In 2010, then-Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed Decree 1584, which officially changed the name of the country’s October 12 holiday from the Day of Race to the Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity. More than a decade later, it remains an essential day of remembrance and an important victory for human rights following the country’s return to democracy in 1983.
The impetus for the name change was to right a historical wrong. Nearly a century before the decree’s signing, in 1917, Argentine President Hipólito Yrigoyen established a Día de la Raza to celebrate Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. But by the middle of the 20th century, academics had begun to question the use of race as a means of categorizing different populations.
In 1964, 22 scientists signed a 13-point statement at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting in Moscow formally recognizing that ethnic groups extend across vast territories and encompass diverse groups of people with different languages and cultures.
“All men living today belong to a single species, Homo-sapiens, and we are derived from a common stock,” the document read. “There are differences of opinion regarding how and when different humans diverged from this common stock.”
The statement was nothing short of revolutionary, acknowledging that race cannot simply be assigned to any particular group and that doing so is fundamentally discriminatory. Forty-six years after that, Argentina abandoned its Dia de la Raza in favor of the more inclusive Dia del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural.
A recognition of genocide
Of course, Columbus’ journey across the Atlantic was more than an act of exploration. It ushered in the mass murder of the continent’s indigenous populations.
According to Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro (1922-1997), there were upwards of 70 million native people living on the continent prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. By the end of the 16th century, that number was reduced to a little over 3.5 million amid a mass looting of natural resources.
This genocidal invasion had horrific collateral effects as well, creating a new demand for slave labor throughout the region. Upwards of 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped between the 16th and 19th centuries and forcibly exported to the Americas.
“The name of the holiday on October 12 is modified in order to highlight and commemorate the deaths of indigenous peoples and give said date a meaning in accordance with the value assigned by our National Constitution and various treaties and declarations of human rights to ethnic and cultural diversity of all peoples,” the decree read.
Although the Day of Respect and Cultural Diversity falls on a Thursday, it will be observed this Monday, October 16. Friday has also been declared a national holiday to allow Argentines to travel and boost the country’s tourist industry.
With information from Télam