Between the 1850s and the outbreak of the First World War, some two million Europeans – including many Italians – emigrated to Argentina to seek their fortunes.
The flow of migrants was encouraged by the government in Buenos Aires, whose policy was to attract European immigrants to colonise and develop the country's vast hinterland.
Because of their sound education, vocational skills and relatively strong financial backing, Swiss immigrants (40,000) were particularly welcome. Most of them came from the cantons of Valais and Ticino.
In the years 1870 to 1915, between 6,000 and 9,000 Ticinesi disembarked in Buenos Aires after crossing the Atlantic from the ports of Genoa, Le Havre and Marseilles. They were mainly from the Sottoceneri (the districts of Lugano and Mendrisio), a region with a long tradition of construction-related activities. Many masons and carpenters remained in the rapidly expanding capital, while the peasant farmers moved out into the fertile agricultural lands of the provinces of Cordoba, Santa Fe and Tucuman.
An entrepreneurial approach to life was typical of those who emigrated from Ticino to Argentina and the rest of Latin America (Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil). Some families did well for themselves, becoming part of the middle class in the larger industrial and commercial centres. Among the migrants were architects and stonemasons, who made an important and lasting contribution to the continent's architectural heritage.
Emigration ceased to be a major phenomenon from the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s. In the second half of the 20th century, military dictatorships and economic instability forced many migrants and their descendants to return to Switzerland.
Considering the extent to which Swiss migrants were able to integrate into the society of the host country, and the amounts of money they remitted to their families back home, emigration from Ticino to Argentina can be regarded as a success story.
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