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The stories about Raúl claimed that it was impossible to know where he came from; that he came “from nowhere.” This chapter shows exactly where he, and so many other Afro-Argentines, came from and how they made their way in a rapidly changing society. But it also illustrates why Afro-Argentines have been so difficult to locate in the historical record. The eve of the abolition of slavery (1853–61) saw the emergence of the racial narratives of Black collective demise and disappearance that would haunt Raúl decades later. “Ancestors” relates the experiences of Raúl’s grandparents’ generation to introduce two intertwined themes that frame the book as a whole: the tendency for Afro-Argentines in the post-abolition period to become at once invisible (through liberals’ removal of racial and caste categories) and punitively hypervisible (when they did not conform to purportedly universal patterns of behavior, politics, and culture that were actually based on White and European models). After briefly situating several generations of Raúl’s ancestors who arrived from Africa and moved from slavery to freedom (thus providing background on colonial and early Republican Buenos Aires), the chapter follows Raúl’s paternal grandparents, Domingo and Cayetana, as they made a life together in the small house they owned, started a family, and built ties of spiritual kinship to the city’s vibrant Black community. Because Domingo was the second-generation leader of a famous candombe (a space for Africans and their descendants to gather, play ritual music, and dance), his social networks allow me to tell a robust and surprising new history of Afro-Argentine music and sociability (continued in subsequent chapters).
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