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Response to Review no. 607

I am thankful to David Fitzpatrick for his most generous review of my book Becoming Irlandés, and his thoughtful analysis of my ideas. Reading his review I could better understand Irish migration to Argentina in the broader context of Irish Diaspora and, particularly, within the framework of Irish studies and Irish history. Therefore, I will only try to clarify and enhance some aspects of the review that I consider significant.

Dr Fitzpatrick’s review includes a very good introduction to the subject of the Irish in Argentina in the broader panorama of the Irish Diaspora. I would only rectify that, although the reputation for economic success was gained by the whole community of migrants, only a small number of Irish settlers in the pampas actually made considerable fortunes. It is true that a number of shepherds combined the advantages of convenient share-cropping agreements with rising prices in the international wool market in 1830–1880, and managed to acquire sheep, and later land, in a relative short time. Typically, they owned holdings of 1,500–2,500 hectares of the best land in the Argentine provinces of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe. A handful of families (Duggan, Murphy, Maguire, Casey, and others) owned significant estates and fortunes. However, the vast majority of the migrants did not own land and at the best continued being rural labourers and tenants, or urban workers employed in the domestic service of wealthy families. The rate of return migration and re-migration is illustrative for those migrants who did not succeed as settlers in Argentina. According to Patrick McKenna, in the nineteenth century about one out of every two emigrants to Argentina returned to Ireland or re-migrated to the U.S. or other destinations. This rate was particularly high in the period 1880–1930, when the economic barriers to purchasing fine agricultural land in areas communicated by the railway were insurmountable by most of the immigrants. Therefore, the reputation of wealthy ‘estancieros’ gained by the Irish in Argentina should be limited to a handful of migrants.

Latin America was—and still is—a geography of multiculturalism. The diversity and mestizaje, or ethno-cultural miscegenation, of the various African, Amerindian, Asian, and European ethnic groups is balanced by a number of complex social processes and discontinuities in which the Irish were not neutral. The interaction of the Irish and their families with the larger societies in Argentina and other Latin American countries need to be examined primarily in this context of cultural diversity and social inequality. Becoming Irlandés may be read as an introduction to the social spaces of the Irish in Latin America. A more ambitious publishing project would be to undertake a comprehensive description of the emigration process, including the places of origin in Ireland and their social and economic connections, individual relations and social networks, spontaneous and government-sponsored migration, settlements and colonies, diverse social groups and their religious and labour contexts, interactions with native and immigrant groups, as well as the formation and development of different Irish social groups in relation to the receiving society.

The pioneering work of Dr Fitzpatrick with emigrants’ letters in his Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia (1994) was the inspiration to edit and analyse the two collections of emigrant letters included in my book. I used his quantitative approach to analyse the relative weight of certain words, like ‘home’ or ‘camp’, and their connotations, and I made comparisons with his results for the emigrants to Australia. I take this opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate David Fitzpatrick’s leading work in this field, and to thank him for a very positive review of my book.