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Dr. Judith Freidenberg, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park, received a Grant Proposal Assistance Award from the Center for Heritage Resource Studies to assist with her project “The Anthropology of the Immigrant Life-Course.”

Her work in Argentina includes

Villa Clara, and


The Invention of the Jewish Gauchos

These projects are summarized below.

In addition, Dr. Freidenberg is working with a local immigrant community in Maryland.


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Villa Clara, Entre Rios, Argentina

Immigrant Enclaves:  Villa Clara, Argentina
Sabbatical Report by Dr. Judith Freidenberg
Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland, College Park

The foundation for my sabbatical research is based on the long-term understanding I developed on U.S. immigrant enclaves (Harlem, New York, and Langley Park, Maryland), characterized by a history of international displacements and a contemporary diverse social organization, in terms of ethnicity and social class.  The working hypothesis is that social memory of past immigrant waves held by the contemporary inhabitants of an enclave contribute significantly to the understanding of the enclave’s current social organization.  Thus, ethnicity and social class are related to the histories each immigrant group tells of itself an of other immigrant groups, and significantly impact the articulation of immigrants to natives of the host nation.

Research questions I framed to understand the interplay of history and social structure include:

bulletWhat is remembered today of the first immigrant waves?
bulletHow are these remembered?
bulletWho remembers which story and why?
bulletHow do these stories immigrants tell about a place and its people contribute to framing their identify?
bulletHow do these processes impact on the construction of national identify in the host nation?

To provide a comparative framework for my work, I spent my sabbatical semester in Argentina, South America.  I selected Villa Cara in the Province of Entre Rios as my field site.  Villa Cara, like Harlem, New York and Langley Park, Maryland, has received large immigrant contingents since the middle of the 19th century and currently exhibits a diverse ethnic and social class composition.  I conducted anthropological fieldwork in Villa Clara for four months, attempting to understand the current interplay of ethnicity and social class and its impact on national identify.  Concurrently to fieldwork, I collected secondary data on the regional and national population since the mid-19th century.  I look forward to a semester of data analysis and writing.

During my stay in Villa Clara, I disseminated the results of the study during village assemblies organized by the Municipal Government in order to validate my research and to elicit their social memory and current description of the village.  I also collaborated with the renewal of the Museum’s activities in order to sustain their interest in their own cultural heritage.  As a result, I was invited to join the Comision de Amigos del Museo de Villa Clara, and I intend to collaborate with their activities from abroad.

The goal of the sabbatical research is to write two books:

bulletA monograph that will interweave primary and secondary sources on the history of the village; the monograph will be written for the general public, in Spanish, and offered to the Comision de Amigos of the Museum to contribute to funding their educational activities.
bulletAn academic analysis, in English, where I would use the analysis to theorize on the construction of national histories from the perspectives of immigrant stories.

Clearly, the ability to completely understand a community’s past not only gives clarity to the present but is also a predictor to future trends.

The accomplishments during the sabbatical abroad were considerable:  I trained three students in the field (one American and two Argentines) and included them in conducting a household survey of 540 units on the origin of four generations, 100 ethnographic interviews on village residents, participant observation of village life, and writing fieldnotes.  I also contributed to the village’s history, by presenting my work and participating in developing the aims of its museum.  At the end of the fieldwork, the people of Villa Clara organized a farewell party, and the Mayor presented me with a diploma acknowledging my contributions.

My experience in Villa Clara confirms that the model that I developed to understand the social organization of immigrant enclaves in the United States using a combination of ethnographic and archival research can be applied transnationally, and brings new methodological and substantive knowledge to theorizing on social memory.

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The Invention of the Jewish Gauchos:
Contemporary Social Memory of Eastern European Jewish Immigration to Entre Rios, Argentina

Book proposed by
Dr. Judith Freidenberg
Department of Anthropology
University of Maryland, College Park

A the close of the 19th century, several thousand Eastern European Jews migrated to Argentina.  By the mid-20th century, they had managed to sponsor the migration of relatives and had grown to become sizable communities.  However, the immigration was not arranged individually; rather, it was an organized agrarian colonization program to provide these multi-national population, oppressed in economic, social, religious and political terms, with an institutionally accepted way to start anew in a freer social environment.

Given that severely under-populated Argentina promoted immigration policies that favored the entry of white, hard-working Europeans, it was not hard for French Jewish philanthropist Baron De Hirsch to purchase large tracts of land in several Argentine provincias through the newly founded Jewish Colonization Association.

The largest immigrant influx was directed to the provincia of Entre Rios.  One of the villages founded in 1890 to accommodate the newcomers before they were assigned parcels of land throughout Entre Rios was Villa Cara—named in honor of the Baron’s wife.  By 1902—when the railroad reached the village (a definite sign of progress)—there were about 1000 people to tell the story of the transatlantic move of Eastern European Jews, people who would never return to their countries of birth.  Many, in fact, boasted that they had now become “Jewish Gauchos.”

By 2000, the last survey of population in Argentina, only about 50 people traced their ancestry to the colonization program.  The majority were descendants of later immigrant waves to Entre Rios, primarily from Western European countries such as France, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Great Britain, Germany, and Spain.

This proposed book seeks to explore and explain how these migratory waves are remembered in the sites to which they first arrived:

bulletHow is the history of Villa Clara told today?
bulletIs there one or several histories?
bulletCan those intertwined histories be compared to further our understanding of the interplay of ethnic and national identify?

Using a combination of ethnographic and archival research, the proposed book will use the social history of the village, as collected through the life histories of the immigrants’ descendants, to contribute to the scholarly understanding of the relationship between multi-immigrant places and the construction of national identify.

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