an uncontroversial site for the construction of a new figure who could serve to unify former enemies and spur the nation's continued development. Victory over a foreign power in the War of the Triple Alliance in 1870 proved a critical first step in this process, as the republic seemed more cohesive than at any point in its 60-year history. (8) As in the case of the United States, however, it was the frontier that provided the space from which emerged the archetype of Argentina's national character, the gaucho. Unlike the descendants of European immigrants in the cities, the gaucho was a true "native son of the land" who might have indigenous or African blood and yet remained the most Argentine of the country's inhabitants. (9) The product of the clash between wilderness and civilization, the gaucho existed on both sides of the frontier, though perhaps without the same cultural valorization the frontiersman enjoyed. Although it presented a conflicted and at times critical portrait, Hernandez's epic saga following the life of Martin Fierro helped the gaucho take his place as a figure of national importance and a key player in the formation and consolidation of modern Argentina. The term manifest destiny never resonated explicitly in Argentina as it did in the United States, but as the embodiment of argentinidad, the gaucho nonetheless proved vital to the idea that the nation had not only the right but the obligation to continue its extension south and west to fulfill the divine calling the country had been given.

For the frontiersman and the gaucho, the first half of the nineteenth century marked their high points as historical actors and for both it was the aftermath of catastrophic intranational conflict that helped establish them as archetypes of national identity. While the frontier had long been romanticized in both the United States and Argentina, it took the closing of that frontier for these figures to gain the recognition and even reverence that they came to enjoy in the twentieth century. The frontiersman and the gaucho became necessary evolutionary phases through which the (US) American and the Argentine had to pass in order to achieve their destinies. Significantly, they shared a close and complicated relationship to the indigenous populations of their respective countries. This connection proved vital as a link between the pre-Colombian past and the New World future national elites envisioned at the end of the 1800s. As the actual frontier disappeared, the image of those who had moved back and forth across it became a critical piece of the shared identity that could connect former foes through a mythic vision of that past. The native peoples themselves, however, were not incorporated into this evolving national character. Their destiny, it seemed, was to remain forever relics, confined to the prehistory out of which had blossomed a new country and a new people.


Like the mid-century wars against Mexico and Paraguay, the internal wars of conquest in the United States and Argentina offered a shared experience of combat against a racialized other and the rhetorical space needed for the consolidation of a new national identity. For each nation, the relationship between settlers and indigenous peoples had been defined by conflict virtually since first contact. Government efforts to extend the frontier further into territory formerly controlled by native populations in the nineteenth century necessarily intensified this conflict and created the conditions for physical violence on a massive scale.

The Indian Wars in the United States reached their apogee in the years following the conclusion of the Civil War, as federal troops returned to outposts across the West that had been abandoned in 1861. During the 1861-1865 period, different indigenous groups took advantage of the empty military outposts and forts and carried out devastating raids from the Rio Grande north into the Montana territory. Coordinated attacks, like the Dakota Wars of 1862 and the Elm Creek Raid carried out by Comanche and Kiowa in Texas in 1864, pushed back the frontier by as much as 100 miles in certain areas. However, the end of the Civil War brought tens of thousands of battle-trained soldiers back to their garrisons, beginning the final stages of the Indian Wars. Where the Civil War had pitted brother against brother, there was no similar recognition of the humanity of the enemy during the campaigns against the native peoples of the West. The military's scorched-earth tactics left villages burned to the ground and thousands of indigenous soldiers and civilians dead in order to prove the United States' dominion over those lands. Once again, the victory, no matter how bloody and vicious, provided justification for the carnage: if Providence had not intended for the American people to rule the continent, surely the result would have been different.

By the late 1880s, large-scale armed confrontations between indigenous peoples and Euro-American settlers and the US army had essentially come to an end. This by no means brought peace to the region, as the hostility and tensions created and nurtured over more than 100 years continue to shape relations into the present. However, after tens of thousands of lives lost over decades of pitched warfare, the frontier, in the sense of a contested space between free and settled, started to close and the native populations who had lived on the other side of that frontier saw their way of life vanish before the progress and modernity of a nation in pursuit of its destiny.

Like the circumstances that drove westward expansion in the United States, the push to incorporate new territory into the Argentine nation reflected several factors. In addition to the need to produce a cohesive, unified polity following decades of civil war, the threat of border conflict with Chile, the increased value of Argentine wool and beef on the international market, and the government's desire to open more land to accommodate the rapidly growing immigrant population all underscored the importance of firmly securing the pampas and Patagonia. (10) Standing in the way of these goals and posing a threat to the emergent identity on which the Argentine nation could be constructed was el indio, whose continued autonomy in the lands south of Buenos Aires province defied the government's aspirations. The "Indian problem" gave rise to two schools of thought among Argentine leaders in the 1860s and early 1870s. One school advocated a gradual advance of the frontier southward coupled with the introduction of agricultural colonies of European immigrants to establish whiteness in these new regions of the nation. The goal would be the slow elimination of the indigenous presence through miscegenation. The alternative strategy was a war of extermination that would rapidly open vast new territories as yet unknown but with enormous potential wealth while at the same time permanently removing the Indian." Although the approaches differed with respect to tactics, they shared the same vision: a civilized, white Argentina free from the presence of native peoples.

The decision over which plan to follow became clearer for the Argentine government following a massive raid by the Mapuche lonco (chief) Calfucura in March 1872 that devastated the southern reaches of Buenos Aires province. The assault left hundreds dead and the raiders escaped with an estimated 70,000 head of cattle and the same number of horses. (12) This attack prompted the aggressive pursuit of open warfare against the indigenous peoples of the south. Several years of running conflict and clashes in the 1870s wore down the native population prior to Roca's 1878-1879 expedition, which marked the Argentine state's full commitment to the subjugation of the pampas and Patagonia. During the first months of the campaign, the indigenous population was reduced by as much as a third as the violence of the Argentine military against men, women, and children in the south reached terrible levels. In November 1878, a contingent of the army led by Julio Roca's brother Rudecindo massacred more than sixty indigenous civilians in an act that contemporary newspaper coverage called a crime beyond the laws of humanity and the laws of war. (13) By the middle of the 1880s, the conflict between the free indigenous peoples of the south and the Argentine government had been definitively decided. The ability of the native populations to resist the advance of progress across the plains was permanently broken and the consolidation of the present-day borders of the Argentine nation was virtually complete.

As in the United States, the magnitude of physical violence carried out against indigenous groups of the pampas and Patagonia was staggering. As much as two-thirds of the native population south and west of Buenos Aires died at the hands of the Argentine military over a period of less than a decade. The rationale behind the brutality of the Conquista offers an important rhetorical bridge between the physical violence of the military campaign and the discursive violence underpinning Argentina's expansionist logic. In his 1870 work Una excursion a los indios ranqueles, Argentine politician and soldier General Lucio Mansilla wrote, "Those uninhabited desert fields, have a great future, and with the solemn majesty of their silence, they beg for men and labor. When will the pink dawn shine for them? When? Ay! When the ranqueles have been exterminated or reduced, Christianized, and civilized." (14) The paradox here between supposedly uninhabited lands and the need to eliminate the Ranqueles who lived there introduces the question of humanity and alterity, the idea that the people of that land were somehow less than people and that the land remained available for occupation and annexation. It was this language, both in the moment of the conquest and in the construction of official accounts afterward, that permitted the erasure of native populations from the official record and their exclusion from the future of Argentina.

If the frontiersman and the gaucho earned a place in their respective national imaginaries for their willingness to live along the frontier, it was always the Indian/el indio who defined the frontier. Argentine historian Salvador San Martin's 1965 study of Roca's 1878-1879 expedition exemplified the predominant attitude toward the indigenous peoples of the south vis-a-vis the conquest. His introduction of el indio plays on the language of Genesis, as he describes "the beginning":
In the beginning, there was the Desert.... The unknown and distant land
... full of legend and swept by the wild winds...
In the beginning, there was the Indian.... Lord of the pampas...
arrogant and brave. He loved too much the primitive savagery of his
hearths and unable to comprehend the love for the homeland that
sheltered him without his knowledge.
In the beginning was the frontier... the raid, the theft, the death
... (15)

Even in this short passage, the multiple representations of the Indian combine to construct a distance between the humanity of the Euro-Argentine author and reader, on the one hand, and the mythological idea of "el indio" on the other.

The biblical parallel helps connect the desert, the Indian, and the past, reinforcing both the ties between the Indian and the wilderness and the separation of the Indian from the present. (16) By associating indigeneity with legend, not to mention primitivism and the savage, San Martin effectively places it outside the modern world, placing the very concept of indigeneity beyond the boundaries of civilization. The unmistakable echoes of Sarmiento's dichotomy further isolated indigeneity in the wilderness of the past. When this text was published in 1965, San Martins characterization of the Indian as antithetical to civilization, as inherently incapable of becoming "civilized," carried with it the not-so-subtle suggestion that in that moment, the continued existence of indigenous peoples in the pampas and/or Patagonia was impossible. Given the inability of the Indian to comprehend the modern nation-state and given that in the mid-twentieth century Argentina existed as such, the only conclusion is that in that moment, the Indian did not. (17) In part, this exclusion reflects the necessity of protecting the white, Christian, Euro-Argentine identity from possible contamination by el indio. At the same time, it serves as a post facto rationale for expansionism, echoing the comments of Mansilla and Pelligrini regarding Argentina's need to eliminate the Indian to achieve its national destiny. Although the term manifest destiny is obviously not present, the same logic lies just below the surface.

San Martin's mid-twentieth-century representation of indigeneity was far from a creation of its moment. Contemporary accounts of the conquest created the blueprint that official discourse tended to follow. Predictably, race and religion provided the framework for judging and then condemning the native populations encountered during the military campaigns of the 1870s and 1880s. Religion proved an especially interesting point of contact. The presence of missionaries on Roca's expedition evoked the idea of a Crusade as a civilizing army tamed the wilderness and either eliminated or converted the heathens. (18) Christianity became a battleground for the clash of humanity versus otherness, while conversion became another tool for the erasure of indigeneity, supporting the broader negation of an indigenous presence in narratives of the Conquista.

Antonio Espinosa, a Jesuit priest who later became the archbishop of Buenos Aires, accompanied the Argentine military on several campaigns through the pampas and Patagonia in this period, including Roca's initial 1878-1879 journey. Along the way, Espinosa kept a detailed journal of his daily experiences and encounters. This diary, which was published in Argentina in 1939, exemplifies the discursive violence committed against native populations in official histories of the conquest.

The most striking feature of Espinosa's account is how few direct or even indirect references to indigenous peoples there actually are. For the most part, indios are mentioned in passing, almost exclusively as subject participants in religious ceremonies that Espinosa or one of the other priests on the expedition oversaw. The presence of soldiers merits the occasional remark, but even though Espinosa was in the middle of a nominal war zone, his diary contains only a single indirect reference to martial violence by either side. (19) The disregard for indigenous agency in Espinosa's narrative illustrates the contradiction between the public rationale for the conquest and the underlying ideology of expansionism driven by divine favor. At the same time that the Argentine state pursued the physical elimination of the Indian, the rhetorical basis of the annexation depended on the idea that the lands in question were empty and awaiting the productive embrace of the Euro-Argentine people. The identity under construction was both Christian and white, and indigeneity was relegated to a nether region of the past. This not only eliminated the contemporary figure of the autonomous Indian in 1879 but also precluded his becoming part of the future Argentina.

Instead of descriptions in which Espinosa explicitly discussed the indigeneity of the people he encountered, he described in his journal how the conquest helped construct this Argentine identity. Stories of conversions, baptisms, communions, confirmations, and weddings dominate the diary. Although the subjects of these ceremonies are frequently unclear, further eliding the indigenous presence, the rare moments where that subject is described as Indian/indio have two significant consequences. First, they emphasize the position of the Indian as subjugated. Portrayals of native peoples as acted on (converted) by the civilizing Christianity of the Argentine mission reinforce the incapability of the Indian to act on his own behalf. Second, through the conversion process, Espinosa essentially created new people, transforming them from Indians to Christians and thus "civilizing" them. This change marks the stark division between savages confined to the past, who were not represented in Espinosa's account because they had no place in Argentina's future, and civilized Christians remade by conversion. Religion serves as the bridge for the inherent paradox of Espinosa's journal, allowing for the incorporation of potential citizens into the evolving republic while simultaneously negating their indigenous heritage.

For Espinosa, two possibilities existed for the native peoples of the pampas and Patagonia: either they could actively resist the Argentine advance and be eliminated, erased from his narrative of the conquest, or they could become converted subjects, their indigeneity exchanged for a Christianity that permitted them the chance of a future (albeit an extremely marginalized one). In both cases, Espinosa was unwilling or unable to consider indigenous populations as autonomous and actualized persons; he denied their humanity and condemned them to, at best, a second-class existence. Even those who converted, frequently under threat of death, achieved only part of the necessary "white Christian" identity that Argentina's elite built up over the next several decades. Although they were Christian, they could never be white, and thus their place remained at the margins of the nation.

The racialized aspect of this discourse is evident in statements made by another contemporary of the conquest, Estanislao Zeballos, a scientist, ethnographer, politician, and the founder and first director of the Argentine Geographical Institute. In 1881, in response to a question about the physical remains of the indigenous people the Argentine military had killed since 1878, Zeballos responded:
My dear lieutenant, I answered, putting my foot into the stirrup, if
Civilization has urged you to twist and persecute their race and
conquer their lands, so Science urges that I serve her by bringing the
skulls of Indians to the museums and laboratories. Barbarism is cursed,
and not even the remains of its dead will remain in the desert. (20)

Two critical features are at play in this quote. One is the overt racism Zeballos displays toward the native peoples of southern Argentina; it reaffirms the existence of a racial hierarchy in which the whiteness of the Euro-Argentine population dominates the natural inferiority of the indigenous Other. Much as the winning of the West in the United States proved the moral righteousness of the undertaking and confirmed God's plan for the Anglo-American people, the triumph of civilization over barbarity in the pampas and Patagonia demonstrated unequivocally that divine will always intended that territory to be Argentine and to fall under the dominion of its white, Christian inhabitants. The circular logic of manifest destiny here serves to make the present inevitable-nothing else could have happened because nothing else did happen. The second aspect of Zeballos's statement relates to what he calls "Science." The shipment of the physical remains of the indigenous peoples the Argentine military had killed to museums and laboratories transformed those remains into relics "of an almost prehistorical past." (21) This "museification" of Indians further distanced them from the shared identity of living Argentine human beings and prevented them from playing a role in the articulation of the modern state. Indeed, if the skulls of Indians are only relevant as objects of study, this attitude turns the surviving native populations into living fossils. (22) Zeballos thus eliminated even the possibility of their participation, for they belong to another time.

In the decades after the Conquista, the erasure of indigenous peoples became an unquestioned reality in Argentina's official history. By the middle of the twentieth century, the native populations in the pampas and Patagonia had been almost completely forgotten, except where the idea of "el indio" served as a foil against which the heroism of the Argentine military could be projected. When Antonio Espinosa's journal was published in 1939, Argentine historian Bartolome Galindez provided an extensive introduction and detailed footnotes. Galindez's contextualization and commentary further illustrate the process of invisibilization in official discourse. His introduction addressed the indigenous presence in Patagonia to a slightly greater extent than Espinosa did. However, these references epitomize how the indigenous groups of southern Argentina were consistently portrayed as less than human. He wasted little time reaffirming Sarmiento's opposition between the civilization of Argentina's armies and the barbarity of the "savages," to use his term, who lived beyond the frontier.

Considering the significance of the military expeditions of the 1870s and 1880s with respect to morality and modernity, Galindez suggested that "the greatest of the triumphs of civilization is made up of the rights of man, his freedom of thought and his freedom to work with dignity.... This liberty assigns to everyone their portion of responsibility; if one does not have it, it is, simply, because one does not deserve it." (23) Barely implicit in this statement is the degradation of the native peoples of the pampas and Patagonia, whom Galindez locates outside civilization, thereby withholding freedom, dignity, and even humanity. Like San Martin's mythological origin story, Galindez emphasizes that the Indian belonged to an era that no longer existed and that as such the Indian could no longer exist. This erasure served two purposes. First, it reaffirmed the unified, white Euro-Argentine identity by eliminating the potential contaminant of indigeneity from the national polity. Second, it subtly justified the military expedition, both by questioning the humanity of the previous inhabitants and by reinforcing the myth of the "empty" deserts waiting for the right people to arrive and put that land to productive use. The people who deserve civilization and its associated trappings, like liberty and dignity, are those for whom it was destined. Those who lack such privileges are, by definition, unworthy of them and thus unworthy of a place in the modern nation-state. Through the repetition this particular logic, they become invisible both in official discourse and with respect to the shared identity that binds the people of the nation together.

Galindez and San Martin were not the only ones whose rhetoric helped construct an "official history" of the Conquista del Desierto in the early and mid-twentieth century. Rather, they exemplify how highly racialized and religious discourses that emerged alongside the campaigns not only survived but continued to dominate representations of indigeneity for decades. The discursive erasure of the native peoples of southern Argentina from accounts of the formation of the Argentine polity illustrates the extent to which the idea of "whiteness" was inextricable from the drive for territorial expansion and how both concepts depended on the belief in the nation's divinely ordained destiny. To achieve this goal, any potential impurity in or inconsistency with that vision had to be removed. The invisibilization of "el indio" was vital not only for the consolidation of the national territory but also for the articulation of a new national identity at the end of nineteenth century and for its subsequent celebration in the twentieth.


Not surprisingly, the native peoples of the pampas and Patagonia did not simply disappear after 1884. Over the next century, they continued to exist at the periphery of the nation-state even as the official rhetoric denied their presence. From at least the early 1800s, Argentina's emphasis on whiteness and on the concept's significance to national identity has made its relationship to its indigenous populations somewhat distinct in the context of the Americas. The idea of mestizaje, so important across much of the hemisphere, never carried the same weight in Argentina, largely because of the unique geographical and cultural features of the southern frontier, which dominated the narrative of national expansion and consolidation and differed in critical respects from the boundaries that defined European-Indian contact zones in the Amazon, the Andes, and Central America. (24) In many ways, because of this lack of engagement with mestizaje, Argentina exemplifies Rebecca Earle's argument about the contradictory engagement of Latin American republics with their indigenous inhabitants. (25) Although the Argentine flag bears the image of Inti, the Incan sun deity, celebrating the Incan empire that once extended into what are today the provinces of Salta, Jujuy, and Tucuman, this recognition reflected a romantic vision of specific indigenous groups combined with a postindependence need to break with the colonial past and establish a New World origin story to distinguish Argentina's national experiment from its Spanish origins. Even in the northwest, this attitude toward the Inca did not necessarily extend to official recognition and/or valorization of extant native peoples in most of the twentieth century.

Within this context, the situation of the indigenous populations across southern Argentina differed considerably from conditions in Argentina's north, and not for the better. The main reason for this has origins deep in Argentina's national history. Following independence, the United Provinces of La Plata, the precursor to the modern Argentine state, declared all Indians free from servitude and made them legal citizens of the new republic. However, in practice this decree applied principally to the peoples of northern Argentina and Alto Peru (present-day Bolivia) who had historic ties to the Incan empire and who had already been part of the Spanish empire for centuries. In contrast, "the Criollo elite [of Argentina] still saw the militarily autonomous groups of the Chaco, the pampas, and Patagonia as barbarians located beyond their sphere of influence." (26) In the wake of the conquest, this official antagonism combined with the myth of the extermination of the Indian to create a conjuncture in which gaining formal recognition of existence became a nearly impossible struggle for most indigenous groups of the pampas and Patagonia. (27) Within this narrative, it was common knowledge that Roca's 1878-1879 expedition and subsequent campaigns had wiped out the native peoples of the south, a fact that could be verified by the uniform whiteness of the Argentine populace. The logical conclusion for the late twentieth century was that any group claiming indigenous identity was necessarily lying.

Indeed, the struggles of various peoples for official acknowledgment since the 1980s have come to represent more than simply a challenge to the hegemonic story of a "white" Argentina. Before being able to demand rights, land, or political voice, these groups have faced the need to simply establish their existence. These efforts are, in fact, both "a critical engagement with the narratives that constituted [native populations] as subjects" and "an attempt to undermine invisibilization not just by becoming 'visible' but by gaining state recognition." (28) This approach has sought to directly counteract the erasure implicit in the formal constructions of argentinidad. One especially important, albeit complicated, development on this front has been the reemergence of populations thought to have vanished completely. The reclamation of indigenous identities in the 1980s and 1990s challenged long-standing representations of certain peoples as campesinos, which had sought to delegitimize their native heritage and cultural practices.

Two cases exemplify this pattern. In the late 1980s, after decades living in rural agrarian communities across the pampas and parts of Patagonia without self-identifying as indigenous, groups of Ranquel people, the same indigenous population Mansilla wanted to eradicate in the 1870s, started to consciously reconstitute themselves as such, promoting "a distinct Rankulche identity." This "reemergence" challenged established ideas about culture, property, land rights, and political participation. More recently, the Selk'nam of Tierra del Fuego began a push for formal recognition. The Selk'nam (also called the Ona) were considered to have been "completely wiped out by violence and disease" in the early twentieth century. Yet in 2000, a community of 300 people claiming Selk'nam ancestry organized and undertook a campaign to recover titles for lands in Tierra del Fuego, which had at one time belonged to the Selk'nam people. (29) By 2010, the national census counted some 2,700 people throughout Argentina who self-identified as Selk'nam, with nearly 300 living in Tierra del Fuego itself. (30) Since the 1980s, communities like the Ranquel and Selk'nam have begun to articulate new identities, reconceptualizing themselves as heirs to indigenous traditions stretching back to before the arrival of the Spanish.

However, the complex legacies of the Conquista del Desierto and the official narrative that supported it have made such efforts complicated and uncertain endeavors. Especially in the pampas and Patagonia, the rise of indigenous movements has encountered scrutiny and criticism because of the thorny question of autochthony in the region. The unique and difficult history of internal migration and cultural assimilation among and between different native peoples who inhabited southern Argentina over several centuries has proven particularly challenging to untangle, leaving numerous questions unanswered regarding the historical rights of particular indigenous groups across the pampas and Patagonia.

In 1878, as the Conquest of the Desert began, the Mapuche people dominated most of the territory south of Buenos Aires province, located between the Atlantic and the Andes. For several decades, the Mapuches had also been the principal military aggressors in the running conflict with the Argentine military. Yet, since the 2000s, scholars have increasingly argued that the Mapuche, also called the Araucano, had arrived relatively recently by crossing the mountains from Chile and settling on Argentine plains in the first half of the eighteenth century. (31) In this interpretation, the Mapuche quickly took advantage of the vast herds of horses and cattle the Spanish had introduced and established themselves as the ruling population. They further consolidated their authority by subjugating other indigenous groups through violence, or, as in the case of Calfucura from the 1830s, integrating them into the broader Mapuche culture through intermarriage and the building of coalitions and alliances. (32) This araucanizacion of the pampas--during which the Araucano/Mapuche established their dominance over this territory--transformed the interrelationships of different native peoples, especially those who predated the Mapuche, as they were at least partially incorporated into this new power structure.

This process also helped generate controversies over identity that came to the fore with the mobilizations of indigenous populations in the final decades of the twentieth century. The question of displacement and autochthony remains a highly contentious issue. Anthropologists Gaston Gordillo and Silvia Hirsch have argued that the pampas were home to the Ranquel people since at least the 1600s and that they continued to inhabit those lands throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, until they were in part absorbed by the large Mapuche migration from Chile. (33) In a 2007 interview discussing the emergence of (specifically Mapuche) indigenous social movements, Argentine archaeologist and historian Rodolfo Casamiquela claimed that "any Chilean knows that the Mapuches are Chilean.... 99% of those that define themselves as Mapuche are of Tehuelche origin." In the same interview, Casamiquela also argued that the Tehuelche were the original inhabitants of the pampas and mourned the loss of the Tehuelche language and a distinctive Tehuelche culture, which he saw as casualties of the araucanizacion process. (34) To further complicate matters, historian Alfred Hasbrouck introduces another possibility, suggesting that the Tehuelche, along with the Picunche, the Pehuelche, and the Huilches "were all branches of the great Araucanian tribe which lived in southern Chile" and came over the mountains into Argentina. (35) These disagreements evidence the difficulty of reconstructing the murky and largely undocumented interactions between migratory populations across an immense territory over several centuries.

Yet the debate is not merely academic. This uncertainty raises questions regarding the legal and political implications of the araucanizacion of the pampas and Patagonia in the nineteenth century. Unlike indigenous movements in other Latin American countries, claims to land in southern Argentina based on concepts such as hereditary rights can face unique legal hurdles. Similar to the history of (often forced) migrations of native peoples in the United States, the patterns of indigenous movements in Argentina both before and after contact with Euro-Argentines makes legitimizing property rights extremely difficult in the best of circumstances. In a controversial statement, Casamiquela argued that if indigenous peoples of Patagonia "define themselves as Mapuche, they are Chilean, and if they are Chilean, they have no right to land in Argentina." (36) Thus, in addition to fighting for formal recognition from the Argentine government, many groups have also been charged with the perhaps impossible task of verifying their own autochthony. These difficulties also echo one of the characteristic traits of manifest destiny in the United States: the imposition of a "civilized" order on a seemingly chaotic prehistoric system, with the result that concepts such as rights and property are (re)applied to benefit the recently arrived settlers. (37) Indigenous peoples in southern Argentina, who have been systematically erased from official histories and whose continued existence, at least formally, remains an undecided question, confront a history in which their nonpresence must contend with the national destiny that was divinely appointed to Argentina. This has often proved a tall order.

The persistent invisibilization of native peoples across southern Argentina has created at least one other serious obstacle to formal recognition by the Argentine government. Since the 1980s, the reemergence of populations previously believed to be extinct has given rise to criticisms that they are "fake indians" (indios truchos) in order to delegitimize their demands for new political and territorial rights. That many groups do not display what are considered traditional "markers" of Indianness, such as clothing and language, has led to the accusation that these peoples do not "perform indigeneity" in the right way. (38) Although the current application of this idea does not often consciously seek historical grounding, this attitude both mimics and builds on the museification of indigeneity that accompanied the military expeditions of the late 1870s and early 1880s. Even the survivors of those campaigns became exhibits of a past without future, a move that robbed them of their capacity to inhabit the present moment. A current attitude is that if the Conquista had emptied the pampas and Patagonia so that they could be settled by Euro-Argentine migrants, then the claims to indigenous ancestry must surely be falsehoods. After all, the people making those claims do not even look like Indians.

Here again, the legacy of manifest destiny in the United States can provide a framework for understanding these struggles. The challenge to indigeneity based on assumptions about "performance" of an identity has been common throughout the Americas for decades. (39) The parallels between the United States and Argentina regarding the histories of expansion and the narratives of extermination make these two cases better suited for comparison than most others. In his study of First Peoples in the United States, Wilbur Jacobs contested precisely this story of the disappearance of native populations. Jacobs used demographic data to show that despite assumptions of decline, the indigenous population of the United States experienced a sharp rebound starting in the 1920s and continued to increase throughout the twentieth century. (40) As in the pampas and Patagonia, however, this growth remained invisible because of assumptions about who and what an Indian was. The seeming incongruity of an Indian driving a car, wearing jeans, speaking English (or Spanish), or using a tractor meant that even when these groups continued to exist in plain sight, their practices and appearances frequently kept others from recognizing a distinct personal or collective identity.

The tensions in the United States and Argentina between a romanticized understanding of native peoples as having an innate and spiritual connection to the land and the realities of a modern and increasingly interconnected world have complicated this question of acknowledgment. (41) Integral to the discourse that supported the annexation of southern Argentina was an assumption about who the inheritors of that land would be. The vast plains were destined to be made productive by Euro-Argentines while the previous inhabitants had no role to play in that future. When those same inhabitants made claims based on long-ignored identities, they exposed not only the enduring impact of the manifest destiny-like logic that justified the Conquista but also perhaps its fatal flaw. In spite of the official story of the supposed destiny of the nation and all the racial and religious implications of that story, the people assumed to have been left in the past had, in fact, been present all along.


Contemporary Argentines often suggest that, at least as related to the national identity, race is not a relevant category because "there are no blacks here." (42) This attitude speaks to the process of construction of national racial imaginaries and reintroduces the comparison between the United States and Argentina from another angle. The question of race in the United States has been predominantly understood and discussed through a white-black dichotomy, such that other racial identities are often elided by or subsumed into one of these two categories. There are many reasons for this, but the primary explanation is rooted deep in US national history. Toni Morrison has argued that almost since its founding, the United States has been haunted by the ghost of slavery and the denial of an African presence in the national imaginary. Anthropologist Galen Joseph suggests that Argentina's adoption of a similar white-black hierarchy, despite a markedly distinct relationship to its Afro-descended population, hints at a national desire to be considered the equal of the United States and Europe, emphasizing not only its whiteness but also its "civilization, European-ness, and first world-ness" (43)

While the specter that haunts the United States is black, the ghost hovering behind Argentina's national identity is indigenous. The erasure of the country's native peoples, both physical and discursive, has been remarkably successful, at least superficially. However, just as Toni Morrison's Beloved argues for the impossibility of ever truly eliding the African heritage in US identity, it has become increasingly unsustainable for Argentina to continue espousing a myth of national origin that establishes whiteness as the founding criterion for citizenship, especially when faced with the reconstitution of identities that the official narrative had claimed were lost forever. (44) Since the 2000s, the growing controversy surrounding the legacy of Roca, most visible in the debate over the continued use of his likeness on the 100-peso bill, has brought these questions to the fore and sparked a heated debate about the Conquista del Desierto and genocide.

In 2004, Juan Jose Cresto, president of the Argentine Academy of History, published an article in La Nation intended to dispute what he called the "myth of genocide" that had been gaining traction in the Argentine academy. After describing the number of people that accompanied Roca on his expeditions through the pampas and Patagonia, Cresto rhetorically asked:
Can one believe that all of these people and everyone else that
followed the expedition step by step could be silently complicit in the
case of genocide? Can five thousand people conceal a secret? Would a
humanist like President Avellaneda have permitted such a thing? (45)

What Cresto evidently does not consider is that genocide could mean more than simply the physical extermination of a people. Indeed, genocide might also entail the erasure of a peoples identity, culture, and past. This argument has been applied to the case of manifest destiny and the United States and to other contexts in which settlers' contact with indigenous populations along frontiers was defined by expansion. (46) With that understanding in mind, an argument can easily be made that the Conquista del Desierto and the invisibilization that followed fit the criteria. Surprisingly, Cresto himself actively contributes to this pattern, as he goes on to state that "discussing the Indian as such is an insult. Why Indian? He is, simply, one Argentine among thirty-six million, with the same rights and obligations as all." From the president of the Argentine Academy of History, who is nominally charged with crafting the nation's official history, this lack of attention to historical context is troubling, to say the least. Cresto's argument effectively carries forward the very same genocide that he claims never happened. Written in 2004, well after the mobilization of native groups had gained widespread notice, this article demonstrates just how difficult the road to recognition remains for indigenous peoples in Argentina.

Throughout the pampas and Patagonia, the legacies of the military campaigns of the 1870s and 1880s can seem almost tangible. One of the most significant counterpoints to the idea that manifest destiny is helpful for understanding Argentina's late-nineteenth-century expansion is the simple fact that, unlike the United States, Argentina's vast southern territories remain mostly empty into the present day. The ambitious discourse that imagined modernity and progress stretching to the Straits of Magellan, driven by the labor of millions of Euro-Argentine immigrants, largely failed to materialize. The foundational myth of Argentina transformed from one of divine benevolence to one of frustrated destiny, a narrative that has underpinned, either implicitly or overtly, much of the nation's twentieth century history and historiography. (47) If we take seriously Juan Alberti's famous dictum that "to govern is to populate," what does it mean that southern Argentina remains among the most sparsely populated regions in Latin America, if not the world?

In the introduction to his 2006 book La Patagonia vendida: los nuevos duenos de la tierra, journalist Gonzalo Sanchez interviews a hacendado who sold his land in Patagonia to a US millionaire who wanted to buy a piece of "paradise." The seller explains that "I sold it, and moved back to my farm in the province of Buenos Aires. There's space for everyone under the sky in Argentina. The south of the country, on the other hand, has always been a land of foreigners." (48) The last line gives one pause. Is it possible that the complex and difficult history of the pampas and Patagonia, the intricate and cloudy patterns of migration, violence, and assimilation, have perhaps created a place that is home to no one? If Patagonia has always been and remains today a land of foreigners, what does that mean for the destiny of the nation and for the indigenous groups attempting to reemerge from the shadow of more than a century of oblivion? Physical and discursive violence combined to create a situation in which Argentina's national origin story did not simply marginalize the Other but sought to actively erase them. The difficulties the resurgent native populations have encountered are indeed complex and there will be no easy solutions. However, the mere fact that the conversation has not only begun but has flourished suggests that indigenous groups in Argentina have made progress toward that first goal: recognition. And while much remains to be done, if a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, it is good to acknowledge that that step has been taken.


I would like to thank several people whose comments and feedback enhanced this article. Shane Greene, Deborah Cohn, Jeff Gould, and Daniel James all offered responses to and suggestions for initial drafts. The criticisms and suggestions from the two anonymous readers at the Journal of Global South Studies greatly improved the paper, as did the copyediting of Kate Babbitt. In addition, I want to extend my gratitude to CLACS at Indiana University for the opportunity to present an early version of this research.

(1.) Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).

(2.) A note on word choice: as is true of any label that implies racial or cultural divisions, the terms "Indian" and "indio" can be extremely problematic. These concepts have carried different meanings at different times in different places and any analysis of Indian/wdio must confront the historical contingency that conditions their use. This article, which focuses on elite discourse in Argentina and the United States in the nineteenth century, uses the ideas of

Indian/indio as the subjects of this analysis tended to use them: as representational figures that served as a rhetorical stand-in for wildness and savagery in the framework of nineteenth-century expansionist policies. The at-times-unqualified use of these terms in the article reflects a conscious decision to follow the usage patterns of the soldiers, clerics, and politicians in both countries who understood their world in this language. I have attempted, however, to distinguish between indigenous peoples as actually existing human beings and autonomous historical actors and the problematic and racialized representations of them at this time and in these places. When referring to the former, I use indigenous, native, or in the case of the United States, First Peoples, while for the latter, I use Indian/ indio in recognition of its past as a rhetorical construction for creating and reinforcing "otherness."

(3.) Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny, 1.

(4.) Salvador San Martin, Julio A. Roca: Su tiempo, su obra en la Patagonia (Buenos Aires: Talleres Graf. Lumen, 1965), 53. It is interesting to compare this quote with John O'Sullivan's use of the term manifest destiny: "And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us." See John O'Sullivan, "The True Title," New York Morning News, December 27, 1845.

(5.) Caroline F. Levander, "Bad Neighbor/Good Neighbor: Across the Disciplines toward Hemispheric Studies," in Teaching and Studying the Americas: Cultural Influences from Colonialism to the Present, edited by Anthony B. Pinn, Caroline F. Levander, and Michael O. Emerson (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 31.

(6.) Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (Huntington, NY: R. E. Krieger, 1976).

(7.) Julian Pleasants, "The Turner Thesis and the Role of the Frontier in American History," 0AH Magazine of History, 3, no. 2 (1988): 5.

(8.) The War of the Triple Alliance, which took place in 1864 to 1870, pitted Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay against Paraguay. For a more detailed account of Argentina's role and the influence of this conflict on national state formation in Argentina, see Chris Leuchars, To the Bitter End: Paraguay and the War of the Triple Alliance (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002).

(9.) Hebe Clementi, "National Identity and the Frontier," American Studies International 18, nos. 3/4 (1980): 36-44.

(10.) For more on the border conflict with Chile, see George Rauch, Conflict in the Southern Cone: The Argentine Military and the Boundary Dispute with Chile, 1870-1902 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999). For further economic data and statistics on immigration, see David

Rock, Argentina, 1516-1987: From Spanish Colonization to the Alphonsln (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

(11.) Graciela Silvestri, "El imaginario paisajistico en el litoral y el sur argentino," in Nueva Historia Argentina, vol. 4, edited by Marta Bonaudo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1999), 228-229.

(12.) Richard O. Perry, "Warfare on the Pampas in the 1870s," Military Affairs 36, no. 2 (1972): 52-58.

(13.) Diana Lenton, "De centauros a protegidos. La construcci[eth]n del sujeto de la politica indigenista argentina desde los debates parlamentarios (1880-1970)" (PhD diss., University of Buenos Aires, 2006), 88.

(14.) Lucio V. Mansilla, Una excursion a los indios ranqueles (Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria, 1966).

(15.) San Martin, Julio A. Roca, 32.

(16.) As Graciela Silvestri notes, the repetition of the connection between Indian and land became so widespread in official discourse that over time the two became practically interchangeable: "the Indian and the desert are one." This made the elimination of Indians even more vital; once they were removed from the land, the pampas would no longer be synonymous with desert but instead would become civilized. Silvestri, "El imaginario paisajistico en el litoral y el sur argentino," 222.

(17.) A final thought on this passage centers on San Martins description of the Indian as arrogant and brave. Not wanting to cheapen the accomplishment of the Argentine military, he presents the Indian as extinct but with a romanticized tint that portrays him as having been strong and proud. In the construction of the national narrative, it obviously benefits the official discourse to present the Conquest of the Desert not as the slaughter of a primitive and backward people incapable of resisting the Argentine advance but rather as a formidable opponent, a worthy adversary. Despite his bravery, however, the Indian cannot exist in Argentina's present, and his savagery together with his racial and religious inferiority confine him forever to a foreclosed past.

(18.) Cesar Bustos-Videla, "The 1879 Conquest of the Argentine 'Desert' and Its Religious Aspects," The Americas 21, no. 1 (1964): 36.

(19.) Antonio Espinosa, La conquista del desierto: Diario del capelldn de la expedicion de 1879, monsehor Antonio Espinosa (Buenos Aires: Comision Nacional, 1939), 83. Even that reference is a rather veiled one and without the proper context it might be possible to miss it altogether. On February 22, 1880, Espinosa briefly mentioned that a Dr. Moreno had entered the camp where he was staying at that moment, having escaped from the Indian chief Sayueche. He did not say that Moreno, a naturalist, had been captured by Sayueche, one of the leaders of the Indian nations unified in their opposition to the Argentine advance, or that Moreno had been condemned to death prior to his escape. In fact, Espinosa followed the note about Morenos arrival with the fairly mundane sentence: "We baptized 8 and I confirmed 29."

(20.) Estanislao Zeballos, Viaje alpais de los araucanos (Buenos Aires: El Elefante Blanco, 2002).

(21.) Jens Andermann, "Argentine Literature and the 'Conquest of the Desert,' 1872-1896," 2003, Relics & Selves: Iconographies of the National in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, 1880-1890 (Iberoamerican Museum of Visual Culture on the Web),

(22.) This history is made even more grim by the story that in the 1880s, several prisoners of the Conquista were kept in the basement of the Museum of La Plata as living exhibits. At least six of them died during their captivity. See Torres Cabrero, '"En el museo murieron, minimo, seis personas,'" Pdgina/12, October 12, 2015.

(23.) Bartolome Galindez, Introduction to La conquista del desierto: Diario del capelldn de la expedicion de 1879, monsehor Antonio Espinosa (Buenos Aires: Comision Nacional, 1939), 21.

(24.) Lourdes Martinez-Echabazal, "Mestizaje and the Discourse of National/Cultural Identity in Latin America, 1845-1959," Latin American Perspectives 25, no. 3 (1998): 21-42.

(25.) Rebecca Earle, The Return of the Native: Indians and Myth-Making in Spanish America, 1810-1930 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).

(26.) Gaston Gordillo and Silvia Hirsch, "Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina: Histories of Invisibilization and Reemergence," Journal of Latin American Anthropology 8, no. 3 (2003): 4-30.

(27.) Miguel Alberto Bartolome, "La disindianizacion de la Argentina," Boletin de Antropologia Americana 11 (June 1985): 39-50; Juan Jose Cresto, "Roca y el mito del genocidio," La Nacion, November 23,2004; Walter Delrio, Diana Lenton, Marcelo Musante, and Marino Nagy, "Discussing Indigenous Genocide in Argentina: Past, Present, and Consequences of Argentinean State Policies toward Native Peoples," Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal 5, no. 2 (2010): 138-159.

(28.) Gordillo and Hirsch, "Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina," 5. Italics in original.

(29.) Ibid., 20.

(30.) These numbers come from the national census carried out by the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Censos de la Republica Argentina in 2010,

(31.) See, among others, Roberto Edelmiro Porcel, La araucanizacion de nuestra Pampa: los Tehuelches y Pehuenches: los Mapuches invasores (Buenos Aires: Ediciones de Autor, 2007).

For an analysis of this hypothesis, see Sandra Ortelli, "La araucanizacion de las pampas: ?realidad historica o construction de los etnologos?" Anuario de IEHS 11 (1996): 203-255.

(32.) Rauch, Conflict in the Southern Cone, 4,42; Jonathan Brown, A Brief History of Argentina (New York: Facts on File, 2003), 139.

(33.) Gordillo and Hirsch, "Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina," 8-10.

(34.) Interview with Rodolfo Casamiquela, June 12, 2007. The interview original appeared in the online edition of the Diario Bolson. However, the posting has since been removed. The full text of the interview is available online at "Rodolfo Casamiquela: 'Los mapuches son chilenos... no tienen derecho sobre la tierra,'" IndyMedia Argentina,

(35.) Alfred Hasbrouck, "The Conquest of the Desert," Hispanic-American Historical Review 15, no. 2 (1935): 198.

(36.) See interview with Casamiquela.

(37.) Robert J. Miller, "American Indians, the Doctrine of Discovery, and Manifest Destiny," Wyoming Law Review 11, no. 2 (2011): 329-349.

(38.) Gordillo and Hirsch, "Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina," 20-21.

(39.) One major factor has been the rise of multicultural discourses across Latin America, which has opened spaces and provided motivations for new claims on indigenous identity. See, among others, Maria Elena Garcia, Making Indigenous Citizens: Identities, Education, and Multicultural Development in Peru (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005); Charles R. Hale, "Neoliberal Multiculturalism: The Remaking of Cultural Rights and Racial Dominance in Central America," Political and Legal Anthropology Review 28, no. 1 (May 2005): 10-28; and Laura R. Graham and H. Glenn Penny, Performing Indigeneity: Global Histories and Contemporary Experiences (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014).

(40.) Wilbur R. Jacobs, "The Indian and the Frontier in American History--A Need for Revision," Western Historical Quarterly 4, no. 1 (January 1973): 43.

(41.) Philip Deloria, Indians in Unexpected Places (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2004); Silvestri, "El imaginario paisajistico en el litoral y el sur argentino."

(42.) Galen Joseph, "Taking Race Seriously: Whiteness in Argentina's National and Transnational Imaginary," Identities 7, no. 3 (2000): 336. While Joseph is looking specifically at portenos in Buenos Aires, it does not seem too much of a stretch to apply his claim more broadly, as Buenos Aires has long dominated the national imaginary, serving as a center of cultural, political, and social production for the entire country. Since his article, however, race has become a far more important flashpoint because of immigration from surrounding nations, especially Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru, and immigration from China and Korea. Recently, President Mauricio Macri signed an executive order making it significantly easier to deport immigrants. Although this measure was supposedly enacted in response to crime, many Argentines saw it in overtly racial terms. See Sol Amaya, "Mauricio Macri firmo el decreto que modifica la Ley de Migraciones: cuales son sus principales puntos," La Nation, January 30, 2017; Simon Romero and Daniel Politi, "Argentina's Trump-Like Immigration Order Rattles South America," New York Times, February 4,2017.

(43.) Joseph, "Taking Race Seriously," 335. Argentina's relationship with blackness lies beyond the scope of this article, but is a fascinating question in its own right. See, among others, Joseph, "Taking Race Seriously"; Karin Weyland Usanna, "The Absence of an African Presence in Argentina and the Dominican Republic: Caught between National Folklore and Myth," Caribbean Studies38, no. 1 (2010): 107-127.

(44.) Linda Krumholz, "The Ghosts of Slavery: Historical Recovery in Toni Morrison's Beloved" African-American Review 26, no. 3 (1992): 395-408.

(45.) Cresto, "Roca y el mito del genocidio."

(46.) A. Dirk Moses, ed., Genocide and Settler Society: Frontier Violence and Stolen Indigenous Children in Australian History (New York: Berghahn Books, 2004); Michael A. McDonnell and A. Dirk Moses, "Raphael Lemkin as Historian of Genocide in the Americas," Journal of Genocide Research 7, no. 4 (2005): 501-529. Rafael Lemkin, one of the foremost scholars on genocide, has offered the following definition: "By 'genocide' we mean the destruction of an ethnic group.... Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups." Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress, 2nd ed. (Clark, NJ: Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 2008), 79.

(47.) Joseph S. Tulchin and Allison M. Garland, eds., Argentina: The Challenges of Modernization (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998); Victor Armony, "National Identity and State Ideology in Argentina," in National Identities and Socio-Political Changes in Latin America, edited by Mercedes F. Duran-Cogan and Antonio Gomez-Moriana (New York, NY: Routledge, 2013), 293-319.

(48.) Gonzalo Sanchez, La Patagonia Vendida: Los nuevos duehos de la tierra (Buenos Aires: Marea Editorial, 2006), 9.

EDWARD BRUDNEY is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Indiana University. His email address is
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Author:Brudney, Edward
Publication:Journal of Global South Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Mar 22, 2019

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