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Swiss farmers flocked to Argentina

Argentinians celebrate their Swiss heritage in San Jeronimo Norte


Between 1850 and 1940, 40,000 Swiss - mainly poor farming families - emigrated to Argentina, lured by the promise of large parcels of free farmland.

On August 15, 1858, 35 immigrants from canton of Valais founded the village of San Jeronimo Norte near Santa Fé.

When Bettina's grandfather was just a toddler, his aunt took him from the village of Zeneggen in Valais on the long journey to Argentina.

He settled down in San Jeronimo and raised a family. When he died, he had more than 40 grandchildren.

San Jeronimo is a kind of mini-Switzerland. Seventy per cent of its 6,000 inhabitants are of Swiss origin. At fiestas, the local people wear traditional Swiss costumes, dance to Alpine folk music and eat Swiss dishes.

The Valais dialect is still spoken among older citizens, who listen to Swiss Radio International to find out what's happening in the "Heimat" (homeland).

The community has prospered from dairy and beef farming, and is relatively free of crime. But Argentina's four-year recession is taking its toll.

It has left about one in five people out of work and half of the country's 36 million inhabitants below the poverty line.

The devaluation of the peso by about 40 per cent at the beginning of 2002 hit many families hard.

"Our family doesn't eat much meat any more," explains Bettina. "A kilo of steak used to cost $1. Now it costs $5, and that's too much."

swissinfo, Julie Hunt

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