How Santos became the 1st of just 3 Black soccer players to represent Argentina

Mildred Europa Taylor December 20, 2022
Alejandro Nicolás De los Santos. Photo via LCFC

You can call him a pioneer of Black footballers in Argentina but only a few know his story. Alejandro Nicolás De los Santos was the first of just three Afro-Argentine players to represent their country. The other two were Juan Manuel Ramos Delgado and Héctor Baley.

Born on May 17, 1902, in the city of Paraná, near the Uruguay border, De los Santos’ parents were from Angola. The entire family spoke Portuguese at home. Tragedy struck when De los Santos lost his parents. He had to move to Buenos Aires, now the capital of Argentina, where his football skills attracted Third Division club Oriente del Sud.

He performed amazingly well at the club, earning him a transfer to San Lorenzo in the top flight. Five days after his 19th birthday, he made his First Division debut for the club and scored against Banfield. In 1921, he moved on to Sportivo Dock Sud, and a year later there, he earned the first of his five caps for Argentina. 

By 1924, he had transferred to El Porvenir, scoring 80 goals in 148 games in seven years. Thanks to this feat, he became a club legend. De los Santos helped Argentina win the South American Championship on home soil in 1925. However, the color of his skin barred him from doing more for the Argentine team. He was not invited to the 1930 world cup. In fact, LCFC reports that while Argentina’s neighbor Uruguay allowed Blacks to play for its national team, Argentina did not. Their footballers were “almost exclusively white”, reflecting the happenings in the country at the time, LCFC added.

De los Santos would move to Huracán, one of Argentina’s well-known clubs, in 1931. He spent only three years there and retired to become a customs officer at the port of Buenos Aires. He passed away on February 16, 1982, and decades after his death, many have still been wondering why Argentina does not have more Black players as compared to other South American countries like Brazil. Erika Edwards writes that in 2014, there were jokes about how even Germany’s soccer team had at least one Black player, while Argentina seemed to have none during that year’s World Cup Final.

Four years prior to that, the government of Argentina released a census that indicated that 149 493 people, far less than one percent of the country, were Black. That portrayed Argentina as a White nation. But history shows that Africans landed in the Rio de la Plata region of Argentina to work in plantations and as domestic servants decades ago. They then spread to other parts of the country between the 18th and 19th centuries. Over the years, the population of Africans in Argentina has reduced and there are a few theories about that. 

One of these theories is that most Africans died in the Paraguayan war of 1865 between Paraguay and the  Triple Alliance, which includes Uruguay, the Empire of Brazil and Argentina. It is said that most Africans were signed up for the deadly war, leading to their large-scale deaths.

There had been quite a number of crises in the country including high infant mortality rates, cholera and yellow fever epidemics of the 1860s and 1874 respectively.

The other theory is that the seventh president of Argentina, Domingo Sarmiento, carried out a massive genocide of Africans in Argentina. Apparently, between 1868 and 1874, Sarmiento put in place oppressive policies that saw the death of many Blacks, gauchos (people of Spanish descent) and native Argentinians. Some of these included forcing Black people into the military, forcing them to live in poor neighborhoods without adequate health structures, and carrying out mass executions.

Black people were largely forgotten and ignored so much that the Argentine government did not include them in the 1895 national census.

Another theory states that Argentina focused more on whitening the country by bringing in white immigrants from Europe, thanks to the Constitution of 1853. This was compounded by the emigration of Black people to Uruguay and Brazil, where they felt more welcome. Over the years, there have been efforts by many Afro-Argentine groups to raise awareness of their presence as well as the socio-political and economic issues they are facing.

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