HOW THE IRISH BECAME 'GAUCHOS INGLESES' SHARED VALUES AND REPRESENTATIONS IN IRISH-ARGENTINE LITERATURE
EDMUNDO MURRAY - Université de Genève (Switzerland)
The 19th Century migration from Ireland to the River Plate was the only organised Irish settlement in a non-English speaking country. Particularly between 1840 and 1880, encouraged by their leaders and favoured by their condition of British subjects, nearly 11,000 Irish immigrants developed a unique community throughout the Irish Diaspora [a]. The Catholic Church and the local anglophile bourgeoisie were the key factors for the successful configuration of the community, which developed its own cultural vehicles, including education, press and literature. Slowly but surely, the Irish in Argentina became closer to the local society, and in the 20th Century they completely united to the Argentine national project. Irish-Argentine literature is the bilingual product of a unique array of cultural representations, including among others, those related to gender, religion, land, home and ethnicity. In order to establish their relative share and their importance for the community, some of these values will be analysed during this presentation.
In Imaginary Homelands, Salman Rushdie says that the effect of mass migrations has been the creation of 'radically different types of human beings.' We would like to identify and summarise the new types of human beings created as a result of the Irish emigration to Argentina. These human beings are not new because of their physical, racial or psychological characteristics, but for the cultural models which they formulate and follow. Taking disparate elements from their Anglo-Irish heritage, and joining them with the local post-colonial Spanish culture, immigrants and their families developed a unique set of shared values, which will be represented in Irish-Argentine literature. But does such a literature exist?
Certainly, as the editor of The Buenos Aires Herald notes, there is an Anglo-Argentine literature. Not very strong, not very well known (and in some cases does not deserve to be), but there are some individuals who fit the classification of "British-Argentine" or, better still "Southamericana", who are excellent and who have made their mark on the literature of a continent (Graham-Yooll, 1999: 205).
From the perspective of the cultural history (we will see later the importance of the Britishness value among Irish settlers), it would not be inappropriate to classify Irish-Argentine literature within the Southamericana. Additionally, since it is not just an English-speaking literature from Argentina, we must be open enough to include in this literature bilingual works and others written in Spanish.
We can divide Irish-Argentine literature in five categories: 1) 19th C Early Narrative (e.g., John Brabazon and William Bulfin). 2) 20th C Fiction and Essays (e.g., Kathleen Nevin, Rodolfo Walsh, Benito Lynch). 3) Contemporary Fiction (e.g., Juan José Delaney, Alfredo Fox, Jorge Mackey, Esteban Moore); 4) Community Historians (e.g., Hilda Sábato and Eduardo Coghlan); 5) Journalism (e.g., The Standard, The Southern Cross, Fianna, and the web sites www.irlandeses.com.ar and www.sanpatricioenrosario.com.ar
Apart from the peculiar combination of Spanish first names with typically Irish last names - I am not the exception to this
rule -, what are the common elements among these authors? Do they have a mutual set of beliefs and values? What are the recurring representations of these values in their texts? And finally, is there an homogeneous unit which we can call Irish-Argentine literature?
It is not the mere quantity of authors that makes a literature. Different scholars tried to demonstrate the existence of Irish-Argentine literature by enumerating a long list of authors [b]. It is preferable to identify a set of shared values which are frequently represented throughout their works. According to John Blair, 'the best way to measure the presence of an intangible such as an anglocentric mindset is by zeroing in on circumstances under which it performs cultural work, that is, palpably affects the ideas and actions of substantial numbers of human individuals' (Blair 2001: 9). The most frequently represented values we may find in the Irish-Argentine cultural vehicles are: gender, religion, land, home and ethnicity. In order to comply with the time/space requirements of this paper, we will focus only on religion and ethnicity, and we will limit the number of works to the Early Narrative stage of Irish-Argentine literature, as well as to a few examples of journalism and web sites.
The Southern Cross (TSC) has been published since 1875 and it 'reflects the Irish-Argentine community's special concerns including Argentine immigration policy, pastoral expansion and livestock breeding and pro-Republican activities at the time of the Irish struggle for independence' (Marshall 1996: 13). Today, the paper has a monthly frequency; it is edited mainly in Spanish, and has a predominance of Catholic-oriented contents [c]. In spite of the many efforts made to maintain its traditional influence in the community (i.e., better paper quality, news about Celtic renewal, matched web site), TSC's circulation is reducing dramatically due to the economic problems common to all Argentinean publications, as well as to a stagnation in editorial contents and marketing efforts. Regarding shared values, TSC mission was clearly stated in 1874 by its founder, the Irish chaplain Patrick Joseph Dillon: 'to supply the want of an Irish and Catholic organ in the country' (13). In the web site version of TSC, this mission is stubbornly maintained: 'Since 1875, expressing our Argentine essence, from the ancestral Ireland.' Of course, religion is a primary value among Irish-Argentines. But TSC is in fact a semi-official organ of the Irish Catholic institutions, so its religious representations are not spontaneous. Fortunately, there are several sources for religious representations of the 'Irish and Catholic' beliefs.
The 'Libro de Visitas' of www.irlandeses.com.ar is a lively forum for contemporary Irish-Argentines, and it is probably the best place to understand their current interests and concerns. Besides the rather stereotyped sections about Irish music, literature and recipes, this web site is unique in the Internet. Using Spanish as its dominant language, selected transcriptions of genealogist Eduardo Coghlan's master work (Coghlan 1987) have been included as hypertext-linked family entries. Additional data or entirely new families may be added to the original entries, as well as documents, photographs or yarns. This genealogical service prompts the communication among members and with the webmaster (a mysterious leprechaun well accounted with the last news of the Irish-Argentine community). For example, messages left after the Christmas troubles and looting warfare, which led to a change of government in Argentina, reflect Irish-Argentines frustration and desire to emigrate (frequently to Ireland), like: '¿Podrías informarme si hay gente que haga trámites de ciudadanía [.]? Gracias.' (Tue, 19 Feb 2002 19:02:23), or 'quisiera saber si se puede acceder a la doble ciudadania, si es posible, cuáles son los requisitos' (Wed, 13 Feb 2002 15:39:53).
Some of the messages appeal to the readers' Catholic faith, on the hope that God will save the country for the evil consequences of the economic and social situation: 'Dear Leprechaun, a ponernos las pilas y trabajar por la ciudadania para la tercera generación, como los italianos y los españoles. Nuestros hijos y nietos lo agradecerán. Estoy medio sin palabras, pero deseo en ésta transmitir mi deseo de que todo mejore por el bien de nosotros, de nuestros hijos , nietos y demas familiares y todos los argentinos. GOD BLESS BOTH OF YOU, FONDLY,.' (Sun, 30 Dec 2001 11:29:11). 'Estoy orgulloso de la sangre que corre por mis venas y alimenta mi vivir [.] Dios me bendice diariamente, ya que vivo rodeado de Irlandeses (descendientes) entre familiares y amigos, pero qué gloriosa bendición!!!!!' (Thu, 8 Nov 2001 17:06:00). Religious feelings are sometimes present in these messages, as well as in the responses. But it is evident that when the opportunity arises for a more spontaneous communication among Irish-Argentines (particularly, one outside of the official institutions), in their everyday life there are other interests more important than religion.
But it is in the literary and fictional works where we can best appreciate the actual beliefs of the Irish-Argentines. We will therefore read Brabazon, Nevin and Bulfin in chronological order, trying to grasp once again their feelings towards religion and ethnicity.
A very British Irish Settler
John Brabazon (1828-1914) from Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, arrived in Buenos Aires in December, 1845, in the brig 'Filomena' (Coghlan 1987: 53). He settled in Chascomús, South of Buenos Aires city, and lived several adventures and misfortunes which he left in his memoirs 'Andanzas de Un Irlandés en el Campo Porteño (1845-1864).' The manuscript in English was found by Eduardo Coghlan, who translated and published it in 1981, adding several notes to the text. The original in English remains unpublished.
Brabazon's descriptions are important not only from an historical point of view. The author describes the local criollos and fellow Irishmen in a candid and accurate style. There is evidence that, rather than an Irishman, he considers himself an inglés. His chronological account includes descriptions of Buenos Aires, with its 'commercial activity, dominated by English and North American [merchants]' (Brabazon 1981: 22). When he is imprisoned with other 20 persons for not having their identity documents, 'James Sheridan from estancia Los Galpones Grandes sent us the safe-conducts from Mr. Hood, the British Consul' (42). His relations with the gauchos [d] are sometimes rough, like when he is challenged by drunkards who want 'to tease esos ingleses' and his brother Tom fiercely responds showing them a knife: 'look here, you may tease ingleses now if you wish' (58). Brabazon appreciates the political situation in the 1850's, which 'was improving in Buenos Aires thanks to Rosas, who was not so bad. The people was more civilised [thanks to] the old European nations, which [.] had their representatives [and spread] their manners' (69). And the narrator firmly shares with the English their beliefs regarding European superiority: 'new fashions came France and from England. The first smart smithy was opened by Mr. George Temperley, and the first modern carriage was brought from England by the British Minister Mr. Southerner' (91-92).
The English-speaking community was large and provided all the necessary resources for its members. However, among the British, there was a high degree of specialisation and 'almost all shepherds were Irish, and some of them [.] were respectable citizens, but there were others who were wicked like devils, like there never was in Ballymore or in Drumraney parish, or like those in the Mullingar prison' (113).
The English language is so widely accepted that Brabazon could have a verbal confrontation 'with Gorostiaga [a criollo shopkeeper very influential in Chascomús] in English, a language which Gorostiaga spoke perfectly' (135).
Brabazon too wants to open a shop in Chascomús, but Mr. Thawaites discourages him saying that the English 'are too honourable and they are not made for this type of business, which requires persons capable of cheating with the weight of sold or purchased products' (138). During the shearing season, 'all [of us] were English, because the criollos were enrolled in the army' (148). And when shepherds fight, they do it 'a la inglesa, viz. boxing ' (149).
Since he was a Protestant Anglo-Irish, we could think that Brabazon preferred English rather than Irish companionship. This sentiment could be even stronger since he had had an uncle in Ireland who was killed for being a 'Protestant dog' (112). However, almost all his acquaintances were from Ireland, and in 1859 he converted to the Catholic faith in order to marry his first wife Honor MacDonnell (who eight years later was slaughtered by criminal gauchos together with her sister).
According to Brabazon, who certainly followed the general bourgeois attitudes against the gauchos, those 'were not good workers, and they only worked as butchers, slaughtermen, and hide skinners in the abattoirs' (20). They 'had disgusting manners, like when their wives deloused them and they ate the bigger louses' (21). And they just 'slept long siestas instead of working' (132). In fact gauchos were considered the dark canaille which was urgent to replace with whiter European workers, like the gauchos ingleses.