"Quien a Yankeeland se encamina...":

The United States and Nineteenth-Century Argentine Imagination


Beatriz Urraca

Haverford College


By the mid-nineteenth century, as Juan Manuel Rosas's federalist dictatorship (1829-1852) drew to an end, travel from Argentina to the United States started to become more frequent, often replacing or complementing the "grand tour" of Europe for a class of diplomats and intellectuals who had a stake in the process of national consolidation and were seeking foreign models against which their own policies and even cultures were to be forged. Faustino Domingo Sarmiento and Eduarda Mansilla de García brought us the freshest impressions of Argentines on a first visit to the United States at a time when this nation was emerging as a world power and as a rival and model to its southern neighbors. Going beyond the mere catalogue of places and experiences, their writings are engaged with the exploration of americanism as determined by the relational positioning of the New World with respect to the Old, and with the redefinition of national identity by contrast with the values and achievements of the United States.

In 1847, Sarmiento (1811-1888) was winding up the first of his many visits to the United States, at the end of a two-year sojourn that took him through three continents to observe the state of developed public-school programs on behalf of the Chilean Ministry of Education. The final chapters of Viajes por Europa, África y América (1), devoted to his two-month stay in the United States, offer a programmatic vision of Argentina based on imitation of this country, a program that he would later try to implement as President. This was Sarmiento's first visit to the countries he had so avidly read about, and the ensuing travel book provides a foundational point of departure for our understanding of the role of the Anglo-American example in Spanish America's process of national self-definition. Going beyond concerns with national specificity, it focuses instead on hemispheric and transcontinental ideas, symbols, and relationships.

Mansilla (1835-1892) wrote Recuerdos de viaje (2) as an account of a tour of the East Coast of the United States and Canada begun in 1860 with her two young children while she awaited the arrival of her diplomat husband, who had been comissioned by Sarmiento to study the North American system of justice. She does not specify the length of this first trip, though she mentions her return to Argentina before the end of the Civil War. She later returned to live in the United States for several years, accompanying her husband again when he succeeded Sarmiento as ambassador to the United States in 1868-1874 (3), and the text's chronological inconsistencies suggest that it may have been the result of a compilation of observations drawn over a long period of time. This may even have been her original purpose, since she optimistically labeled her work "Tomo primero," promising a second about western expansion that never appeared (Recuerdos, 194). In addition to an observant depiction of local customs and historical references, Mansilla shows us another side of the inter-American comparison, one in which gender and race, the personal and the political spheres of life are deeply intertwined in the reevaluation of national identities.

Despite their common origins and destinations, and the mutual friendship and admiration they shared, there are marked differences between these two writers' circumstances which affect their texts and the ways in which we read them. Sarmiento was deeply involved in Argentina's bipartisan struggle, while Mansilla managed to bridge differences across her country's political divide, for she was both the niece of Sarmiento's arch-enemy, Juan Manuel Rosas, and the wife of a prominent politician of the opposition party. Foreign residence was a matter of personal choice for neither of them, though Mansilla, unlike then-exiled Sarmiento, was always free to return to Argentina and did so quite often. This fact colors the lens through which they saw the United States: for him, the homeland represented not only a painful issue but also the potentiality of something he would one day be able to mold according to his own ideas of what a nation ought to be; she was less encumbered by Argentina's problems, and as a woman lacked an officially-acceptable place in the nation-building project. Yet she did not shy away from expressing opinions on every subject, including politics, though she did so with an enigmatic discretion that demands quite a lot from her readers.

Sarmiento and the hemispheric ideal

Sarmiento's trip meant neither leaving the comforts of home nor enjoying the pleasures of a well-funded journey: his painstaking recording of his expenses draws attention to the tight economic resources with which he operated. At the end of his stay Paris, he ran out of money and decided to cut his European visit short and continue on to the United States even though this left him no resources to return to Chile. He begins his account by establishing his authority as an observer in an unprecedented situation. We are not yet before the man he would become, secure in his own intellectual reputation at home and abroad, and proud of the development of his nation. We are not before Edward Said's Orientalist either, constructing the world from Europe, but in the presence of a New World writer searching for his own identity in other New World civilizations. Sarmiento recognizes from the start

la dificultad de escribir viajes, si el viajero sale de las sociedades menos adelantadas, para darse cuenta de otras que lo son más. Entonces se siente la incapacidad de observar, por falta de la necesaria preparación de espíritu, que deja turbio y miope el ojo, a causa de lo dilatado de las vistas y la multiplicidad de los objetos que en ellas se encierran. (Viajes, x).

There is in these words a remarkable awareness of his own pathbreaking position, though this turned out to be little more than rhetorical humbleness before he launched into the book. As Mary Louise Pratt has argued, "Sarmiento goes on to write his account with no evidence of the crippling spirit he ascribes to himself in this preface;" (4) indeed, he turns his disadvantage into a position of privilege (5). Sarmiento's disadvantage at this point was that, with his detailed attack on barbarism in Facundo (6) behind him, he had no experience describing the actual incarnation of his ideal of civilization. It was pressing for him to establish his position as a Latin American writing about more advanced societies. Despite a professed affinity with Tocqueville that is at the back of his feeling of secondariness and inadequacy with respect to European travel writers (7), he was conscious of creating something new and wanted to set this precedent in writing. Through his semblance of humbleness, he establishes an unquestionable claim to authority: "He escrito, pues, lo que he escrito, porque no sabría cómo clasificarlo de otro modo, obedeciendo a instintos y a impulsos que vienen de adentro y que a veces la razón misma no es parte a refrenar" (xi, author's emphasis). In the final section of the book, devoted to his two months in the United States, Sarmiento writes of Spanish America not as he thinks it is but as he wants it to be. There, the consciousness of hemispheric identity surfaces in his writing as a potentiality, the look toward the future overtaking the emphasis on the past that prevails in the European sections. In the return across the Atlantic to the other America the self-portrait emerges most forcefully, and the text becomes truly inter-American. Sarmiento traveled as a representative of his country and his America, to bring knowledge of these lands to those who were ignorant of them. In the preface to Viajes, written in retrospect, Sarmiento reflected on his own dual role as speaker, not only about other countries, but on behalf of his own:

El hecho es que bellas artes, instituciones, ideas, acontecimientos, y hasta el aspecto físico de la naturaleza en mi dilatado itinerario, han despertado siempre en mi espíritu el recuerdo de las cosas análogas de América, haciéndome, por decirlo así, el representante de estas tierras lejanas, y dando por medida de su ser, mi ser mismo, mis ideas, hábitos e instintos. (xiii)

Spanish America was even more alien and unknown to the United States at this time than it was to Europe. Eventually, this ignorance would spur Sarmiento's efforts to define the Argentine nation as a human construction, a "work" to be displayed to the world for admiration, a goal which future generations would continue to strive for. (8)

"America" (9) is a word uneasily used in Viajes. For Sarmiento, the term refers to more than just a country or a continent: it is an idea conceived in opposition to Europe. His world was one in which it was impossible to ignore not only the overpowering northern Republic which, for him as well as for its inhabitants, embodied the continental ideal, but also all the other Latin American nations similarly struggling for a place in the postindependence world order. For him, then in exile, "American" is one of many adjectives necessary for self-identification depending on location: an Argentinian in Chile, Sarmiento refers to himself as an American in Europe, where he was preoccupied with self-discovery as a postcolonial subject confronting the Old World for the first time. He must modify his usage again in the United States, as he begins to construct a new form of americanism based on hemispheric similarities and the exclusion of Europe: there, he becomes a "South American" from "South America," "Spanish America," or "our America." Likewise, the inhabitants of his host country are referred to as "North Americans." As in the United States, the myth of "America" in Argentina predated Independence (10) and became an integral part of the brief national intellectual tradition which Sarmiento inherited. Yet his America is a continent of nations rather than a nation-continent; it is also conceived in between Europeˇthe Northern Europe he admired and the Spain he rejectedˇand the other America. Thus while Argentina was present in his mind at all times, Sarmiento's exile and travels had made his vision pan-American rather than national. Even during the years of his Presidency and in his later writings, where he portrayed Argentina as a privileged land, he never conceived of it as separate from the rest of Spanish America in its history and culture, and from North America in its destiny.

The affinities between the United States and Argentina made the differences even more painful to observe. In North America he spent less time looking at monuments than he had in Europe and more analyzing the spirit of the nation in order to discover what might be adaptable to Argentine circumstances. He ascribed the success of the United States to the fact that North Americans, unlike Latin Americans, made the right use of their European legacy: "...el norteamericano, lejos de barbarizar como nosotros los elementos que nos entregó la civilización europea, trabaja por perfeccionarlos más aún y hacerles dar un nuevo paso" (351). Sarmiento contrasted South America's stagnation, where expansion was curbed by subdivision into small individual states, with the strength of the northern Union:

las antiguas Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata ven desmembrarse su territorio, y de sus fragmentos constituirse Estados raquíticos y absurdos, mientras que las provincias que aun quedan llevando el nombre argentino, se despueblan de día en día, extinguiéndose sus antiguos planteles de ciudades como luces que se apagan. (395-96)

Sarmiento's friend and translator, Mary Mann, noted that immediately after his first visit he "advocated a federal government, like that of the United States, as the only means of continuing the Republic."(11) This type of federalism, which he perceived to be so different from Rosas's divisive political system of the same name, did not interfere with the unity of the whole nation. Sarmiento saw the internal cohesiveness of the United States as guaranteed through equality and uniformity, which vividly contrasted with the polarized termsˇcountry and city, civilization and barbarismˇin which he liked to cast the Argentine Republic. He marveled that all houses looked alike everywhere, that everybody's dress and external appearance made it impossible to distinguish social classes, and that even in the western frontier, on the border of barbarism, uniformity acted as an agent of civilization: "...pero aun en estas remotas plantaciones, hay igualdad perfecta de aspecto en la población, en el vestido, en los modales, y aun en la inteligencia; el comerciante, el doctor, el sheriff, el cultivador, todos tienen el mismo aspecto" (345).

Viajes is a text that suppresses the nation's diversity: even immigrants, whom Sarmiento had proposed in Facundo as the solution to Argentina's problems, do not count in his portrait of the United States until they have completely assimilated or, as he puts it, "hasta que ha[n] recibido el baño yanqui" (349). Until then, they are considered barbarians who hinder the nation's progress. This perception of uniform equality of race, class, and region is the result of the skewed vision of the outsider looking in, trying to account for an overwhelmingly many-faceted reality in a brief period of time. Even then, Sarmiento was aware that this apparently blissful state covered up the social complexity of the nation, and at times made him yearn for South America's variety: "El espectáculo de esta decencia uniforme, y de aquel bienestar general,...cansa al fin la vista por su monótona uniformidad" (351, author's emphasis).

Sarmiento believed strongly that the key to national consolidation in Argentina was the population of the "empty" land, following the United States model, and throughout his life he worked to enact policies to this effect. For him the people, and the urban centers of civilization, were the key to progress and the definers of the national character. In Facundo, Sarmiento blamed the Argentine land for the nation's failure. But in Viajes it was precisely the physical characteristics of the land that inspired him to draw a series of parallels between his country and the United States, though only insofar as the land afforded prospects for human intervention: access to the sea, navigable rivers, and an enormous extent of "unpopulated" land to the west. Upon these he built his program to bring to Argentina a similar state of prosperity as he found in the North:

Si Dios me encargara de formar una gran república, nuestra república a nous, por ejemplo, no admitiría tan serio encargo, sin [sic] a condición de que me diese estas bases por lo menos: espacio sin límites conocidos para que se huelguen un día en él doscientos millones de habitantes; ancha exposición a los mares, costas acribilladas de golfos y bahías; superficie variada sin que oponga dificultades a los caminos de hierro y canales que habrán de cruzar el Estado en todas direcciones; y como no consentiré jamás en suprimir lo de los ferrocarriles, ha de haber tanto carbón de piedra y tanto hierro, que el año de gracia cuatro mil setecientos cincuenta y uno se estén explotando las minas como el primer día. (335)

In this passage, written twenty years before he was elected President of Argentina, Sarmiento already represents himself as a nation builder, and the purpose of his visit to the United States becomes explicit. He was there to learn, not only about education, but also about what makes a nation prosperous and successful. He came to find abroad the Argentina of the future, the realization of his dreams, suggesting that his country's backwardness was a temporary state, and that he was the one to bring about the change that was due. The passage begins with a hypothetical sentence, but toward the end it shifts to the future tense as he gets wrapped up in the certainty and divine destiny of the role he assumes for himself. He is establishing here what contemporary North American intellectuals, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, had written again and again: that American national identity is shaped by natural abundance and propitious conditions coupled with human action. But for Sarmiento the land is to be tamed by progress and civilization, it is purely utilitarian and functional, the repository of a potential for national progress. There is no communion with nature, no aesthetic contemplation of its motherly exuberance, no individual spiritual introspection. Only one man was needed to shape the entity of the nation: himself. The United States provided Sarmiento with a model to reconquer America's remaining barbaric wilderness through the displacement of the indigenous peoples and the importation of white European immigrants to engineer his desired race of the citizen of the future.

The above passage also focuses on the transformation of nature through industrialization and a consideration of the land as mere economic resource. The railroad's forward movement is a metaphor for progress, and besides, as Sarmiento pleasantly found out when he arrived in the United States, it made all aspects of travel and knowledge of the land easier. He was fascinated to see North Americans as a people in motion, in contrast with the southern nations that were still, in all senses of the word, stationary. Being able to travel comfortably was the mark of "pueblos activos, con vida actual, con porvenir." By contrast, "la España y sus derivados" had not changed in three centuries (355). Sarmiento also viewed the railroad as a symbol of individual freedom. He contrasted the French state's protectionism of citizens' safety, which had slowed down railroad building in France, with the enterprising North American railroad companies that ignored those concerns at a time when fear of lawsuits had not yet curtailed technological advances. His emotionless description of railroad accidents (366) suggests that in the United States human life was a price that must sometimes be paid for the freedom that gives progress its forward impulse, and that individualism makes individuals expendable: for him, every nation-bulding plan has its victims, who must be sacrificed for the common good.

Colonialism and neocolonialism had a strong impact in Sarmiento's writing not only about Spain but also about the United States. He came from an America still in its infancy, where the Indian presence was ubiquitous as a result of Spanish colonial practices which, unlike the British, resulted in a more racially mixed society. Although he later criticized U.S. expansionism in his biography of Abraham Lincoln, (12) the Mexican-American war, which was going on at the time of his trip to North America, is conspicuously absent from Viajes. He did not explicitly support the annexation of Mexican territory by the United States, but he seemed disappointed that his own country was too far away to benefit from its influence: "Entonces, la unión de los hombres libres principiará en el Polo Norte, para venir a terminar por falta de tierra en el Istmo de Panamá" (339). Ironically, toward the end of the century, when U.S. imperialism in Latin America intensified, Argentines would find the geographical distance a cause for relief. But Sarmiento dreamed of the Western Hemisphere as a constellation of states under the tutelage of the United States, "con sus mismas leyes, sus prácticas, sus instituciones civiles y políticas" (383), echoing the Manifest Destiny rhetoric of midcentury U.S. lawmakers. Thus he rejected Spain's cultural pastˇ"░la civilización española lo invade todo!" (145), he wrote impatientlyˇwhile proposing that, with less than half a century of independence, Spanish America should be under a new foreign influence. To him, freedom and prosperity must come before national autonomy:

Cuando los Estados de la Unión se cuenten por centenares, y los habitantes por cientos de millones, educados, vestidos y hartos, ¿qué vais a oponer a la voluntad soberana de la gran República en los negocios del mundo? ¿Vuestros guardianes de pordioseros? íPero os olvidáis de las naves americanas que os bloquearían en todos los mares, en todos los puertos! Dios ha querido al fin que se hallen reunidos en un solo hecho, en una sola nación la tierra virgen que permite a la sociedad dilatarse hasta el infinito, sin temor de la miseria;...la República, en fin, fuerte, ascendente como un astro nuevo en el cielo... (388)

Sarmiento was not proud of his country's colonial past, but he did not entirely reject the principle of colonialism either, as this passage demonstrates. He understood Manifest Destiny as a new kind of colonialism that brought progress and civilization to lands previously inhabited by "barbarians," and throughout his life he advocated a similar pattern of nation-building for Argentina. He romanticized the civilizing process: in the north, America was being "rediscovered" precisely by those who had learned the lessons of colonialism. Even if it meant extermination of the native inhabitants of the land, Manifest Destiny was to Sarmiento a gesture that repeated Columbus's arrival in the New World, this time done right. His regret was that the same was not happening in Spanish America: "¿Por qué se ha muerto el espíritu colonizador entre nosotros, los descendientes de la colonización oficial?" (374). He distinguished invasion and plundering of one nation for the enrichment of another, as Spain had done to America, from a utopian form of imperialism which did not entail full political and economic domination but a sharing of values and resources for the sake of the prosperity of future generations and the dissemination of freedom (380-81).

Admiration for the United States led Sarmiento to gloss over any flaws he might have observed in the North American moral character. Yet he also ended up abandoning the discourse of secondariness and asserting the superiority of his own culture which he had tended to portray as inferior throughout most of the book: "No hay pueblo medio civilizado que no se sienta superior a los yanquis, por este lado al menos" (390). Yet while Sarmiento could not completely close his eyes to the "barbarism" that the United States contained in the Far West and in the South, he attributed it to French or Spanish influence, and implicitly exalted Anglo-Saxon superiority. Thus he displaced his anger toward Spain and concentrated on the "common" American character of both Argentina and the United States, that also made the southern subcontinent an heir to the greatness of the New World that the North embodied.

Mansilla and the many faces of democracy

Mansilla's book of travels is the first such account by an Argentinian woman. Like Sarmiento, she acknowledges a French precursor, in her case Laboulaye, the author of Paris in America, whom she inserts into her text as agreements and disagreements with him become prompts for her own ideas (see Recuerdos, 48, 51, and 74). Sarmiento himself is conspicuously absent from Mansilla's pages, with the exception of an enigmatically unanswered question addressed to her years later by Senator Sumner: "Supongo, querida señora, que allá en el Plata Vd. y Mr. Sarmiento son excepciones?" Mi respuesta no viene aquí al caso; hay cosas que deben decirse fuera de la patria, y callarse en ella" (191). Since the mutual admiration and friendship between the two writers was well known, Mansilla's omission of her own response needs little explanation as an artificial act of modesty before her compatriots, leaving them to guess that she did indeed like to compare herself to Sarmiento as a pathbreaker in the arena of her country's international relations even if she had too much class to be the one to proclaim it. Her endeavor, however, was very different from his, both because she was a woman and because Sarmiento told us less about the United States he saw than about the Argentina he envisioned.

As she steps into uncharted ground, Mansilla devotes her opening pages to convincing the readers that she is up to the task. She prefaces her work with less rhetorical humility than Sarmiento and more confidence in her ability to carry out her project. With apparent effortlessness, backed by her years abroad and previous publishing successes (13), she defines her purpose as one of service: "Pero, en mi calidad de viajera, que escribe con la mira honrada de dar luz á los que no la tienen, creo de mi deber consignar en estas páginas, lo que he oído repetir á tantos famosos touristes....Además, quien á Yankeeland se encamina, tiene por fuerza que democratizar su pensamiento" (12-13). Bringing the United States closer to her Argentine audience entails two simultaneous processes of mental preparation for the project before she even begins the journey: to enter into a dialogue with other travelers and travel writers and to open her mind to the North American spirit of democracy. She interprets both as an obligation to her readers to include opinions with which she disagrees and, in the process, places her text in the midst of an ongoing dialogue about the United States and travel writing.

Despite Mansilla's initial protestations, throughout her visit to North America democracy is seen as the culprit for a certain boring sameness and lack of variety which both she and Sarmiento saw confirmed in the architectural landscape of North American cities. Philadelphia prompts her to accuse the people she liked to call Yankees of being "nación poco imaginativa" and lacking in good taste (104). Democratizing her way of thinking also entails a more practical matter: for a woman accustomed to the Parisian luxuries in which she had been immersed before this trip, democracy gets in the way of refinement and comfort in a country where the frontier mentality is idealized as a way of life. She adapts to it with less ease than a truly democratic spirit might have done: while Sarmiento saw inconvenience as a small price to pay for progress, she dwells almost to excess on the discomforts of the journey and the substandard conditions on trains and hotels in the United States. Even though her trip was a journey of pleasure, with all the comforts money could buy, she had to resign herself to having men smoke in her face on the train from New York to Washington (71), to sleeping in substandard beds (77), and to occupying hotel rooms too small to accommodate her luggage (159). Yet she also found a way to turn that discomfort to literary advantage, and relished the opportunity to picture herself as a traveler embedding herself to the fullest into the culture she visited. She utilized her traveling mishaps as a source of anecdotes that provide a glimpse at people and places with which she might not voluntarily have placed herself in contact.

Mansilla was afforded a kind of privileged treatment not available to Sarmiento during his first trip. She attended White House receptions and met some of the most important contemporary political and intellectual figures, including Abraham Lincoln. But though these circumstances placed her at a distance from the majority of North Americans, she did not neglect to portray the various races and classes that formed the Union. Even though she mixed largely with those of her own class, she eagerly observed what she could and researched what she could not. At the same time, she had access to areas of North American life open only to women, and her attention to women's concerns and family life complements her book's historical, political, and sociological scope.

Both Sarmiento and Mansilla dealt largely with Anglo-Saxon Americans during their visit. Sarmiento used this white-race predominance to his political advantage, offering it as proof that a similar scheme would turn Argentina into a successful copy of the United States. Mansilla, on the other hand, was less blind to the actual ethnic diversity of the Union. As a woman traveling alone, and in more comfortable economic circumstances, she had more opportunities than he did to deal with servants and to observe the blatant differences in status between blacks and whites. She was not beyond agreeing with Sarmiento's consideration of Indians as savages, but she romanticizes their role in North American history as "puramente americano" (23):

Dolorosa es la historia, que llamaré privada, de los Estados Unidos, en contacto con esas tríbus salvajes, que poblaban los territorios de Nevada, Colorado, etc. Así que el Yankee tuvo una existencia política asegurada, no se contentó ya con comprar, como en otro tiempo, tierras á los indígenas, decidió destruir la raza por todos los medios á su alcance. Muerte, traicion y rapiña, han sido las armas con las cuales los han combatido; promesas y engaños, hé ahí su política con los hijos del desierto...

Cuado he visto caciques Rojos, sentados á la mesa del Presidente de los Estados Unidos, en esa actitud reservada y digna, acompañada de un mirar melancólico y profundo, tan penetrante, he sentido respeto y enternecimiento por los descendientes de los dueños de la tierra, que hoy ocupa la Union, despojados, desdeñados, engañados por hombres que profesan una religion de igualdad y mansedumbre, y que, sinembargo [sic], no practican el principal de sus preceptos: la fraternidad. (53-55)

The yearning for refinement contributes to the book's organization as a comparison with France, which she upholds as the standard of civilization. For Argentine intellectuals at this point in time, it was almost a necessity to view the United States, at least initially, through a European lens, for this was the only tradition upon which they could draw. Sarmiento and Mansilla significantly arrived in North America from France, an act which also entails a symbolic rejection of Spain's colonial legacy. Their travels and writings linked Argentinaˇand, by extension, Latin Americaˇto a triangular axis as part of an already culturally-interdependent world. Yet despite the origin of her trip, Mansilla still writes of traveling "hácia el Norte" (13). But while Sarmiento, dazzled with his new find, ultimately holds it superior to Europe, Mansilla subtly writes her Argentina in the interstices of both France and the United States. Whereas critics like Graciela Batticuore interpret this European emphasis as a mark of snobbery and portray Mansilla as a less-than-authentic representative of American culture (14), I prefer to read Mansilla's travel memoirs as a bridge between not two but three worlds (15) and a sociological document in which Argentina's and Latin America's search for its own national identity plays a crucial role.

Mansilla's inter-American consciousness emerges most forcefully whenever the word "America" is at stake. Her own usage favors "our America" to link herself to her intended Argentine audience, and "North American" or "Yankee" to refer to her hosts, though as the book progresses she finds it increasingly difficult not to call the locals "los Americanos" (72). However, despite succumbing to the United States' appropriation of the name of "America" upon occasion, the political consequences of this phenomenon unleash in Mansilla passions that she otherwise successfully keeps under the refined wrap of her Paris-educated consciousness. She is more direct and explicit than Sarmiento in expressing her opinion of this ideologically-charged linguistic choice, and has no qualms about criticizing it openly and forcefully, perhaps because she is not as dazzled as he is by this country, nor does she have the same passionate investment in making her book a political statement of admiration. Thus she highlights common origins and claims to equal status by drawing attention to the clearly European provenance of "la raza que se da á sí misma el nombre de Americana, y no consiente en que los Latinos, que hemos formado tambien nuestro mundo, en este hemisferio, nos llamemos sino Hispano americanos." Her patriotic rage progresses, causing her to forget her otherwise subdued and polite tone toward her hosts for a moment in order to defend her own people: "Intolerantes y orgullosos, como severos puritanos, los hijos de la Union no creen sino en sí mismos, y ni siquiera dan fe, ni hacen justicia, al progreso real de nuestras Repúblicas. Nosotros les llamamos, con cierta candidez, hermanos del Norte; y ellos, hasta ignoran nuestra existencia política y social" (60, author's emphasis). Like Sarmiento, she finds herself upholding Latin American solidarity in the face of the northern giant's unforgivable snub. It is even more painful for her, in her attempt to enlighten her compatriots about the United States, that the typical Yankee has taken no such pains to know his southern neighbors: "Para él, American quiere decir: ciudadano de la América del Norte; no conoce otra América que la de la Union; el resto no lo toma en cuenta; los instruidos la desdeñan, los ignorantes la ignoran" (74). She takes U.S. usage as an insult, a personal attack, charged by attempts at political dominance of the hemisphere which by 1860 were well under way: "Algo saben de México, y eso, porque dia á dia han ido apropiándose algun pedazo del antiguo imperio de Moctezuma; ya sabemos lo que fué y lo que es la California para el Yankee. Conocen el camino á Centro América; pero de Sud América, que para ellos suele ser el Brasil, ay! qué poco saben! Y diré aún, que nada se les importa" (74-75). Thus she understands "America," as it is used in the United States, not only as a political expression of the hungry expansion dictated by Manifest Destiny statement but also as a mark of ignorance.

Beneath the façade of Frenchness, close attention to the text of Recuerdos also reveals Mansilla's specific views on Argentina on a variety of topics, spurred by contrasts and comparisons with the United States. Despite her extended residence abroad, she continues to be bound to her "motherland" by strong ties which she equates to an umbilical cord. Letters from home transport her momentarily "á esa patria ausente, á la cual permanecemos adheridos por lazos invisibles, pero, existentes....El vínculo que á la tierra madre nos ata, es real, es sólido, á veces doloroso" (193-94). The picture that Mansilla portrays of Argentina in this book intertwines the political and the personal in an elusive and enigmatic manner, addressed to an audience that she is confident shares her feelings, and not, like Sarmiento, to one she hopes to persuade.

Mansilla's status as a woman traveling with small children also allows her access to circles that were closed to Sarmiento, and reveals interests to which he was oblivious. From her we get a detailed depiction of family life, fashion, toilette, domestic customs, and other women's concerns that represent the public and private spheres of life as deeply interconnected. In these discussions, Mansilla makes no secret of her own traditional beliefs, and proposes a conservative alternative to the struggle for the political participation of women: "La mujer, en la Union Americana, es soberana absoluta; el hombre vive, trabaja y se eleva por ella y para ella. Es ahí que debe buscarse y estudiarse la influencia femenina y no en sueños de emancipacion política. Qué ganarian las Americanas con emanciparse? Más bien perderian, y bien lo saben" (114). She goes on to detail these means of participation in public life and of emancipation "de la cruel servidumbre de la aguja" (115) that are acceptable to her, and which essentially involve what she did best: writing. Sunday articles, translations, and fashion reports, she explains, are well within women's capabilities and should be left to them without male interference. "Es lástima que en los demas países no suceda otro tanto" (114-115), she writes, decrying the fact that in Argentina these tasks were also usurped by men and left women little to do to earn a decent living. But Mansilla is no complete antifeminist either, crediting women with aiding the success of revolution: "Las Norte americanas, tanto las de orígen sajon, como las de orígen latino, soportaron intrépidas toda clase de privaciones, ántes que consentir en pagar aquellos odiosos impuestos" (44). She admired North American women for their beauty as well as for their attitudes toward life, and observed in them the essence of their country's moral character: "La mujer Americana practica la libertad individual como ninguna otra en el mundo, y parece poseer gran dósis de self reliance" (111).

Although women in Mansilla's time were denied the right to participate in politics and even to vote, she reveals a deep concern with political developments in her country. Her marriage to a politician gave her access to certain circles and conversations that enabled her to become informed about the important issues of the time, and she did not hesitate to express her opinions to her interlocutors or to record them for her audience. Despite giving her readers permission to skip the historical and political chapters of her book, treating them as parenthetical background material to her own impressions, she in fact devotes quite a bit of space to them. She justifies her choice by saying that "No es posible hablar de los Estados Unidos, sin penetrar un tanto en su vida política" (43). She admires the North American commitment to maintain the Constitution, preferring this system to the French practice of constantly rewriting it, which Argentina has thus far imitated. She then suggests that her countrymen carefully observe the consequences of both options: "Ojalá que los Argentinos tengan siempre presente tales peculiaridades, que constituyen toda la fisonomía política de esos dos países" (51). This statement reveals a certain preoccupation with Argentina's search for models as a way to define its own identity, vying between France and the United States for guidance. Aware of past and current attempts to adapt the United States' constitution to Argentina, Mansilla advocates the advantages of an element of permanence and constancy upon which to build one's own identity in the face of change. But, most importantly, she calls for the need to understand the whole culture before simply attempting to copy isolated elements. By way of example, the book includes an embarrassing anecdote involving two unnamed Argentine politicians, which hinges on a misunderstanding of North Americans' attachment to their titles:

Cuando se trataba de estudiar la Constitucion Americana, para calcar sobre ella la nuestra, viendo en el texto "Governor Fish, Diputado por Nueva York, y Governor Morton, Senador por Indiana etc.," pensaron y no poco discutieron el punto, que en la Union, se podia ser Gobernador de un Estado y Legislador á la vez.

Imaginen hoy nuestros hombres de Estado, la confusion que tan mala inteligencia, hubiera creado en nuestra constitucion. (68-69)

Thus Mansilla erects herself as the cultural expert, who can provide the ethnological and sociological details that inform political decision-making. Most times, however, she leaves her readers to decide for themselves whether the North American or Argentinian system is preferable, as she does not always openly endorse one or the other for fear of insulting either her compatriots or her hosts. Thus she stops short of condemning the freedom of the press which allows for vicious criticism of the diplomatic corps to which she belongs, while in a veiled way longing for an Argentina where "tales abusos" might have been curtailed (117).

For Mansilla, the most important difference which imprints both nations with their own character is how they have historically dealt with their status as colonies. She considers both of them lands without a past, a fact which makes them appear to her impoverished and unattractive when compared to Europe (26-27). At the same time, she observes that the North Americans have maintained their Englishness despite the presence of numerous ethnicities and nationalities on their soil, while for Argentines immigration served the purpose of erasing the metropolis from their character:

Entre nosotros, la fusion de las diversas razas europeas que á este suelo acuden, se ha efectuado más por completo; y el cosmopolitismo ha ido borrando las costumbres, los gustos, de la madre patria....

Los Yankees pretenden hablar mejor que los Ingleses; nosotros no adelantamos tal proposicion: prescindimos de la España, como si la Lengua fuera nuestra propiedad exclusiva" (52).

Her views on race echo Sarmiento's ideal of engineering Argentina's national character out of carefully selected immigrants from northern Europe, eradicating both the Indians of the pampas and the Southern European remnants of colonization. Mansilla also seizes on language as the mark of national character, complementing the gesture of independence that the racial mixture has achieved. Ironically, this mirrors her own dependence on foreign languages as a mark of cosmopolitanism, her ideal of citizenship.

The Yankee and the Southerner

The journeys undertaken in the mid-nineteenth century afforded Sarmiento and Mansilla the opportunity not only to look critically at other cultures, but also to acquire a new consciousness of their own and to produce a reflection on their nation and their America shaped by cross-cultural encounters, a trait common to the majority of travel literature. Mansilla's trajectory made her a true cosmopolitan who embodied her own ideal of citizenship. She felt at home in every country in which she lived, making herself a part of the foreign world that encompassed her life. Her text, which starts off as a Spanish/French hybrid that relies more heavily on English as she spends more time in the United States, is an accurate reflection of the kind of woman that she was: her education and extended residence abroad turned her into a polyglot used to adapting to customs and languages with little effort. Sarmiento also approached Europe not as an entirely foreign land, but as the location of the historical origins of his own culture. Describing the metropolis became at the same time a process of introspection, and the distant America an ideal construction, the location of hopes and desires as well as memories. But when he traveled to the United States he found a part of himself; he discovered, as Ezequiel Martínez Estrada points out, what he had not suspected that he was: a Yankee (16). Despite his admiration for frontier life, in Sarmiento's vision New England came to stand for America as the "elaborador de las grandes ideas sociales y morales que constituyen la nacionalidad norteamericana...la raza bramínica de los Estados Unidos" (402). Mansilla was conscious of the past and present history of oppression of the United States. She could not ignore the Civil War that was going on at the time of her visit, and though she ended up siding with the South on account of its European refinement, she decried the treatment of slaves and of Indians in the course of the nation's history. But for her, Europe was the epitome of civilization, and the South embodied that Old World charm and refinement that she missed in the North, despite her attempts to democratize her way of thinking. Ultimately, she sided with issues of way of life that were tangential to the struggle, and even chose to end the book on that precise note, a mix of guilt and confession, proclaiming her sympathy for the South: "Á pesar de los esclavos? se me dirá. Á pesar, respondo humildemente, que ese Sud, donde reinaba la esclavatura, era hasta entónces el monopolizador de la elegancia, del refinamiento, y de la cultura en la Union; verdad, que el norte reconocía y proclamaba á cada paso en sus aspiraciones sociales" (196).

For these travelers, the description of foreign lands served the purpose, aimed at their Latin American audiences, of American and national self-definition. As Americans abroad, they positioned themselves as representatives of their nations and their continent to make them known not only to the foreigners they considered ignorant of the American realities, but also to themselves. For both, self-knowledge entailed an outsider's perspective, and their books of travels, where they themselves are the outsiders, offer us a glimpse into their thought processes as they forged their own identities and contributed to the growing corpus of literature by men and women that wrote Argentina's coming of age as a nation.

As citizens of a postcolonial nation, in a world where colonialism was not dead and new patterns of supremacy were rapidly emerging, Sarmiento and Mansilla wrote from an ambivalent perspective that led them to assert their own intellectual and cultural independence, and to define americanism without letting go of their ambivalent attachment to northern European culture. This conflict is present in all postcolonial societies, and affects the white European settlers' problem "of establishing their "indigeneity" and distinguishing it from their continuing sense of their European inheritance." (17) Their worldview was dominated by patterns of subordination. For Americans looking from the South, the "center of the world was not as important as the overwhelming presence of the periphery or even the existence of multiple, shifting centers. These writers also expressed ambivalence in their attempts to establish the originality and superiority of America while being confronted with European civilizations. Travel put them in contact with other nations, and from this emerged a remapping of their worlds according to relationships of hegemony and a competitiveness between the travelers and the host countries. Travel also forced them to find compromises between civility in criticism and upholding the self-respect and dignity of their own cultures. In the end, both felt overwhelmed by an Anglo-Saxon culture powerful enough to transform everything, though for Sarmiento the transformation was inspiring and desirable, and for Mansilla merely a curiosity to which she still preferred France. Sarmiento, who had repudiated his European origins, went to the United States in search of a future, to choose his models rather than be bound to his ancestors. For him, at this stage, finding a new model appears to be more important than absolute independence. Mansilla clutched her adopted Frenchness as she went to the United States to find entertainment, education, and experiences to share with her readers.

Though both these travel books dwell extensively on the departure from the homeland and the initial voyage across the ocean, the ending differs significantly. Mansilla left the United States in the midst of a crisis because Argentina's political upheavals demanded her husband's return to the Old World, and interrupted her own work at a point which made it impossible for her to give her book a rounded finish. For Sarmiento, the end of the trip marked not the consciousness of the end of an era but a tangibly separate reality. The departure brought him a painful awareness that the successful America he had contemplated ended with the United States' territory. The last paragraph of Viajes describes Sarmiento's departure from New Orleans in a dirty, uncomfortable ship bound for Havana, significantly still a colonized part of the New World: "El mundo norteamericano concluía, y principiábamos a sentir con anticipación las colonias españolas a donde nos dirigíamos" (499).





  1. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Obras Completas, vol. V, Viajes por Europa, Africa y América (1849; reprint ed., Buenos Aires: Luz del Día, 1949).
  2. Eduarda Mansilla de García, Recuerdos de viaje (Buenos Aires: Felipe S. Alsina, 1882).
  3. Biographical details have been gathered from Néstor Tomás Auza, "Eduarda Mansilla: escritora y mujer de su tiempo,"in Mujeres y escritura, ed. Mempo Giardinelli (Buenos Aires: Puro Cuento, 1989) 140-144.
  4. Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Studies in travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992) 189-190.
  5. Andrea Pagni, "Los viajes y el lugar de la escritura en los textos de Friedrich Gerstäcker y de Domingo Faustino Sarmiento,"Río de la Plata: Culturas 8 (1989) 152.
  6. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo. Civilización y barbarie. Vida de Juan Facundo Quiroga (1845; reprint ed., México: Porrúa, 1975).
  7. In the introduction to Facundo, Sarmiento expressed his ambition of becoming the Tocqueville of South America (2). For a study of Tocqueville's influence on Sarmiento's work, see Raúl A. Orgaz, "Sarmiento y el naturalismo histórico," in Socilogogía Argentina, vol. II (Córdoba: Assandri, 1950), 267-332, and Tulio Halperín Donghi Proyecto y construcción de una nación (Argentina 1846-1880) (Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1980) XXXVI.
  8. Nicolas Shumway describes this impulse as originating in the 1820s in The Invention of Argentina (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991) 84. Later in the century, the Generation of 1880 continued to conceive of Argentina as an artificial "show" that reflected the elite's conception of the nation against its realities at home and its image abroad, with the intention of dispelling any preconceptions for the country as primitive or savage. See Thomas Mcgann's description of Argentine particiaption in the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition in Argentina, the United States, and the Inter-American System, 1880-1914 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957) 177, and Hubert Howe Bancroft's remarks about the Argentine pavilion at the Chicago World Fair of 1893 in The Book of the Fair, vol. I (New York: Bounty Books, 1894) 217.
  9. The word "America" in these texts relflects the kinds of dissensions present in the writings of its time, and meanings which are far from having been radically altered today. I have tried to respect Sarmiento's and Mansilla's usage when quoting or paraphrasing, but without losing sight of the United States tradition that, even today, explicitly excludes the rest of the continent from its own name at the same time as it entertains designs of dominance over its independent nations.
  10. Shumway, The Invention of Argentina, 63-67.
  11. Mary mann, trans., Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants; or, Civilization and Barbarism (New York: Hafner Press, 1968) XXVI.
  12. Sarmiento, Vida de Abraham Lincoln, décimo sesto presidente de los Estados Unidos. Precedida de una introducción (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1866).
  13. By the time she published Recuerdos de viaje, many years after the events it narrates, her books El médico de San Luis (1860; reprint ed. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 1962) and Pablo ou la vie dans les pampas (Paris: Lachaud, 1869) among others, had been critically acclaimed and translated, and had gained her the admiration not only of Argentines but also North American and European readers.
  14. Batticuore's argument involves a certain competition between Mansilla and her contemporary, Juana Manuela Gorriti, and credits the latter with "raising the flag of americanismÍ with no European mediation" while accusing Mansilla of not working "toward her country's cultural growth." "Itinerarios culturales. Dos modelos de mujer intelectual en la Argentina del siglo XIX."Revista de Crítica Literaria latinoamericana XXII, 43-44 (19960 171.
  15. Francine Masiello's study of Mansilla's French-language novel Pablo highlights a similar endeavor: "Eduarda Mansilla positions herself as a bridge between two worlds...Hers is the voice of the multilingual woman who translates as she writes, bringing diverse cultures under her control and exposing the connections between them." "Lost in Translation: Eduarda Mansilla de García on Politics, Gender, and War,"in Reinterpreting the Spanish American Essay: Women Writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries, ed. Doris Meyer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995) 74.
  16. Ezequiel Martínez Estrada, "Sarmiento y los Estados Unidos," Cuadernos Americanos XI, LXIII (1952), 189.
  17. Bill Ashcroft et al., The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures (London: Routledge, 1989) 135.