Argentine Identity as Patchwork. Cultivating Volga German Heritage in the Entre Ríos Province

Master's Thesis, 2016

51 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents


Chapter One: Introduction
1.1 One Village, Several Identities
1.2 Hybridity: Widely Used, Strongly Criticised
1.3 Weaving Patchwork Identity
1.4 The Volga German Argentines: A Case Study

Chapter Two: Patchwork Identity in Performance
2.1 Festivals in Entre Rí­os: Tractors, Gaucho Competitions and Polka Dancing
2.2 Reenactment of the Past: Arrival to the Promised Land
2.3 The Sound of the "Volga Universe": Volksmusik Meets Chamarrita
2.4 Rituals of Semana Santa: German Litanies and Russian Bread

Chapter Three: Discussion
3.1 Of Rusos and Negros: Limitations to Patchwork Identity
3.2 Patchwork Identity: Characteristic of Argentine Society?
3.3 Two Opposed Latin American Practices: Patchwork vs Mestizaje

Chapter Four: Conclusion


Chapter One: Introduction

1.1 One Village, Several Identities

I have travelled to the province of Entre Rí­os in the north-east of Argentina. The colectivo (local bus) has dropped me off near the entrance to Aldea Protestante. From afar I can see the gateway that indicates to visitors which of the numerous country roads they could follow to get to the village. At the entrance, I stop to contemplate a banner that reads "Aldea Protestante: Sangre Alemana, Corazón Argentino3 ". In the background of the writing, there is the Argentine flag, light blue and white, framed with the colours black, red and gold - the national colours of Germany. I walk along the road that leads to the only asphalted street of Aldea Protestante and search for the town hall where I have an appointment with the Presidente de la Junta Local (local mayor). Duilio Herbel is already waiting for me in front of the small, white building with the typical Argentinian mate4 gourd in his hand. He greats me in Spanish and points me towards the front door where six more villagers, men and women, are expecting me. An older lady extends me her hand with a cheerful "Herzlich willkommen! Mein Name ist Lili Herbel5 6 with a perfectly German accent. Although they have the same surname, Lili and Duilio are not related, as they tell me. I am introduced to the other villagers, who all have Spanish forenames and German surnames and flexibly alternate between speaking Spanish and German.

We enter Duilio's office where his large leather chair is flanked by two flags, both about two metres high: light blue and white, and black, red and gold, resembling the banner at the entrance to the village. It is odd for me to see the flag of my home country in a village that is more than 11,000 kilometres away; but just like me, the 800 inhabitants of Aldea Protestante have a historical link to Germany. They still refer to themselves as alemanes del Volga (Volga Germans). Their ancestors migrated from the south of Germany to the Russian Volga River in the 18th century, and then settled in agricultural colonies in Argentina in the late 19th century. Although their trajectory began around 250 years ago, many Argentine descendants of the Volga Germans still preserve the traditions of their ancestors who once left Germany. Duilio, the mayor, says he is fighting to uphold these traditions. With the Asociación Argentina de Descendientes de Alemanes del Volga7 he is currently planning to build a museum to teach visitors about his ancestors' traditions. Moreover, he organises German language classes for all villagers, especially the younger generation.

Duilio: "Porque ahora es un orgullo ser descendiente de alemanes del Volga. Nosotros siempre lo sentimos así­8.

Nevertheless, not everyone in Aldea Protestante is as proud of their Volga German ancestry. 29-year-old Alejandro Schneider distances himself from the past and identifies solely as Argentine.

Alejandro: "Yo sinceramente es que no llevo muy adentro la cultura del alemán del Volga. Pero me da pena porque es como que se está perdiendo todo eso. Yo creo que dentro de diez años ya ni se va a escuchar más la polka alemana, por ejemplo9 ."

Alejandro values the Volga German traditions, but does not identify with them. In contrast, 20-year-old Walter Müller, unites both German and Argentine elements in his identity. He enjoys speaking German with everyone who understands it and considers it important to preserve this habit. At the same time he emphasises his belonging to the Argentine nation.

Walter: "Ich schwätz' ziemlich alles Deutsch. Es freut mich. [...] Es como que lo llevo en la sangre. [...] Yo soy argentino descendiente de alemanes del Volga. Es así­10 .

In Walter's case the code-switching between Spanish and German is striking. He speaks of his German ancestors in German, but when he talks about his Argentine identity, he switches to Spanish.

In April 2016, I conducted fieldwork in Argentina to understand how the descendants of the Volga Germans construct identities in an Argentine context. Unlike Italian or Spanish descendants, the Volga German Argentines have not received much academic attention. The few existing books about their community are mostly written by local authors and published privately. Hence, I decided to visit two Volga German villages of Entre Ríos to talk to their inhabitants personally, since they, too, are part of the Argentine society. My initial idea was to base my research on hybridity, but as I interviewed village inhabitants, local government officials and journalists, I realised that the existing theories of hybridity are not entirely suitable for the situation I was exploring. In postcolonial studies, hybridity usually presupposes the existence of a colonising and a colonised culture which consequentially mix with each other. However, the Volga Germans in Argentina have never been colonisers, instead entering an existing Argentine cultural sphere as immigrants and merging their own traditions and values into it. However, there is not one Volga German Argentine identity in the villages of Entre Rí­os. All my interviewees have different imaginations of their ancestors' past and their own present, and on these bases they shape their identities. The interview results I obtained reflect a range of different ways of constructing one's identity, depending on a person's age, profession and personal preferences. For this reason, this MPhil thesis introduces the concept of patchwork identity, which is not only applicable to the case of the Volga German descendants, but also to other members of Argentine society. Patchwork identity clearly marks a distinction from the traditional theories of hybridity and demonstrates how identity is actively created, performed and modified. The descendants of the Volga Germans serve as an example of an ethnic group that has become part of Argentine society in the past century.

In the following sections of this chapter, I provide an overview of existing literature on hybridity and introduce the concept of patchwork identity. The second chapter is dedicated to my case study from which the assessment of patchwork identity has evolved. Patchwork identity is both shaped and performed. Therefore, I analyse the Volga German Argentines' displays of cultural heritage including dance, theatre and music, as well as their practising of rituals. All these elements are performances, as they all involve a public presentation of cultural assets. Furthermore, I assess limitations to the creation of patchwork identity due to discrimination and segregation practices. In the third chapter, I analyse my research results and their implications for Argentine society as a whole before comparing the Argentine identity model with another Latin American one: mestizaje. The aim of this thesis is to demonstrate that patchwork identity is symptomatic for a large part of Argentine society, standing in contrast to mestizaje, an ideology that has been propagated in several other Latin American countries as part of postcolonial theories in literature and politics in the past century. Ultimately, this thesis tries to justify why the Argentine case is different and its analysis thus requires a modified theoretical approach. As Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz notes, most of the Argentines descend from "los barcos" (the boats) referring to their European ancestors who immigrated to Argentina by boat bringing their cultures and traditions with them. This fact has heavily influenced most Argentines' identities and serves as the foundations of this research.


1 "Mexicans descend from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas, and Argentines from the boats."

2 "The peoples who forget their traditions lose the awareness of their destinations."

3 "German blood, Argentine heart"

4 Mate tea is the caffeine-rich infused national beverage of Argentina that is served in a gourd.

5 "Welcome! My name is Lili Herbel [German]."

6 Most of the interview quotes in this thesis are in Spanish; only if they are in German the language is highlighted in the footnotes.

7 Argentine Association of Volga German Descendants

8 "Because nowadays we're proud of being Volga German descendants. We always feel that way."

9 "To be honest, I don't really carry the Volga German culture inside of me. But it's a shame because it's like all that is getting lost. I think that ten years from now, people won't even listen to the German polka anymore, for example."

10 "I speak German all the time. It makes me happy [German]. [...] It's like I have it in my blood. I'm Argentine with Volga German descent. It's like that [Spanish]."

Excerpt out of 51 pages


Argentine Identity as Patchwork. Cultivating Volga German Heritage in the Entre Ríos Province
University of Cambridge  (Centre of Latin American Studies)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Argentina, Hybridity, identity, Cultural Anthropology, Volga Germans
Quote paper
Christiane Goßen (Author), 2016, Argentine Identity as Patchwork. Cultivating Volga German Heritage in the Entre Ríos Province, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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