Who Cries for Argentina?! Migration and Football Diaspora

Messi made so much history at this World Cup, football has run out of history 🙂 #GOAT, full stop.


Football is the beautiful game, because it embodies human complexities. For example, Washington Post asked a simple question: Why doesn’t Argentina have more Black players in the World Cup? “Argentina is far more diverse than many people realize, but the myth that it is a White nation has persisted…” In part, “thanks” to notorious waves of immigration from Italy and Germany after World War I and II. Such census trivia has dramatically shaped Argentinian demographics and politics. Reasons and methodology behind this phenomenon can also be found in a 2018 in-depth Bastion piece titled “A Whitewashed Nation: Race and Football in Argentina“.

Nevertheless, Messi is also a naturalized Spanish citizen and a bonafide saint in Barcelona’s football iconography. This summer I got to see another historical Argentina-Spain connection…

During my 2022 pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago (coincidentally, sports-themed), I spent a full day in the museums of Ponferrada. La Casa de la Cultura – housed in the municipal library – presented a small but moving photo exhibition “Emigrantes: de Ponferrada a Buenos Aires“. The town’s archive released passport photos of Bierzo region residents bound for Argentina at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The fin de siècle era saw more than 10,000 people leave the area affected by the collapse of the mining industry and the phylloxera epidemic that devastated local vineyards. For most of these people, these are last known pics as many European lineages were “lost” in migration. I loved the presentation along the book stands… So many stories. So many plot twists. So many emotions, all indecipherable now.

While Luis Lionel Andres Messi’s heritage goes back to Italy, I can’t help but wonder… there must be direct descendants of these Ponferrada emigrantes among Messi’s devoted fans in Argentina and elsewhere around the world. Beautiful game, indeed.

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