According to the 2001 census, Argentina has 36,223,947 inhabitants, an increase of about 3.6 million over 1991 figures; the projected figure for 2010, when a new census was due to take place, is about 40.5 million.
Roughly one-third of all Argentines live in the Capital Federal (a little more than 3 million) and the 24 counties of Gran Buenos Aires (about 9.5 million), a total of some 12.5 million.
Most of the rest of Argentines are also city dwellers, in population centers such as Rosario, Córdoba, Mar del Plata, Mendoza, Salta, and other provincial capitals and cities. The southern Patagonian provinces of Chubut, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego are very thinly populated, as are the hot northern provinces of Chaco and Formosa, but Tierra del Fuego is the country’s fast-growing province, with an increase of more than 45 percent between censuses.
Argentina has the smallest indigenous population of any South American country except Uruguay, but certain provinces and regions have substantial concentrations. The most numerous are the Mapuches of Patagonia, who reside mostly in La Pampa, Neuquén, and Río Negro, and Kollas (Quechuas) of northwestern Argentina. There are also significant numbers of Guaraní in the northeast, and Mataco, Mocoví, and Toba in Santa Fe and the Gran Chaco.
Until the 2001 census, when the government statistics agency INDEC questionnaire asked whether “there is in this household any person who considers himself or herself a member or descendent of an indigenous group,” there were only estimates of the country’s indigenous population. While INDEC’s methodology itself is questionable, an update in 2004–2005 gave a figure of about 600,000 indigenous people, including 114,000 Mapuches, 70,000 Kollas, 70,000 Tobas, 40,000 Wichís, 32,000 Diaguitas, and smaller numbers of other groups.
Argentina is a country of immigrants, both recent and not-so-recent, and the capital reflects that history. Spaniards, of course, first colonized what is now Argentina, but a 19th-century tidal wave of Italians, Basques, English, Irish, Welsh, Ukrainians, and other nationalities made Buenos Aires a mosaic of immigrants; Italo-Argentines even came to outnumber Argentines of Spanish origin.
Some immigrant groups retain a high visibility, most notably a Jewish community that numbers at least 200,000 and is historically concentrated in the Once district of Buenos Aires. During and after the 2001–2002 economic crisis, though, many needed assistance from Jewish community organizations, and some Argentine Jews emigrated or considered emigrating to Israel despite the insecurity there. It’s worth mentioning that still-unsolved terrorist incidents in Buenos Aires killed 29 people in Retiro’s Israeli Embassy, and 87 people in Once’s Asociación Mutua Israelita Argentina (AMIA), a Jewish cultural center, in 1994; most Jewish community landmarks are well fortified.
Numbering roughly half a million, Middle Eastern immigrants and their descendants have occupied high-profile positions—the most notable being former president Carlos Menem, of Syrian descent. Palermo’s Saudi-funded Islamic Center is disproportionately large compared to the capital’s observant Muslim population. Argentines misleadingly refer to anyone of Middle Eastern descent as turcos (Turks), a legacy of the initial immigration from the region.
In recent years, Asian faces have become more common. There has long been a community of about 30,000 Japanese-Argentines, concentrated in the capital and the Greater Buenos Aires suburb of Escobar, but Belgrano also has a modest Chinatown near the Barrancas. Many Koreans work in Once and live in the southern barrio of Nueva Pompeya.
Other South Americans, mostly Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Peruvians, flocked to Argentina during the early-1990s boom. They generally work at menial jobs, and many returned home after the economic meltdown of 2001–2002. They are mostly concentrated in certain Buenos Aires neighborhoods—Peruvians in Congreso, Paraguayans in Constitución, and Bolivians in Nueva Pompeya.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition