John Hunter, ABCC chairmanTuesday, July 22, 2014
‘Many Anglo-Argentines are reaching out for a comeback’
Buenos Aires, June 15, 1970
Studies: Colombia School
Newspapers of choice: Buenos Aires Herald, La Nación
Book on the nightstand: Uttermost part of the earth, by Lucas Bridges
It is often heard that the British community here is dying out. How would you respond to that?
If you are talking about the Anglo-Argentine community as it was 50 or 60 years ago, all people in families with British surnames and everybody English-speaking, I would probably have to agree with you — indeed you could almost say that it has already died out. But the new technologies which have changed so much of life today also affect our work — and overwhelmingly for the better by broadening our scope. With all due respect to your newspaper (which has helped us so much over the years) we were previously limited to the Herald and our own Bulletin (1,800 copies distributed) in getting the word out. But now you have Facebook, Twitter. Internet and all that stuff — and all free! Marvellous! Plus the fact that this technology makes English the international language which is a must for computers — that makes me very optimistic for the future.
From your answer, I can see that you have two main keys for re-inventing the British community. One of them is the connectivity from the new technology, which must be very useful in reaching the young (who are not exactly conspicuous in many community gatherings) ....
Yes and when we’re talking about the young, we are not just talking about young adults but the very youngest (often most at home with the new technology). We could do so much with schools. Recently I was at St. Bartholmew’s School in Rosario and I couldn’t help thinking that if it was so English once with the names of the school houses still so English, why couldn’t it become English again in today’s world? And school connections can also work their way up the age chain to the alumni.
And the other is Anglo-Argentines in the provinces, sometimes in remote parts of the country whose isolation can be broken thanks to the new technology. What would you like to say about the community throughout Argentina as opposed to in this capital and what plans do you have?
Apart from having seven district representatives in Greater Buenos Aires north, south and west, the structure I inherited some 20 months ago included six more branches out of town — the Córdoba Hills (La Cumbre), southern Buenos Aires province, Misiones and Corrientes, Río Gallegos, Bariloche and Venado Tuerto. To that network we have added three new districts— Rosario, Mendoza and Cipoletti (linking up Río Negro and Neuquén). We see our representatives taking a pro-active attitude in looking for the descendants of British farmers and others in outlying areas who have been out of touch for ages and bringing them together again. And British in a wider sense because we have picked up some Irish around places like Venado Tuerto (born as Caseytown).
In the case of the “new Anglos” who are emerging, how often do you find that it is somebody of at least some British origin who has completely lost touch with his or her roots and would like to rediscover them and how often is it somebody with no British blood at all but who feels the global power of the English language or who is Anglophile for some other reason?
Hard to say, of course, but evidently a bit of both. I can thinking of one striking example of the latter — there is an elite regiment officer whom obviously I cannot identify who is an Anglophile through and through, proudly preserving a photo of himself playing polo with Prince Charles (which he keeps hidden in the bathroom). I also often enough come across people of British origin who have lost touch with the language and the community and who are reaching out for a comeback — it gives them a place in the world, something which seems more needed today than before.
Sometimes one meets people who seem totally and typically Argentine but who belong to a religious denomination of British origin, such as Anglican, Presbyterian or Methodist. How important a factor is that?
These denominations of British origin merged into the larger community some time ago and it is probably better that it stays that way so that they can continue growing. But no matter how local they become, they are often curious about the British traditions (for instance, I understand that many Presbyterians are fascinated by bagpipes) and we can always work on encouraging that curiosity.
Tell us about some of your activities and the things which keep you busy ...
Where do I start? The British Embassy helps us a lot — not only with two fetes (one in the early autumn and one at Christmas) but also with the Opera Night in spring, a recent replacement of the previous Farmers Ball which has proved a big success. The kermesses are the most complex to organize but having the Embassy gardens for the fetes is such an asset. I could also add a car booth sale and the Hurlingham golf tournament. We are also working towards more events, not just fairs, such as bridge tournaments. All these events are successful in reaching a wider community, as well as bringing our own community together. They are also fundamental for our bottom line, which is fund-raising for charity (especially the care of the elderly).
The ABCC is an umbrella association for diverse British clubs and interests. Which are your member institutions and what could you say about them?
There are 18 entities under our umbrella, each with a vote. They are as follows: the Anglican Cathedral, the Chamber of Commerce, BABS, the two British cemeteries, the British Hospital, the Royal British Legion, the Church of Scotland, Northlands School, the St. Andrews Society of the River Plate, the St. Thomas More Society, the British Engineering Association, the English-Speaking Union, the St. George’s fund, ESSARP, the Argentine-British Historical Society, St. Alban’s College and St. Michaels of All Angels church.
This year the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War will be marked and, not much less importantly, also the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. What are you doing on those fronts (so to speak)?
We are sponsoring plaques to honour the anniversaries of both conflicts in conjunction with the Anglo-Argentine Society in London and the Embassy but we also have to be careful not to draw negative press — one example of the fine line we have to draw between a low profile which would doom us and overexposure. The centenary is, of course, big but the other anniversary is important for us because it coincides with our own — the British Community Council (Argentine-British Community Council as from 1993) was born on Friday, April 18, 1939 as an umbrella for its predecessors. But returning to the remembrance theme, one thing that has really impressed me is that far away from this capital in the Entre Ríos town of Ibicuy a local youth group is working hard at restoring a cairn to the British war dead, who were volunteers from nearby meat-packing plants and railway-building. Further back in time, in 1815, the British residents of Mendoza formed an 80-strong volunteer force under a Captain Young to fight for Argentine independence — a positive story worth spreading.
What is your international networking like, for example, in the region and with the Anglo-Argentine Society in London?
We have contacts with Uruguay via the Embassy in Montevideo and as for the Anglo-Argentine Society in London, we have a very good relationship with John Wilson, who for a long time was manager of the Argentine-British Chamber of Commerce.