The nation building of a country is represented by the whole set of cultural, political, social, and economic structures that help to shape it as a single state, despite the diversity of its cultural forms or the geographical differences within its territory. In the specific case of Latin America nation-building during the 19th-century, its structures were predominated by intense internal struggles that sought to establish and assert their vernacular model of democracy; a model different to the one previously asserted by the foreign, dominant structures.

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These internal and external struggles were a source of constant concern for those who developed the main artistic and literary works of the 19th-century’s Latin America. Because of this, the main works focused on problems such as colonialism, diversity, and the relationship between the different races (Indian, Afro-descendants, and Europeans). These works of literature were also a demonstration of the varied cultural forms that converged in their territories, encompassing education, ideals of freedom, and even potential forms of government, along with stories of heroes and villains of their own for the countries in which such were written.

For instance, in Argentina, the creation of a Gaucho’s image was envisioned by two important Argentine authors: Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and Jose Hernandez. However, the purpose behind this newly crafted image of the Gaucho was twofold: Sarmiento, denounced his barbarism and uncontrolled character, whereas the second enhanced his noble characteristics, his independence, and generosity.

In the 19th-century’s Argentine society, the gaucho embodied a seminomadic field worker in charge of the care of cows and other forms of cattle. Gauchos were all natives of the Argentine plains and were recognized for their survival skills on the outdoors as well as thei main tools of their trade: the lasso, the knife, and the horse. But they were also identified by their indomitable character and their ability to integrate into the military fights for how skillful they could be. In the present, one could think of him as a kind of Cowboy because of his personality and labors.

Based on these characteristics of the gauchos, both Sarmiento and Hernandez created their conflicting images of him. Sarmiento stated about the common character of gauchos and their barbaric ways of living: “The amendment made by Facundo and approved by Rosas, was a red band, signifying terror, blood, barbarism.” (Sarmiento, 1868, p.5) With this, he was referring to the Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, who lead a group of Gauchos of the time. The writing manifested the savagery and brutality that the gauchos could be had for undertaking a nation.

On the other hand, with the poem “Martin Fierro,” Hernandez showed the hardships that the gauchos went through on their daily life pass as working men and artists. With such writing, the image of the gaucho is perceived as much nobler and it showed that he would only surrender to violence when it was necessary. (Hernández, 1879)

Both writers had as their purpose to show or justify their position on the nation building. Hernandez defended the rights to de-centralize power and to distribute it among the provinces, for which the image of the Gaucho was indispensable. Sarmiento defended the idea of a just civilization, where the Argentine people, in the form of a centralized government, could control growth in modern cities. Thus, with this comparison, it is possible to find two ways to reflect the same character to justify two forms of the nation building in Argentina. A Gaucho is the image of the struggles that the Argentine people had to fight to gain independence, for they became the men of arms par excellence. Thus, these literal characters were constructed about their abilities to work, to fight, but also about their barbarism.

  • Burke, J., & Humphrey, T. (2007). Introduction. En Nineteenth-Century Nation Building and the Latin American Intellectual Tradition (p. IIX-XII). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company .
  • Hernández, J. (1879). El Gaucho Martín Fierro.
  • Sarmiento Describes the Gaucho, 1. (n.d.). Retrieved from