Performing Sabina

Micol Seigel

Department of American Studies

New York University

Sabina, an elderly freedwoman who sold oranges near Rio's prestigious School of Medicine, became the subject of political drama when the Monarchy's police prohibited her from selling her oranges in 1888. The medical students who patronized Sabina's street market apparently found her identity a particularly useful vehicle for the expression of dissent; dressing as Bahianas, they organized a protest that became one of the largest Republican demonstrations of the time. This paper analyzes Sabina's story as one in a series of elite Brazilians' appropriations of marginalized Black female bodies as symbols of republican nationalism. Performances of these appropriations was insistently transnational, the paper shows, examining the reverberations, in the U.S., of the movement to erect a statue to the "Me Preta" in the late 1920s. The paper does not compare the U.S. and Brazil, but discusses the transnational stage on which Americans continent-wide constructed racial ideology in both countries. The narrative traditions people fed using Afro-Brazilian (women's) bodies would set the ideological scene for post-War national racial discourse, culminating in the famous embrace of Afro-Brazilian culture as national culture in contrast to the U.S., the soul food/feijoada relation.