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The People of Argentina

Although geographically Latin American, Argentina's demographics show that it is distinctly European. The indigenous population is thought be less than 1% of the population—mostly Quechua speaking people in the northwest of the country (see the indigenous peoples of Argentina map). Most of the other 99% of Argentines are of European descent.

Until the middle of the 19th century, if you were a European in Argentina you were almost certainly a Spaniard. But the fledgling central government actively encouraged European immigration from the 1850s on, in an attempt to populate the hinterland in an Argentine version of America's "manifest destiny". Millions came; most were Italian and Spanish, but many were French, Portuguese, Russian, English, Welsh, and Irish. The 1870s saw a genocidal campaign against the remaining indigenous people of Patagonia, further shifting the balance towards the Europeans.

More recently there has been an influx of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese immigrants to Argentina, and Asian-run restaurants and grocery stores are now a common sight in Buenos Aires.

Religion

Despite the diversity of the immigrant stock, a vast majority of Argentines practice Catholicism, or at least say they do. The Catholic church remains a major player in Argentine politics, although to a lesser extent than before. And the religion has left an indelible mark on the architectural landscape, especially in and around Córdoba, a historical Jesuit center. That being said, evangelical Protestantism is on the rise, especially among disadvantaged groups.

Muslim Argentines constitute a significant community— numbering perhaps over half a million—and South America's largest mosque was recently built in Buenos Aires. The wife and daughter of Carlos Menem, president of Argentina in the 1990s, are both Muslim; Carlos himself, although of Syrian descent, has fervently declared himself catholic.

The Jewish population in Buenos Aires, said to be the 8th largest in the world at 200,000 or so, made headlines in the early 1990s when the Israeli embassy and the Jewish cultural center (AMIA) were bombed. Suspicious connections to government officials, and the fact that the perpetrators have not been brought to justice, fuel rumors that Menem might have condoned the attacks (or worse).

Population Distribution

As someone once said, "all roads lead to Buenos Aires." This is vividly illustrated by a satellite photo of Argentina at night, showing settlements stretching out from the capital in a fan-like pattern. About a third of Argentines live in greater Buenos Aires, and most others live in a few other big cities not far from the capital. The southern reaches of the country are thinly populated, you can travel vast distances without seeing a sign of civilization.

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