October 12th has been an important date for centuries in the Americas. It is the day Christopher Columbus landed in 1492, and for many the day that the history of the entire continent changed. While the date was originally marked for Columbus' arrival, it has since changed significance over the centuries to honor, rather than just the invador, those who were invaded too.
In 1917 Argentina changed the name to refer to the day as 'Dia de la Raza' (Day of the Race) commemorating the arrival of the Spanish race in Latin America. Understandably that was not really respecting the races that were already living on the continent before the Spanish, and so in 2010 the Argentine President Cristina Kirchner changed the name to Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity). A bit of a mouthful, but a nicer (and a more PC) sentiment.
While the actual date is October 12th (this past Sunday), it was yesterday - Monday, the 13th that we celebrated it in Mendoza - meaning a long weekend. How did people celebrate it? School kids generally dress up in different traditional ethnic dress and study the different immigrant groups of Argentina. And the adults? It is usually a long weekend of asado and pigging out. But while you tuck into your chorizo and Malbec and polish it off with ice cream perhaps it is worth thinking about the different ethnic groups that make Mendoza what it is today:
Originally inhabited by the Huarpe people, we have a lot to thank the indigenous tribes for - perhaps most of all water. The water channels (or acequias) that bring life to the city were masterminded by the Huarpes. While they have been reinforced and rebuilt since, many of the original networks are still in use today.
The most obvious influence (as you try to curl your tongue around those darned rolling Spanish Rs) is the language. The Spanish brought not just their language but also their agriculture to Mendoza. Taking advantage of fertility of the land created by the Huarpes and their water channels, they began cultivating more fruit, vegetables and wheat but perhaps most importantly for us, grapes! And here begins the story of Mendoza, the eight wine capital in the world.
You can be forgiven for thinking Argentines are Italians speaking Spanish - the attitude, habits and cultural customs here are often Italian. While the Spanish made wine for mass, the influx of Italians really changed it from church wine to house wine, and people began making their own wine and producing it for commercial sale. The Italians also brought lots of other delicious influences: pizza, pasta, mature cheese and ice cream...
The Melting Pot
There are too many immigrant groups to mention in one blog (German, British, French, Swiss, Chilean, Lebanese...) but Argentina is indeed a melting pot which makes it the interesting, challenging and unique country it is today.
Salud to that!