The History Behind the Removal of Argentina’s Version of ‘Aunt Jemima’Roundup
tags: racism, Argentina, African Diaspora, Latino/a history, Afro-Latino History
Erika Denise Edwards is a historian who specializes in Afro-Latin America, anti-blackness and Argentina.
The racial reckoning brought on by the murder of George Floyd last year extended far beyond questions about inequities in how the law is enforced in communities of color. Corporations were pushed to move beyond diversity mission statements to make real change, not only in their hiring practices but also in how their products were marketed.
As anti-racist uprisings went global, so too did corporate efforts to eliminate racist imagery. In February 2021, Quaker Oats announced a rebrand of “Aunt Jemima,” and in Argentina the product’s “cousin” also got a makeover. There, the Blancaflor label used a Black woman kneader, a smiling Sambo-like figure with enlarged white lips and a flyaway pigtail braid. Recently, Blancaflor decided to change its logo, after using it since 1956, and replace the packaging image with two (White-appearing) hands mixing the flour.
Such branding, and campaigns to change them, counter the narrative espoused by Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández, who recently claimed, “Mexicans came from the Indians, the Brazilians came out of the jungle, but we Argentines came from boats from Europe.” In attempts to clarify, he reiterated a version of Argentine history that omitted Black people.
But in fact, there is a long history of Black people — and anti-Blackness — in Argentina. Their experiences remind us of the fluidity of race and the ways in which Whiteness has been deeply interlinked with economic and political power.
Enslaved people first arrived from Brazil in 1585 to what is today Argentina. Ten years later, Pedro Gomes Reynel, a Portuguese trader, received an asiento to import 600 Africans annually to Buenos Aires, marking the beginning of a continuous legal slave trade that persisted until 1835, with an estimated 200,000 enslaved people arriving, mostly from Africa or from Brazil.
Because Buenos Aires remained a small town, traders sold the majority of the enslaved people to the interior of the country, with enslaved people stopping first in Córdoba on their way to Potosí or other interior cities such as Mendoza, Catamarca, Jujuy and Salta. The slave trade expanded to include intra-American trade, with a woman named Maria coming from Mexico City in 1609, and the Pacific slave trade with a person coming as far away as Japan. By the late 18th century, the first official census by the Spanish Crown estimated that enslaved people made up 30 percent of the population. The enslaved and later free Africans and African descendants largely concentrated in the cities and provided semiskilled labor.