In contrast to its South American neighbors, Argentina holds a reputation as a “white” country, a presumption reflected in the discourse of national elites, scholars, and tour guides alike. This article explores the idea that this purported whiteness was the product of an ideological process that denied the existence of Argentines of non-European background. The case in point is the Calchaquí valley in the northwestern part of the country. The population of this valley was considered indigenous during the colonial period, but in the mid-twentieth century folklorists who surveyed the valley defined the population as criollo, that is, non-indigenous. The article demonstrates that, even though a certain creolization process did take place among the Calchaquí people during the nineteenth century, labeling them as criollos was a discursive operation manipulated by academic and local economic elites who had vested interests in defining the rural population of the northwest in general as non-indigenous.

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