The Latvians in Argentina

On March 1, 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina. The city is beautiful and dynamic where the old European architecture (but well maintained) meets the modern and tall buildings. The population of Argentina is mostly made up of descendants of Spanish colonists and immigrants, and although some street names have indigenous names, there are not many of them. There are not many Afro-descendants, since the “Rio de la Prata” was not an African slavery route. The largest group of immigrants in Argentina was definitely Italians.

The first Latvians that arrived in Argentina were before the First World War for personal reasons. As was the case with Dr. Prof. Karlis Bergs, Researcher in Natural Sciences (botany and zoology), by the sculptor Virginia Krasting Carreño, who arrived in 1912 and aviator Otto Balodis, who arrived in 1927 and who worked as a flight instructor. The first consul consul was Karlis Bergs, from 1927 to 1931.

However, the second wave of immigration was the most important, after the Second World War (1948-1949), during the second government of the Argentine populist president, Juan Domingo Perón, when 89 Letos arrived in warships with another 800 immigrants from Austria and Italy through the Port of Buenos Aires.

The refugees’ first residence was the Hotel dos Imigrantes, in the Boedo region, located near the Port of Buenos Aires (where there was a train station and today is the Immigration Museum in Argentina). Thanks to Father Luis I García, immigrants organized a colony in the city of San Miguel, in the Province of Buenos Aires. The first pieces of land and houses were shared by large groups of families with low financial conditions. Conditions were so poor that the men had to sleep on the ceiling. The construction of the new houses was done in a very supportive way, everyone helped each other, due to the lack of resources. This priest was well liked by the Latvian community for his permanent concern in solving problems, finding land for lodging, work for those in need, teaching the language, etc… Father Garcia helped to found the Congregation of “San Pablo” in San Miguel. The first service with the participation of the Latvians took place on March 27, 1949 and the Latvian artisans helped in the construction of the temple. Padre Garcia managed to find two blocks of land for 38 families, the street where these blocks of land were located is now called “Calle Letônia”. (Latvia Street)

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For three years, Preacher Garcia helped the families, but there was a need for services to be taught in the Latvian language. In 1951, the Congregation “La Reurrección” was founded. The first preacher of the church was Anroldo Liepins who along with his family, helped for 25 years, the Latvians in Mendonza (Argentina), Santiago (Chile) and Montevideo (Uruguay).

He was rescued from a camp of displaced persons in Europe to take charge of the Congregation in 1952 – La Resurrección. They had Sunday school and traditional orchestrated music taught by pianist Elvira Vitolins de Liepins. In 1953, they founded a parish in Hurlingham, where they started to build a church with the help of Latvian artisans. All the activities of the Congregation were carried out in this new location. From the age of 50 until his death, Preacher Liepins wrote and printed the newsletter “Vests”, bringing information about the activities of the Congregation, using a manual mimeograph. From that moment on, the growth of the Latvian community was rapid. The Latvians found jobs in different areas, according to their training, in carpentry, metallurgy, machinery, electromechanical services, education, domestic services, etc. And many, little by little, built their own workshops and stores. From the 1950s to the 1970s, they focused on making plastic textiles. These activities took the Latvians to the Argentine middle class at a time when industrial activity grew in the country and had many jobs.

The largest organization of Latvians in Argentina was La Asociación de Letones Libres (The Association of Free Latvians) and the Asociación de la Letonia Libre (PBLA – Association of Free Latvia), which still prevail around the church today. For more than 40 years, they practice monthly services, followed by a lunch with the community (a la canasta) where people talk in Latvian and Castilian.

The Congregation of “La Resurrección” is led today by Preacher David Calvo and President Ilgvars Ozols. In the last decades, the number of people who re-apply the activities of the Congregation has decreased to about 20 people. The Congregation celebrates the main holidays, such as November 18th and Christmas, when they gather the largest number of Latvians in Argentina, concentrating more than 70 people and with the participation of musicians. Among the celebrations are the “Day of Christian faith in Latvia” and “Day of deportees from Latvia-Siberia (1941-1949)”.

The relationship between the Latvians in Argentina and those in Latvia began to reestablish itself in 1990, when Soviet merchant ships arrived in Argentine waters to fish and treat squid. The meetings took place at the initiative of some Latvian sailors who sought contact with the Argentines. The meetings, despite the surveillance of the Soviet police, were very emotional. This happened when direct contact was reestablished and was broken for decades. The sailors participated in various social and family events during their stay. However, with the end of the USSR, there were huge corruption deals made by former Soviet regime officials and the Russian mafia linked to Argentina, which ended the fishing fleet, leaving the sailors / fishermen in the Port of Buenos Aires without resources to survival. In 1991, the New Republic of Latvia promoted Adolfo Bruziks as the first Honorary Consul of Latvia in Argentina. He, who was born in Latvia, took responsibility and risked many of his personal belongings by resolving the problem of repatriation of sailors. The Congregation still has contact with some of them and their families.

Shortly after Bruziks’ appointment, Mirdza Resbergs was appointed and began to deal with issues more appropriate for an Honorary Consul, such as the issue of passports for the first immigrants and their descendants, in such a way that more than 40 passports from Latvia were issued – people who participated in parliamentary elections in the 1990s. Since 1991, many Latvian natives have traveled from Latvia to visit their relatives, generations born during exile, and to recognize what was once their property.

The Latvian Honorary Consulate in Argentina has been in existence since 2013 and is currently located in a building of lawyers. Dr. Andrés Ozols (Social Coordinator) works there, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Buenos Aires and who also works for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Río de la Plata and Riga. Consul Hector Días Bastien lives in Spain and visits Argentina periodically to discuss issues related to the Latvian community in Argentina. Bastíen’s work becomes difficult when it comes to legal issues, such as the case of the 20 Latvians arrested for drug trafficking, partnerships between the administration of the ports in Latvia, the issuance of temporary visas, the development and renewal of passports, the issuance of citizenship, commercial exchange between countries and representation at diplomatic events. He has the help of Mercedes Benegas de Homblerg.

Dr. Ozols was kind and gave me a few hours to answer some questions I had about the Latvians in Argentina. He also gave me a book written by his father Ilgvars Ozols, “Latviesi Argentina, Cile um Urugvaja” (2001), which describes how the process of Latvian immigration happened in these countries and some copies of the newsletter “Vests”, also written by Ilgvars, continuing the work of Preacher Liepins.

In November 2015, the Latvian Citizenship and Migration Affairs Office issued 47 passports to Latvians and their descendants in Argentina. See the images below:

The older Latvians, who live in Argentina, are committed to maintaining the Latvian tradition, but they worry that the new generation of Latvian-Argentineans is not very interested in culture and language and, besides, it is difficult to take them to events of the Congregation. Dr. Ozols, who is also a member of the Biomaterials Group at the “Facultad de Ingenieria de la Universidad de Buenos Aires”, has been working to try to change this situation. He has cooperated to improve student exchange programs between the Universities of Buenos Aires and RTU in Riga, mainly in the field of Biomaterials, but he has a desire to extend this program to other areas of study.

As a member of the Rio de La Plata Chamber of Commerce (contemplates Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) and Riga, Dr. Ozols also works to sign science and technology agreements between countries. He has a desire to use the Port of Riga as a bridge for agricultural products from South America to Europe, with joint administration between the Ports of Riga and the Port of Corrientes. Consul Hector Bastien will be in Argentina in April to discuss this issue.

Written by André Kavalieris

As relações entre os Letos da Argentina e o Brasil

Among the many communities of Latvians around the world, the Argentine and Brazilian communities have always had a very fraternal relationship. It is not known for sure when the first Latvian families arrived in Argentina but it was in the same period of arrival in Brazil.

The cultural contact between the two communities began in 1892, when several latvian families from Rio Novo (Grimm, Berg, Keidann, Sala and others) settled in the so-called “Line 11” of Ijuí (RS), near the Argentine border. Meanwhile, the Akeldans, Kudis, Krombergs, Ulrikis, Mikelson and Priedes families came from Argentina and settled between Lines 4, 5 and 6 on the west side of the center of Ijuí, and the Zakis and Paise family settled between Line 7 and 8 on the east side of the city center.

In Ijuí, the culture between Latvian Baptists (from Rio Novo) and Latvian Lutherans (from Argentina) began to mix. In 1899, Pastor J. Inkis visited Brazil and in Ijuí he formally unified the two churches, the cemeteries, and created the city’s postal system. Together with the German Lutherans in the region, the first school was founded with professor André Gailis, who worked as a teacher in Argentina and whose father lived in the colony of Rio Oratório (a sub-colony of Rio Novo).

Gradually, some latvian families from Brazil also moved to Argentina. Among them were the Match family and the Leimann family, in 1922. From the Leimann family came several Baptist pastors who – having studied at the seminary and worked in Argentina – returned to Brazil.

These families settled in Urdinarrain (Entre Rios), Rufino F. and P. (Santa Fé), Buenos Aires. It is possible to find the descendants of these families living in Brazil and Argentina. Few feel connected to the Latvian community and Latvia, but some maintain correspondence with relatives in Brazil.

Throughout the early twentieth century, contact with these so-called “old latvians” in Argentina was lost, and for several decades community relations in both countries were forgotten.

On April 16 and 17, 1977, a DALA (Dienvidamerikas Latviešu Apvienības) congress took place in São Paulo. This congress renewed the contact of the Latvians from Brazil with the new generations of Latvians from Argentina – who had emigrated in the post-war period. Today the contact has weakened again due to the economic difficulties of holding meetings in Argentina or Brazil, but in 2018 the representative of the Latvians of Argentina, Anita Zalts, was with us at the 1st Festival of Latvian Culture.

The cultural contact and diversity between our two communities is something unique and peculiar and that with these two small articles we aim to preserve for the following generations.

Written by Andreis Purim

The “Calle Letonia”, in Buenos Aires