Radio, Niní Marshall and Immigration

by Stefanía Cardonetti  

Tucked away in a corner of the exhibit “For all the men in the world” we find an object that is striking for its size and functionality. Visitors can interact with it. Through a pair of headphones that accompany this radio, they can listen to the iconic voice of the Argentine actress Niní Marshall, a figure who shaped popular visions of several immigrant groups. Starting in the 1920s, when the first broadcast took place, radio became a central medium of communication; it became a source of information and daily entertainment. For immigrants, the radio was a novel way of connecting with the local culture and language and at the same time a means of keeping up with what was happening in Europe. In the 1930s and 1940s, and especially in the context of World War II, the main powers fought to capture the attention of the audience through their international bulletins. The BBC’s Latin American Service is an eloquent example of the ambition to reach a mass audience through radio.

Para los inmigrantes, la radio fue una forma novedosa de vincularse con la cultura, el lenguaje y la idiosincrasia local y al mismo tiempo un medio para mantenerse al tanto de lo que ocurría en Europa. En las décadas de 1930 y 1940 y especialmente en el contexto de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, las principales potencias pelearon por captar la atención de la audiencia a través de sus boletines internacionales cuando comenzó a evidenciarse el poder de los medios masivos de comunicación. El Servicio Latinoamericano de la BBC es un ejemplo elocuente de la ambición de llegar a un público masivo a través de la radio.

Radio. The “For all the men in the world” Exhibit. Museo de la Inmigración.

In the Argentine radio and its new entertainment industry, Niní Marshall, whose voice can be heard on the the radio in depicted in this picture, stood out for endearing characters she created. 

Radio Drama: Cándida. Source: El Museo de Inmigración. 
Radio Drama: Cándida. Source: El Museo de Inmigración. 

Through humorous segments in radio dramas, Marshall portrayed women from different ethnic communities. As a result, radio became a way of representing immigrants, albeit through fictional stereotypes. On this radio from the Museo de la Inmigración, visitors can hear some of these characters created by Marshall. Cándida, for example, was a verbose Galician immigrant who was constantly corrected for her “incorrect” way of speaking Spanish and for her lack of education. Catita Pizzafrola, for her part, was an emblematic young woman who showed a lot of character and came from an archetypal Italian family from a tenement house in Buenos Aires. Through these shows, we can see how the local society saw the Italians who had settled in Argentina in recent decades. On programs on Municipal Radio, Marshall enjoyed resounding success. These images and ideas about immigration also became popular on the big screen when characters like Catita and Cándida came to the cinema

Immigrants themselves also played an important role the development of mass media in Argentina. The Spaniard Antonio González Pulido wrote and directed numerous pieces that became very popular in the 1930s, a time when radio stood out as the most important medium of entertainment in society. Jewish immigrant Jaime Yankelevich was a central, entrepreneurial figure in the start of local radio. Yankelevich is remembered for his management of the famous Radio Belgrano and the creation of the first Argentine Broadcasting Network. He and other members of his family were leading figures in the creation of television in the country in the 1950s.  

This radio represents the close link between immigration and the history of mass media in Argentina. The museum invites its visitors to interact with the radio of the 1930s and 1940s, both the object itself and its broadcasts. It invites visitors to listen to Cándida, Catita and other characters who portray immigrants as well as allow us to imagine how Argentines came to see the transformations taking hold in their society.  

Radio, Niní Marshall and Immigration