In the Buenos Aires of the 1910s, Raúl Grigera (“el negro Raúl”) rose to fame as an icon of the city’s bohemian nightlife. A rare Black celebrity in a city painstakingly fashioned to showcase Argentina’s whiteness and Europeanness, Raúl appeared in hundreds of printed sources across all genres of the city’s popular culture. Yet as the century wore on, narrators of Raúl’s life presented him in racialized terms as an abject, clownish, servile plaything of the city’s elite. Mirroring dominant ideologies, these racial stories cast Raúl as the last Afro-Argentine, an aberration in the “white” nation. This talk reconsiders Raúl Grigera’s feat of celebrity, highlighting its potential to expose the destructive power of racial storytelling and to generate new stories that emphasize Black presences over absences.
Paulina L. Alberto (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 2005) is Associate Professor in the Departments of History and of Romance Languages and Literatures (Programs in Spanish and Portuguese) at the University of Michigan. She is the author of multiple articles on racial activism and racial ideologies in modern Brazil and Argentina, and of Terms of Inclusion: Black Intellectuals in Twentieth-Century Brazil (UNC Press, 2011). She is also co-editor (with Eduardo Elena) of Rethinking Race in Modern Argentina (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Alberto’s work has received support from the Social Science Research Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council for Learned Societies, among others, and has been recognized with the Roberto Reis Prize for Best Book in Brazilian Studies (BRASA, 2012), the Warren Dean Prize for Best Book in Brazilian History (CLAH, 2013), and the James Alexander Robertson Prize (CLAH, 2017). Her forthcoming book, Black Legend: The Many Lives of Raúl Grigera and the Power of Racial Storytelling in Argentina (Cambridge University Press, 2022), illuminates the power of stories to construct “whiteness” and “Blackness” in modern Argentina and to shape individual fates. She is currently at work, with historians George Reid Andrews and Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof, on Voices of the Race, a volume of selected articles from the historical black presses of Latin America, annotated and translated for English-language audiences.
Moderator: Bruno Carvalho: Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and African and African American Studies, Co-Director of the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative, Affiliated Professor in Urban Planning and Design at the Graduate School of Design