French Argentines

French Argentines
Total population


17% of Argentina's population)
Regions with significant populations
Throughout Argentina
Rioplatense Spanish. Minorities speak French, Occitan and Basque.
Predominantly Roman Catholicism
Related ethnic groups
Argentines of European descent · French people · French Americans · French Chileans · French Mexicans · French Peruvians · French Uruguayans

French Argentines (French: Franco-Argentins, Spanish: franco-argentinos) refers to Argentine citizens of full or partial French ancestry, or persons born in France who reside in Argentina. French Argentines form the third largest ancestry group after Italian Argentines and Spanish Argentines. Between 1857 and 1946, 261,020 French people immigrated to Argentina.[2] Today more than 6 million Argentines have some degree of French ancestry (up to 17% of the total population).[3]

While Argentines of French descent make up a substantial percent of the Argentine population, they are less visible than other similarly-sized ethnic groups. This is due to the high degree of assimilation and the lack of substantial French colonies throughout the country.

French immigration to Argentina

During the first half of the 19th century, most of French immigrants to the New World settled in the United States and in Uruguay. While the United States received 195,971 French immigrants between 1820 and 1855, only 13,922 Frenchmen, most of them from the Basque Country and Béarn, left for Uruguay between 1833 and 1842. During this period of time, Uruguay received most of French immigrants to South America as the conflictual relationship between Rosas and the French government had created a xenophobic climate against French immigrants in the Buenos Aires province. After the fall of Rosas in 1852, Argentina overtook Uruguay and became the main pole of attraction for French immigrants in Latin America.

Percentage of French immigrants within Argentina’s subdivisions, according to the 1914 Argentine census

From the second half of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, Argentina received the second largest group of French immigrants worldwide, second only to the United States. Between 1857 and 1946 Argentina received 239,503 French immigrants - out of which 105,537 permanently settled in the country. In 1976 116,032 were settled in Argentina. French immigration to Argentina can be divided in three periods. France was the third source of immigration to Argentina before 1890, constituting over 10% of immigrants, only surpassed by Italians and Spaniards. From 1890 to 1914, immigration from France, although reduced, still was significant. After WWI, the flow of French immigrants was minimal and only grew after WWII to finally stop in the 1950s.

In 1810, Buenos Aires had a population of 28,528 inhabitants, including 13 French citizens.[4] At the beginning of the 19th century, French immigration to Argentina was not substantial. Mainly constituted of political exiles and former officers from the imperial army, it became more considerable from the year 1825, reaching up to 1,500-2,000 French immigrants some years.[5] In 1839, it was estimated that 4,000 Frenchmen were living in the province of Buenos Aires, this figure increased to 12,000 in 1842.[6] From the next decade, French people started to migrate to Argentina in large numbers.

During the first period (1850–1890), French immigration was similar, in numbers and in features, to that of Italians and Spaniards. It belongs to a larger movement of emigration of Basque people, from both sides of the Pyrenees. Until 1852, most of French immigrants to the Río de la Plata were settling in Uruguay. French formed the largest group of immigrants to Argentina until 1854.[7] The country received 1,484 French immigrants in 1856,[8] Frenchmen still were the second most important immigrant group after Italians. The number of French immigrants present in the Buenos Aires Province reached 25,000 in 1859.[9] In 1861, 29,196 Frenchmen were registered in Argentina, including 14,180 living in the city of Buenos Aires where they represented the third largest foreign community and made up 7.5% of the population.[10] In 1869, at the time of the first national census, 32,383 Frenchmen lived in the country, or about 1.7% of the total population. Immigration from France increased dramatically in the first half of the 1870s (with a peak in 1873) and in the second half of the 1890s (61,382 immigrants in a three-year period). The last rise in figures is due to a politic conducted by the Argentine government in order to reduce the increasing importance of Italian immigration, for that purpose 132,000 free travel tickets were distributed in Europe between 1888 and 1890, 45,000 out of them were given in France. In 1887, there were 20,031 Frenchmen living in Buenos Aires, 4.6% of the 433,421 inhabitants.[11]

During the second stage (from 1890 to 1914), French immigration is more similar to those of Germans and Britons, and is characterized by a reduced net migration rate, with the exception of the year 1912 when immigration raised as a result of propaganda led by the Argentine government in Southern France to fill in the gap caused by the prohibition of emigration from Italy to Argentina in 1911. In 1895, after the largest wave of French immigrants had settled in Argentina, they were 94,098, i.e. 2.3% of the total population (33,185 of them were living in the city of Buenos Aires where they represented the third largest foreign community and made up 4.9% of the population). Only the United States had a higher number of French expatriates, with over one hundred Frenchmen having immigrated there. At the turn of the 20th century figures started to decrease as immigration from France declined and previously established immigrants merged within the population. It was estimated that 100,000 Frenchmen were living in Argentina in 1912, 67% of the 149,400 Frenchmen living in Latin America and the second largest community worldwide after the United States (125,000).[12] In 1914, 79,491 Frenchmen were registered, accounting for 1% of the Argentine population.

As a consequence of this evolution, French immigrants represented 5% of the flow of immigrants to Argentina until the 1870s, reaching its maximum (around 12% of immigrants) in the 1870s-1880s, decreasing to 4% at the end of the 20th century and only represented 1% of immigrants in the 1920s. The year 1890 then points out the end of the most significant step of French immigration to Argentina, a rather paradoxical migratory process: important until this date, it becomes minoritary when the phenomenon of mass-immigration to Argentina starts.

The flow decreased dramatically during WWI. After 1918, French immigrants to Argentina numbered 1,500 per year and had a slightly positive net migration rate. The flow of French immigrants then gradually dried up. In the 1960s, around 4,000 Pieds-Noirs immigrated to Argentina from the newly independent Algeria, they constituted the last large migration from France to Argentina.

Half of French immigrants until the second half of the 20th century came from southwestern France, especially from the Basque Country, Béarn (Basses-Pyrénées accounted for more than 20% of immigrants), Bigorre and Rouergue. Other important groups came from Savoy and the Paris region. It was estimated that at least 70% of French immigrants in Tandil were coming from the Southwestern part of the country and that half of them were of Basque stock. Until the 1880s, the great majority of French immigrants to Argentina were from the Pyrenees. Basques started settling in Argentina in the 1830s, then they began heading towards Chile and the United States in the 1870s.

Today it is estimated that up to 17% of Argentines have partial French ancestry. French Argentines formed a large portion of the elite of the country. In 1959 it was estimated that 7% of the upper-class of Buenos Aires was of French background, their ancestors having settled in the country between 1840 and 1880.[13]

While found throughout the country, they are most numerous in Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos, Córdoba, Mendoza and Tucumán provinces. According to the national census of 1895, 37.3% of Frenchmen settled in Argentina lived in the province of Buenos Aires, 35.2% in the city of Buenos Aires, 10.9% in Santa Fe and 5.1% in Entre Ríos. In the Buenos Aires province, they mostly settled south of a line uniting the partidos of Tandil and Azul, their presence being particularly noticeable in the town of Pigüé. As of 2010, almost 15,000 French citizens[14] are living in Argentina, the community may be higher though.

French colonies in Argentina

A chapel in Villa Nogués.

In 1857, an immigrant from Béarn, Alejo Peyret, founded the first farming colony in Entre Ríos, San José. In 1864, out of 380 families living in San José, 125 were from Savoy.[15]

The town of Pigüé, founded by 165 Occitan-speaking French immigrants from Rouergue in 1884, is considered a focal center of French culture in Argentina.[16] It is estimated that 30% to 40% of Pigüé's modern inhabitants can trace their roots to Aveyron and they still speak Occitan.

According to the 1869 census, a quarter of immigrants to the province of Mendoza were from France. In 1895, they made up 15% of immigrants of the province, right after Italians and Spaniards (26.1% and 17.3% respectively). Frenchmen were particularly numerous in the wine-producing departments of Maipú, Luján and in the French colony of San Rafael, founded by engineer Julio Gerónimo Balloffet.[17]

In 1904, the governor of Tucumán founded a town carrying his name, Villa Nougués, as a replica of Boutx in Haute-Garonne, a French village where his family traces its roots back to.

In most cases, however, the French immigrants were not numerous enough to remain distinct from other Argentines. There was no religious barrier for the most part, with the vast majority being Catholics. The language barrier to learning Spanish was also low, especially for the native French and Occitan speakers, and they picked up Spanish quickly.


French immigration has left a significant mark on Argentina, with a notable influence on the arts, culture, science and society of the country. In particular, many emblematic buildings in cities like Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Córdoba were built following French Beaux Arts and neoclassical styles, such as the Argentine National Congress, the Metropolitan Cathedral, or the Central Bank building. In particular, landscape architect Carlos Thays, in his position as 1891 Director of Parks and Walkways, is largely responsible for planting thousands of trees, creating the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden and giving the city much of its parks and plazas that are sometimes compared to similar designs in Paris.

The Central Bank building in Buenos Aires.

Important contributions to the arts include the works of Eugène Py, considered the founding pioneer of Argentine cinema, as well as the development of new literary genres by writers like Paul Groussac or Julio Cortázar. In the field of science, two Argentine Nobel Prize laurates were of French descent, Bernardo Houssay, 1947 laurate in Medicine, and Luis Federico Leloir, 1970 laurate in Chemistry.

In 1851, Captain Louis Tardy de Montravel wrote that the city of Buenos Aires was stamped by French influence, French literature and language being there more widespread than anywhere else. According to him, this preference for France was not due to a capricious and brief craze, rather the result of a natural liking and a perfect similarity between French and Argentine characters, underlining the same lightness of being, the same quick-wittedness and liveliness, as well as the same kindness to foreigners and the similar ability for international influence.[18]


Lunfardo is an argot of the Spanish language which appeared in Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century. It integrated a lot of words and expressions from languages and dialects spoken by immigrants, notably Italians, Spaniards and French. Lunfardo was heavily used in tango lyrics. After 1912, as tango became popular in Paris, French expressions were incorporated into tango lyrics and made their way into lunfardo. It has now become an integral part of the Spanish spoken in Argentina and some of these words are still used on a daily basis.


Argentine localities with names originating from France

Buenos Aires Province

Córdoba Province

Corrientes Province

Entre Ríos Province

La Pampa Province

Misiones Province

Santa Cruz Province

Santa Fe Province

Tucumán Province


Yearly French immigration to Argentina from 1857 to 1897
Year French immigrants Total immigrants % French immigrants
1857 276 4,951 5.6%
1858 193 4,658 4.1%
1859 251 4,735 5.3%
1860 385 5,656 6.8%
1861 148 6,301 2.3%
1862 203 6,716 3%
1863 397 10,408 3.8%
1864 426 11,682 3.6%
1865 513 11,797 4.3%
1866 609 13,696 4.4%
1867 991 13,225 7.5%
1868 1,223 25,919 4.7%
1869 1,465 28,958 5%
1870 2,396 30,898 7.7%
1871 1,988 14,621 13.6%
1872 4,602 26,208 17.6%
1873 7,431 48,382 15.4%
1874 5,654 40,674 13.9%
1875 2,633 18,532 14.2%
1876 2,064 14,532 14.2%
1877 1,996 14,675 13.6%
1878 2,025 23,624 8.6%
1879 2,149 32,717 6.6%
1880 2,175 26,643 8.2%
1881 3,612 31,431 11.5%
1882 3,382 41,041 8.3%
1883 4,286 52,472 8.2%
1884 4,731 49,623 9.5%
1885 4,752 80,618 5.9%
1886 4,662 65,655 7.1%
1887 7,036 98,898 7.1%
1888 17,105 130,271 13.1%
1889 27,173 218,744 12.4%
1890 17,104 77,815 22%
1891 2,915 28,266 10.3%
1892 2,115 39,973 5.3%
1893 2,612 52,067 5%
1894 7,107 54,720 13%
1895 2,448 61,226 4%
1896 3,486 102,673 3.4%
1897 2,835 72,978 3.9%
Total 154,554 1,698,654 9.1%

French immigrants to Argentina from 1857 to 1909
Year period French immigrants Total immigrants % French immigrants
1857–1870 2,789 178,883 1.6%
1871–1890 126,560 1,107,201 11.4%
1891–1909 56,400 2,086,339 2.7%
Total 185,749 3,372,423 5.5%

French immigration to Argentina from 1857 to 1924
Entrances Departures Balance
226,894 120,258 106,623

French immigrants to Argentina from 1915 to 1953
Year period French immigrants
1915–1920 9,800
1921–1930 13,000
1931–1935 5,200
1936–1939 7,800
1944–1948 2,700
1949–1953 3,300

French immigration to Argentina from 1857 to 1946
Entrances Departures Balance
239,503 133,966 105,537

French net migration to Argentina from 1857 to 1976
Year period French immigrants
1857–1860 578
1861–1870 4,292
1871–1880 10,706
1881–1890 69,363
1891–1900 11,395
1901–1910 11,862
1911–1920 -1,352
1921–1930 739
1931–1940 626
1941–1950 5,538
1951–1960 934
1961–1970 1,266
1971–1976 85
Total 116,032

See also


  1. Les merveilleux francophiles argentins 1
  2. "Plus d'un siècle d'immigration internationale en Argentine". Entre 1857 et 1946, 261 020 Français sont entrés dans le pays, dont 37% ont décidé de s'installer définitivement (page 158).
  3. "Canal Académie: Les merveilleux francophiles argentins–1". Il faut savoir qu’en 2006, 17% d’Argentins ont un ancêtre venu de France. Près de 6 millions d’Argentins ont donc des origines françaises.
  4. "Les débuts de l'immigration allemande en Argentine". Au recensement municipal de 1810, comptait-on (...) 13 Français sur une population urbaine totale de 28.528 habitants.
  5. Gilles Mathieu, in Une ambition sud-américaine. Politique culturelle de la France (1914-1940). L'Harmattan. 1991., Peu importante au tout début du XIXe siècle l’émigration française vers l’Argentine, constituée principalement d’exilés politiques et d’anciens officiers de l’armée impériale, prend, à partir de 1825, de l’ampleur et ce sont environ 1500 à 2000 Français, dans les meilleures années, qui se dirigent vers ce pays
  6. Possible paradises: Basque emigration to Latin America. In 1839, four thousand Frenchmen (mostly Basques) lived in the province of Buenos Aires. By 1842, the number had increased to twelve thousand. (page 273).
  7. "Franceses e ingleses: una inmigración influyente". Los franceses representaban en 1854 el grupo mayoritario antes de la gran ola inmigratoria que tuvo lugar en 1857.
  8. Dictionnaire universel théorique et pratique du commerce et de la navigation. (p. 434) Comme immigrants proprement dits, on a compté dans ce nombre 1,484 Français.
  9. Histoire de l'émigration européenne, asiatique et africaine au XIXe siècle. Dans la province de Buénos-Ayres (...) la population était arrivée, en 1859, au chiffre de 320,000 habitants. (...) Sur ce nombre les étrangers comptaient au moins pour un quart (80,000 environ) dont 25,000 Français. (page 247).
  10. Les exclus de la terre en France et au Québec, XVIIe-XXe siècles. La Statistique générale de la France fait état de 29 196 de nos ressortissants installés en Argentine en 1861 et de 94 098 Français en 1901. En 1869 et en 1895, les Français constituaient le troisième groupe national dans la capitale avec 7.5% de la population (14 180 personnes) et 4.9% (33 185 personnes) (page 273).
  11. Historia social argentina en documentos. (p. 48) Origen de los habitantes de Buenos Aires (1887) - Franceses: 20.031 (4.6%).
  12. L'Amérique latine et l'Europe à l'heure de la mondialisation. p. 194. Argentine : 100 000 (67%).
  13. Fazer a América. A análise das famílias da elite portenha de origem francesa (7% da classe alta da cidade em 1959) confirma esta hipótese, ao provar que os imigrantes que deram lugar a essas famílias chegaram ao país entre 1840 e 1880 (page 144).
  14. "Maisons des Français de l'étranger". Au 31 décembre 2009, le nombre d'inscrits au registre des Français résidant hors de France était de 14 854.
  15. La République Argentine by Charles Beck-Bernard, page 205. "Au 31 décembre 1863, la colonie de San-José comptait 2211 habitants, formant 380 familles, dont 190 sont suisses, 125 savoisiennes, 54 piémontaises et 11 allemandes."
  16. El mes de Francia en la ciudad de Pigüé
  17. "L'émigration française viticole à Mendoza, en Argentine à la fin du XIXème siècle". Des foyers de peuplement français se dessinent correspondant à des départements viticoles, comme Maipú, Luján (la majorité de la présence française se trouve dans le sud de la province, à San Rafael, une colonie française de peuplement).
  18. Le Correspondant, volume 48. La ville de Buenos-Ayres, écrivait en 1851 M. Tardy de Montravel, est marquée au cachet de la France. Notre littérature et notre langue elle-même y sont plus répandues que nulle part ailleurs. (...) Et cette préférence ne vient pas d'un engouement capricieux et passager, il est le résultat d'une sympathie naturelle que rien n'a pu détruire chez l'Argentin, et d'une similitude parfaite entre son caractère et le nôtre. Même légèreté de caractère, même vivacité dans l'esprit et les mouvements, même bienveillance envers les étrangers, égale facilité à ce rayonnement d'expansion internationale. (p. 703)
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