Xenophobia and racism against Chinese and Koreans in Argentina
Anti-Asian sentiment and rhetoric circulate widely in Argentina. As an illustrative example, yesterday I searched for “chinos Argentina” (Chinese people Argentina) on Facebook. Here is the first page of results:
For those who don’t read Spanish, a translation of all the names of groups in the picture:
- The Chinese invaded Argentina
- THE CHINESE DO HELLA BUSINESS IN ARGENTINA 
- Join if you want to close the Chinese supermarkets in Argentina
- the Chinese have taken over Argentina… sneakily
- If the Chinese keep coming… in a few years ARGENTINA will be CHINA 2
- I, TOO, THINK THAT THE CHINESE ARE TAKING OVER ARGENTINA!
- In Argentina there are more Chinese than Argentines.
- They should make a Great Wall of Argentina so that the Chinese can’t come over
- If Korea beats Argentina, we loot all of the Chinese supermarkets! 
This is not restricted to the troll-infested nether regions of the Internet. You see this reflected often in sensationalist articles in national newspapers, on television, and on mainstream, “authoritative” blogs. Last week, I came across (via Adri Bosch) Yuri Doudchitzky’s post on China-focused Spanish-language website Zaichina about “the out of control Chinese mafia” in Argentina. Doudchitzky argues that the Chinese mafia is a serious threat to the country that’s even more violent than other mafias that Argentina has historically had to manage. Whether the Chinese mafia actually exists is something I don’t have enough information to comment on, but it’s clear that the rhetoric surrounding the Chinese mafia is often xenophobic and racist. The author even acknowledges so:
In the anti-Chinese Western media, they like to talk about a “Chinese mafia” to create a bad image of the huge emerging power. On the other hand, the “pro-Chinese” factions (read: those who do a lot of business with China) would rather avoid this term.
Academic studies of anti-Asian racism in Argentina
There has been some academic work done on anti-Korean racism in Argentina, and much of it relates to Chinese, as well. Santamaría and Itzcovich’s (2005) analysis of a 2002 set of interview and survey data on discrimination towards Korean and Paraguayan immigrants revealed that Korean immigrants were strongly perceived as being dirty, exploitative, and closed to outsiders.
Perceptions of Chinese are fairly similar. Many Chinese immigrants speak Spanish poorly, and because working within the community reduces the need to acquire more advanced Spanish, interactions with non-Chinese tend to be minimal. This lack of interaction has given rise to stereotypes and distrust among non-Chinese. One common stereotype is that Chinese immigrants are extremely wealthy businesspeople who compete on unfair terms and who are not willing to associate with the rest of the population.
The perception that Chinese immigrants do not conduct business fairly is an especially touchy subject. Some Argentines believe that the Chinese do not pay taxes (or that the Chinese government reimburses them for taxes), that they unplug their freezers at night to save money, or that they do not pay fair wages.
Korean immigrants are also stereotyped as unfair businesspeople; however, Koreans are additionally perceived as being exploitative towards migrant workers from neighboring Latin American countries. Korean immigrants, who came to dominate the Argentine textile industry, are frequently said to employ undocumented Bolivian, Paraguayan, and Peruvian workers. News reports of labor abuses in Korean-owned textile factories have often portrayed “the Koreans” as “exploiters” and slave drivers (Courtis 2000). As the majority of Chinese-owned supermarkets employ only other Chinese, the community is generally not seen as exploitative. However, the fact that they tend to employ only other members of the community may reinforce the perception that the Chinese community is closed to outsiders.
Is Buenos Aires safe for East Asian visitors?
Someone found my blog by Googling “is buenos aires racist asians”. The answer isn’t easy. As a young, able-bodied man of East Asian descent living in the downtown area (known as el Centro to most or San Nicolás to bureaucrats) and taking the Subte to the equally upscale Belgrano neighborhood to do field research in Chinatown, I never received racially-tinged threats of any sort. There were certainly many misunderstandings (like the woman who approached me in a Chinatown curio shop and asked me how much an item cost) but no racially threatening experiences that I can remember.
Your mileage, however, may vary. Many of my ethnically Chinese respondents report being made fun of in school or harassed on the street. A Taiwanese immigrant friend of mine who lived in Monserrat was often heckled by cartoneros (trash pickers working in the informal economy) who worked on his street at night. They would yell “¡Chino! ¡Chino!” (Chinese! Chinese!) as he passed; even if they weren’t a physical threat, they made him feel uncomfortable and publicized his foreignness and his lone presence.
There has been a rash of murders of Chinese people in Argentina lately, but these targets have all been supermarket owner-operators. Doudchitzky mentions this as a reason many suspect that there is a Chinese mafia at work. Unless you plan to open a supermarket yourself, I don’t think there’s any reason to fear.
To sum up, anti-Asian sentiment and rhetoric definitely circulates in Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina. It might even be escalating as China’s influence in Latin America grows. Whether you experience any threats coming out of this sentiment ultimately depends on being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
 World Cup 2010. This conflation of ethnic groups in deciding targets for violence reminds me of the murder of Vincent Chin in the US.
 “En los medios occidentales anti-chinos les gusta hablar de ‘mafia china’ para crear una mala imagen de la gran potencia emergente. Mientras, los ‘pro-chinos’ (léase los que hacen buenos negocios con China) prefieren evitar esa palabra.”
Courtis, Corina. 2000. Construcciones de alteridad: Discursos cotidianos sobre la inmigración coreana en Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires: Eudeba.
Santamaría, Roxana, and Gabriela Itzcovich. “Percepciones y prejuicios hacia inmigrantes coreanos y paraguayos residentes en la Argentina.” Relaciones interculturales: experiencias y representación social de los migrantes. Eds. Néstor Cohen and Carolina Mera. Buenos Aires: Antropofagia.