Rafael was born in Cuba to an enslaved woman of African descent.
As a child he was taken to Spain to work as a servant. He escaped his servitude at age 14 and earned a living doing various menial jobs and performing on the streets for a change doing strength and dance routines.
In 1886, Chocolat debuted at the Nouveau Cirque. Soon after, Foottit, a famous English clown, would hire him away from Grice. Chocolat became part of several popular acts thereafter. In 1890, Chocolat became Foottit’s regular partner. Their act is described as a “routine between an authoritarian white clown, and a stupid poor Negro” who at the end of each sketch was slapped. In 1905, Foottit & Chocolat as they were known lost their contract with Nouveau Cirque. Their act ended in 1910.
Chocolat was a central cultural figure during his time. He was the subject of several paintings and sketches by Toulouse-Lautrec; the model for popular soap advertisements; and the character inspiration for writers Colette and possibly Samuel Beckett.
Chocolat (nor Foottit) achieved the level of success in his continued performing career. He died penniless at 49. – Heidi Durrow
Mixed Experience History Month is the annual blog post series created by The New York Times best-selling author Heidi Durrow celebrating the history of the Mixed experience. Established in 2007, Mixed Experience History Month is an effort to highlight the long history of folks and events involved in the Mixed experience. Please look for archived profiles of people, places and events of the Mixed experience every weekday of May! Thanks for reading. And check out some of the previous year’s profiles: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.