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Converge and Preserve: Cultural identity in Argentina’s diasporas. 

How does the convergence of cultures manifest itself within diasporas, and how do we measure the importance of preserving one’s own heritage in a foreign home? Converge and Preserve is a multimedia collage-documentation using portraits and archives telling stories of migration in Argentina’s diasporas, weighing the different sociopolitical factors that play into how cultural identity evolves. Subjects include: Syrian-Armenians in Córdoba, a one-person Rapa Nui diaspora (Easter Island’s indigenous tribe) in Ushuaia-Patagonia, founders of German villages in the mountains of Calamuchita, and Eastern European Jewish cowboy-colonies in rural Entre Ríos. 

 

There are two elements that can define what it means to be a diaspora: the entirely unique result of converging different cultures into unrepeatable subcultures, and the contradicting values placed on preserving traditions. Intergenerational conflicts within diasporas often discern the extent to which a community should or should not assimilate or remain distinguished. A sense of identity also depends on the immigration politics and how a society welcomes foreigners. Argentina being home to countless diasporas representing 97 percent of its population along with its notoriously loose immigration policies and being the second most popular destination during 20th century migration waves after the United States, it has become an incubator where foreign diasporas manifested their tendencies to converge and preserve in their own ways. While in most cases a sense of pride in being both foreign and Argentine was found throughout my research, socio-political circumstances lead the subjects to either monetize or sacrifice elements of their culture for survival: 

 

Beli Mehnert’s grandmother Lisbeth was one of the founders of La Cumbrecita: a village that now seems like a caricature of Germany was built from scratch by a group of Germans who were escaping persecution and fascism as World War II was brewing, has now attracted investors and become a quasi-kitsch tourist attraction in the region. Diran and Silva Arslanian are a Syrian-Armenian father and daughter whose award-winning restaurant in Córdoba uses family recipes to carry on Armenian legacy and survival-stories which date back to the Armenian genocide and the wars in Syria. To them, their business became their way to converge and preserve. Captain Uke sailed by himself to Chile from Easter Island at 19, eventually making his way to Ushuaia where he made a career out of the navigation skills learned growing up as a Rapa Nui on the island, working as a navigator and ship operator in the Antarctic region. Uke’s adventurous, one-with-nature lifestyle and career is his way of preserving his Rapa Nui identity – he is the only subject from the series who does not consider himself an Argentine. The last descendants of Eastern European Jewish colonies in Entre Ríos, among them are Edu Furman, Patricia Acst and Carlos Speling, Lidia Ester Arter de Mendelevica, Clara Rabinovich, who escaped Russian pogroms and later Nazis, have seen their once-booming communities of farmers and cowboys dwindle through a mass exodus to urban areas which followed economic hardship. To them, every generation’s willingness to preserve represents the future of their community and its gradual convergence with Argentine culture. Economic recession in Entre Ríos has made it almost impossible for the community to preserve their identity for future generations. 

"We can be born in any country but we never forget our identity."  
Diran Arslanian

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