“They Are Not Truly Indigenous People”: Social Representations and Prejudice against Indigenous People in Argentina
In Argentina, as well as in many countries, indigenous people have been the target of prejudice for centuries. This situation mostly dates to the “Conquest of the Desert”, a military campaign waged by the Argentine government against the indigenous population during the late 19th century. Although in the last three decades, indigenous groups’ claims for reparation and equal social rights have increased in visibility, most are still victims of cultural segregation and poverty. This study analyzes the relations among social representations and prejudice against indigenous people in a small city, where the descendants of both military people and the European immigrants who arrived at the beginning of the 20th century to settle in the “conquered” lands, live alongside descendants of the Mapuche indigenous groups who originally inhabited that same territory. Our analyses suggest a contradiction in the attempts to vindicate the indigenous people while maintaining their subordinated and segregated status in the community. That opposition is reinforced by imaginary frontiers created by the organization of urban spaces and representations of the relations between past and present that relegate indigenous people to the past and place them into the poorest and most violent neighborhood, implicitly marking them as criminals. Hence, social representations may be at the basis of the subtle expressions of prejudice that are very frequent. However, when the inhabitants of the city have to actually face indigenous people who are not clearly very different from them and when these indigenous people’s claims become more visible, more blatant forms of prejudice become manifest.