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This article traces the contours of the complex set of public and private acts of memory that have emerged in the twenty years since the death of Cuban revolutionary Celia Sánchez Manduley (1920-1980). National leaders, government institutions, and individual men and women have articulated a complex, and at times contradictory, array of memories of Celia's life and contributions to the revolutionary cause. In turn, these memories have shaped a much larger national discourse concerning the relationship of the individual to the body politic, the definition of an ideal revolutionary cubanidad (Cuban nation identity), and the proper role for women within Cuban society.


Este artículo traza los contornos del complejo grupo de actos de recordación, públicos y privados, que han surgido en los veinte años desde la muerte de la revolucionaria cubana Celia Sánchez Manduley (1920-1980). Líderes nacionales, instituciones gubernamentales así como individuos-hombres y mujeres-han articulado un intrincado, y a veces contradictorio, abanico de memorias de la vida de Celia y sus contribuciones a la causa revolucionaria. A su vez, estas memorias han moldeado un discurso nacional más amplio sobre la relación del individuo con el corpus político, la definición de una "cubanidad" revolucionaria ideal, y el papel de las mujeres dentro de la sociedad cubana.

Nadie que este en el recuerdo,      Nadie muere si allí está.    Nadie que viva en el pueblo,          Se muere ni morirá.

-Mirta Aguirre

(No one who exists in memory,No one dies if they are there.No one who lives in the people,Dies or ever will die.) [End Page 154]

In his seminal work Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson states that "the deaths that structure the nation's biography are of a special kind."1 The death of Cuban revolutionary and Secretary to the President, Celia Sánchez Manduley on 11 January 1980,2 was one such special historical event that has earned its place in the biography of Cuba. For a nation coming to terms with a turbulent and often violent history, Celia has become the symbol of a revolutionary ideal. The various "sites of memory"3 that were produced subsequent to Celia's death, by national leaders, government institutions, and individual men and women, present particular memories of her contributions to Cuban society. In turn, these memories have shaped a much larger, multifaceted national discourse concerning the relationship of the individual to the body politic, the definition of an ideal revolutionary cubanidad (Cuban national identity), and the proper role for women within Cuban society.

As a study of the intersections of gender, revolution, and memory,4 this essay will highlight the fact that memories are gendered and that the gendering of memory both reflects and shapes social spaces and expressive forms. Following the work of Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott, I contend that the experience of the Cuban revolution, more than any other event of the twentieth century, has influenced the discourse of masculinity and femininity in Cuban society at both the individual and collective levels.5 Utilizing official and unofficial memories of Celia Sánchez Manduley's contributions to the Cuban revolution as a case study, I will demonstrate that the act of memorializing deceased individuals is one key element of the politics of remembrance. As we shall see, the act of memorializing Celia's death was causally linked to her subsequent mythification, and this process has had a tremendous impact on both official and popular imaginings of the ideal socialist revolutionary. In short, this essay is an attempt to highlight the array of memories that have emerged about Celia and the shaping force they have exerted on Cuban society. By tracing the contours of the complex set of public and private acts of memory that have emerged in the twenty years since Celia's death, we can begin to establish the links between gender, revolution, and memory. Specifically, we gain new insights into the ways in which the mythologized biography of an individual can become the embodiment of a geographical place, a collection of ideal human characteristics, and a way of life.

Because of the particular limitations of the sources concerning the life of Celia Sánchez Manduley-namely, their relative paucity and their commemorative nature-this essay necessarily approaches her biography through the lens of memory. Thus, this discussion begins with an examination of some of the methodological difficulties incurred when embarking upon a study of gender and national memory. The second section then explores the process by which national leaders and government institutions created an official or public [End Page 155] memory of Celia's role in the revolution in the years following her death. In order to draw comparisons and contrasts, the third section highlights the array of memories of Celia that exist at the private or individual level. It should be noted here that the decision to divide the essay into official memory and private memory sections was made purely for the sake of organization, and is not meant to imply that these two categories are mutually exclusive. In fact, as we shall see, the two kinds of memory are highly interactive.6 In order to clarify the process by which this interaction takes place, the concluding remarks will reflect on the various intersections and/ or fissures between these public and private memories of Celia and the impact this process has had on the construction of a national blueprint for Cuba's New Woman.7

Memory Trouble: Exploring the Boundaries of Fact and Fiction

Although it is not the intention of this essay to provide a complete or definitive biography of Celia Sánchez Manduley, some discussion of what is considered common knowledge about her life seems merited. Little is known about Celia's early childhood, but it is generally accepted that she was born and raised in the small town of Media Luna, a rural suburb of the municipality of Manzanillo, in the eastern provinces of Cuba. Notwithstanding the fact that the socioeconomic status of the Sánchez family is rarely mentioned in Celia's popular biography, there is some evidence to suggest that as the daughter of a dentist who also owned several sizable properties, Celia enjoyed a relatively affluent lifestyle.8 If little is known about Celia's early childhood, even less is known about her ideological formation as a young woman. While Celia's father is frequently identified as having been her primary intellectual influence, there is a gaping hole in our knowledge of why Celia became committed to the revolutionary cause. Typically, popular knowledge of Celia's biography begins with her official incorporation into the revolution in her early thirties, initially as an arms runner and later as a combatant. In terms of her participation in the armed phase of the revolution, Celia is commonly referred to as the first woman to fire a weapon in battle, an achievement that earned her the unofficial title of "first female guerrilla of the Sierra Maestra." Additionally, Celia is credited with organizing the first battalion of female combatants, known as the Mariana Grajales Brigade.9 Following the triumph of the revolution in 1959, Celia was appointed Secretary to the President, a position to which she was reappointed in 1964. In her capacity as a government official, Celia is credited with the creation of several large public institutions and tourist centers, including the Oficina de Asuntos Históricos (Office of Historical Affairs), the Palacio de la Revolución (Palace of the Revolution), Havana's 1,900-acre Lenin Park, and the famed "Coppelia" ice cream parlor.

While the above information represents what is considered common [End Page 156] knowledge about the trajectory of Celia's life, it bears mentioning that there are other elements of Celia's biography that are not so well entrenched or openly discussed. Perhaps no aspect of Celia's life has received more attention from the international academic community than her relationship with Fidel Castro. In fact, this is frequently the only context in which she is mentioned within the general histories of the Cuban revolution. As Secretary to the President, it is clear that Celia wielded a considerable amount of personal and political power. What is less clear is whether or not Celia's relationship with Fidel was purely professional-and neither Fidel nor Celia ever publicly addressed this issue. Within Cuba, the question of the nature of Fidel and Celia's relationship is most often either addressed at the level of rumor-"se dice que fueron amantes" ("they say they were lovers")-or it is not spoken of at all. A more common response, however, is an uncomfortable silence followed by the claim that Celia never married in order that she might fully devote herself to the needs of the Cuban people.10 It is important to note here, however, that the mere prevalence of a set of memories about an individual does not mean that they will be universally upheld. The Cuban exile community in the United States has proven to be a major source of countermemories of Celia. Several of the histories of the Cuban revolution published in the U.S. derisively refer to Celia as the "proverbial lion at [Fidel's] door" who also happened to be "sharing his double bed,"11 or as "Fidel's long-term companion."12 While it is difficult to measure the impact (if any) these sources have had on the popular memory of Celia within Cuba, their mere existence is interesting to note, as they expose the tender underbelly of national mythology.13

Despite the popular discretion with which Celia's personal life is treated, it is clear that within Cuba's national mythology Celia Sánchez is widely recognized as an important revolutionary figure. Beyond the basic biography sketched above, however, it is difficult to find any specific information about who Celia was as an individual. Unbelievably, the card catalog at the José Martí National Library in Havana contains no listing for Celia, and, ironically, the archival contents of the Celia Sánchez Library would actually be more relevant to a biography of one of the male revolutionary leaders. This relative absence of official documentation of Celia's contributions to Cuban society leads one to question why a woman openly spoken of as Cuba's First Lady does not have at least one biography written about her life.14

While Celia's multiple achievements would seem to belie her relative elision from official history, there is an element to Celia's story that explains the way that her voice resonates today in the lives of the Cuban people. The exercises of official history in Cuba (namely commemorative speeches and public monuments) have created a space in which the Cuban people create their own memories of Celia-memories that may not always correspond with official history. Thus, through poetry, storytelling, and other forms of mythmaking, [End Page 157] a space has been claimed for Celia in the unofficial history, or intrahistoria, of the Cuban revolution. The importance of this position cannot be ignored. According to Julián Marías, this intrahistoria represents that which is permanent and definitive in history.15 Marías claims this space specifically for women precisely because they are so often omitted from the official record of history. This complication does not, however, in any way excuse scholars from including women in analyses of historical events and processes. In order to exhume this intrahistoria, it becomes necessary to consider different kinds of sources. In her work on women and social change in Latin America, Elizabeth Jelin speaks to the "urgent need to retrieve historical memory."16 It is crucial, she contends, to "build-up a micro-history based on the retrieval of popular recollections and the recollections of the actors themselves and of their own movements."17 Critical to this process is personal testimony. Jelin maintains that "because there are few written traces from the past concerning women . . . reconstruction of history through personal testimony is a priority."18

In the case of Celia Sánchez this approach becomes more of a necessity than a methodological choice because when she died in 1980, Celia left no diary, had few surviving siblings, had never married, and had no children. Thus, poetry, commemorative speeches, memoirs, periodical sources, photography, monuments, and oral testimony become the key primary sources for tracing the contours of Celia's enigmatic biography. These sources prove both intriguing and problematic, as they perhaps better reflect the vagaries of individual purposes or the broader philosophy of nationalistic projects than a commitment to establishing verifiable historical truth.19 Of the multiple periodical sources cited in this study, almost all were written subsequent to Celia's death and are based heavily on interviews conducted by the various authors. Likewise, all of my own interviews were conducted after Celia had been deceased for almost twenty years. Therefore, it is difficult to assess how much of the information presented in these sources is based in historical fact and how much of it has undergone a process of individual and/or communal memory censorship. It seems that articles such as "Como eterna flor del lomero" ("Like the Eternal Flower of the Hills") in the January 1983 edition of Trabajadores (the Cuban communist workers' daily paper) and "La niña que fue Celia" ("The Child That Was Celia") in the 1985 edition of Revista Pionero (the newspaper for members of Cuba's Communist Youth) served a didactic purpose. Depending on the intended audience, these periodical sources concentrate on certain aspects of Celia's real or imagined biography as a means for encouraging Cubans to aspire to Celia's level of revolutionary conviction and commitment.

The multiple interviews I conducted with Cubans who had known Celia personally or who had fought with her in the Sierra Maestra must also be critically evaluated. In the same way that information contained within the periodical sources was more or less crafted depending on the nature of the publication [End Page 158] as well as the intended audience, we must also consider that my informants might have constructed and crafted their narrative according to their own personal or political agendas.20 Lourdes Sang, who currently holds a position as an organizer of women's work in the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC)-and who herself chooses to forgo an office and desk in favor of a more personal daily contact with the women workers of Havana-focused her testimony around Celia's similar reputation as a "woman of the people." In comparison, Nirma Cartón, now a prominent lawyer in Havana who is highly involved in several of the large bureaucracies of the Cuban government, presents Celia as a political official who used her positions within the postrevolutionary government to further her political goals of constructing the Office of Historical Affairs and several other government-sponsored facilities. Similarly, Nirma is exceedingly proud of her own military participation in the battles that took place during the early years of the revolution, and thus made repeated references to Celia's role in the Sierra Maestra. Finally, it is also possible that the tense economic situation between Cuba and the United States, which came to a fore with the Helms-Burton law of 1996,21 only months before my arrival in Havana, influenced what my informants were willing to share with me. There may have been elements of the story that they withheld in order to avoid any subject that might be sensitive for one or both of us. On the other hand, they may have felt protective of certain aspects of their national history and decided not to share them with me, a citizen of Cuba's great political "enemy."

Finally, it bears mentioning that Celia herself may well have been one of the primary architects of the official silence surrounding the particularities of her lived experience. At the heart of socialist ideology is the belief that all people are equal, and Celia is said to have believed firmly in this notion. She was, in the words of Aira Morelo Fonseca, a woman who has worked at the Office of Historic Subjects for twenty-five years, a "compañera of ideals."22 Celia's commitment to the teachings of José Martí-namely, his belief that "all the glory in the world fits inside one grain of corn"-is frequently offered as an explanation for her "allergic" reaction to cameras and the press and for the lack of any known personal diary or journal. Additionally, it is used to explain why Celia chose to be buried among her compatriots in a modest grave, marked only with the number "43," in the mausoleum dedicated to the Armed Revolutionary Forces (FAR) in the Colón Cemetery in Havana. In short, many believe that Celia's silence was self-imposed. Thus, perhaps, Celia's belief that her deeds were no more laudable than those of her compatriots provides an additional explanation for why so few details of her life are known.23

As we will see, what is said about Celia depends heavily on who is doing the remembering, and the conflation of the political and the personal in these sources has, without doubt, influenced the production of our knowledge about Celia. Yet, despite the possibility that the sources cited in this essay present a [End Page 159] mythologized version of Celia's life, she is no less real to those Cubans who guard her memory.24 Though the sources often temper reality with myth, and may consciously or unconsciously fashion Celia's memory in specific, and at times contradictory, ways, each one contributes a piece of the puzzle that is Cuba's own "biography" of Celia.

Remembering a Revolutionary: A Memory from Above

The funeral procession for Celia Sánchez Manduley, member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, diplomat to the National Assembly of Popular Power and Secretary of the Council of State, will depart today, Saturday, at 3:00 in the afternoon, from the base of the Monument to José Martí in the Plaza of the Revolution where her body is currently on view.25

One of life's great ironies is that death can mark both an ending and a beginning. On 11 January 1980, Celia Sánchez's life ended, only to then spark the beginning of a national project to resurrect her spirit in the name of rekindling Cuba's revolutionary fires. In many ways, the timing of her death could not have been better. Two decades of significant economic problems, caused in part by an increasing level of Soviet-Cuban dependency and a failure to diversify Cuban exports, had left their mark on the nation in the form of mounting social and political tensions. While the Cuban government did not yet know that this rising anxiety would eventually result in the mass exodus of thousands of Cubans to the United States during the Mariel boatlift,26 rising levels of worker absenteeism and the declining participation of women in work were becoming cause for alarm.27 It may come as no surprise, then, that in his 12 January eulogy to Celia, Armando Hart Dávalos, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, stated:

Celia, with her valor, her constancy, her laborious nature, and her highly effective work next to Fidel entered definitively into History. In the Sierra, Celia was the heroine not only of the war, but also of work. In her, legend acquired real form and content.28

Thus, only one day after her death, officials were already constructing a nationalist memory of Celia as the quintessential symbol of work and dedication to the communist cause in Cuba. This was only the first of several symbolic purposes Celia would serve over the following months and years.

"The people know how this symbol was created, but in this moment we are participating in the duty of remembering."29 These were the words pronounced by Armando Hart Dávalos as the body of Cuba's national heroine was being interred in the mausoleum dedicated to the Armed Revolutionary Forces in the [End Page 160] Colón Cemetery in Havana on 12 January. On that day, "hundreds of thousands" of Cubans came to pay their respects to "the woman who [had] been and [would] forever be an image of the Revolution."30 In the week following Celia's death, two major Cuban periodicals, Granma (the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba) and Bohemia, dedicated full issues to mourning the loss of the nation's revolutionary heroine. These initial commemorative acts mark critical moments in the creation of Cuban national memory, as they established the tone for what would become the official memory of Celia. On 12 January, Granma published an assortment of editorials, photographs, and poetry reflecting on the life of Celia and documenting the overwhelming sadness that consumed all those who had known her directly or indirectly. Included also were official statements from the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), as well as statements from officials in each of Cuba's fourteen provinces. While the former demarcated a gender-specific arena of mourning, the latter symbolized a unified sense of national loss.

On 18 January, Bohemia likewise published an entire issue in commemoration of Celia's death, entitled "Para siempre en el corazón del pueblo" ("Forever in the Hearts of the People"). The Bohemia issue, like the Granma issue a few days earlier, resembled a collage of memories. A multiplicity of sources were published, including dozens of photos, several editorials, a sampling of letters sent between Fidel and Celia during their years in the Sierra Maestra, and a complete transcript of Armando Hart Dávalos's eulogy at Celia's funeral. The selection of photos displayed in the issue is particularly striking, as it attempts to re-create a basic chronology of Celia's life. The chronology begins with her trip to the highest peak in Cuba, Turquino Peak, in 1953 (at the age of thirty-three), where she, her father Manuel Sánchez Silveira, and a close female friend paid homage to a large bust of José Martí, the hero of Cuban Independence.31 The final picture depicts Celia's coffin being interred in the mausoleum dedicated to the FAR. Interestingly, of the thirty-five photographs of Celia included in the issue, nineteen (a little over half ) show her standing directly at Fidel's side. That the first thirty-two years of Celia's life were visually omitted from this montage seems to imply that her life prior to the inception of the revolution is of little or no consequence. Conspicuously absent are any photographs documenting Celia's relatively affluent childhood; instead, Celia's life is presented as one of unwavering sacrifice and dedication to the cause of the Cuban revolution and to its leader.

While these two issues dedicated explicitly to the memory of Celia are important sites of memory in and of themselves, a more detailed examination of a few of their component parts reveals some fascinating patterns in language, symbolism, and imagery that merit our attention. The text of the Federation of Cuban Women's official statement on Celia's death, for example, asserted: [End Page 161]

Today our people lost a glorious figure who elevated the name of women during the revolutionary struggle, one who knew how to win the love and respect of the sons of our country with her simplicity, modesty, exemplary attitude and with her participation in every task necessary to the construction of a new society.32

Yet another contributor to the issue, Marta Rojas, echoed this emphasis on love and respect as a reward for absolute devotion to the revolutionary cause. In a lengthy tribute to Celia entitled "Hemos perdido un centinela a toda prueba" ("We Have Lost a Proven Sentry"), Rojas stated:

[Celia's] audacity, valor and optimism; her discipline, modesty and total devotion to the leadership of Fidel; her tact, discretion and intelligence earned her the respect of the entire Revolutionary Army, of the troops of the Movement and of the rural people during the insurrection as with the triumph of the Revolution.33

While describing Celia as "profoundly kind," Rojas was quick to note that Celia, in defense of her cause, could become an "insurmountable concrete wall against which those disloyal to the Revolution and the enemies of Cuba dashed themselves to bits."34 However, this ideological toughness did not seem to interfere with her fashion sense, as Celia was "made of one solid revolutionary piece, from her feet to the tips of her hair, which she so liked to adorn with flowers, ribbons or combs."35 Finally, an anonymous editorial bearing the simple title "Celia," stated that while

her name and image appeared only sporadically in public, she was never missed. The people knew that she was there, where she should be, like the invisible salt in the immense sea of the Revolution. And thus, day after day, she entered more and more in the heart of the Cuban people, conquering that peak which is so hard to scale which is the affection, the admiration and the respect of an entire people.36

Reflecting on Celia's personal virtues, the author states simply, "Rarely has such genuine glory marched hand in hand with similar modesty, human sensibility, and loyal and impartial devotion to the service of the revolutionary cause."37

While three different authors penned these examples from the Granma issue, the similarities of the sentiments expressed are noteworthy. A quick comparison of the adjectives utilized in the descriptions of Celia's personal attributes reveals that the words "respect," "modesty," and "devotion" appear in all three selections. Words like "discipline," "optimism," and "simplicity" are also prominent. Aside from the commonalties in language, all three selections stress images of Celia as a woman who rigorously defended the cause yet sought no personal accolades for the tasks she performed. In fact, it was her status as an invisible element of the revolution-"the invisible salt in the [End Page 162] immense sea of the Revolution"-that earned her the love and respect of her compatriots. Over the next several years, this uniquely intimate connection to the Cuban people would become the principal touchstone of Celia's image. The statement by the FMC also hints at a kind of maternal role for Celia-stressing her ability to earn the respect of Cuba's "sons" with her modesty and simplicity-and this type of imagery would become even more pronounced over time. Perhaps even more frequent, however, would be an image of Celia as the ideal embodiment of ideological toughness and fierce determination, on the one hand, and femininity and superb aesthetic sensibilities, on the other.38

The language and symbolism employed seven days later, in the Bohemia issue dedicated to Celia, was in many ways strikingly similar. In their article entitled "Capitana del Pueblo" ("Captain of the People"), Pedro Pablo Rodríguez and Manuel González Bello posed an intriguing rhetorical question to those Cubans mourning the loss of their beloved compatriot:

For, what better example is there of living after death than Celia? If, as a poet said, life is a river that gives itself onto the sea, which is death; Celia, the one who forever gives an image of strength and permanence beyond the short space of human life, has gone to the sea. Into the sea of the Revolution, into the sea of the people, into the sea of the Cuban nation . . . has disembarked the life of Celia.39

As mentioned previously, the final pages of the issue are a complete transcription of Armando Hart Dávalos's eulogy to Celia, which was entitled "El ejemplo de Celia: Aliento y enseñanza para continuar el camino y marchar con decisión hacia adelante" ("Celia's Example: Courage and Instruction to Continue the Journey and March Forward with Determination"). At the height of his oratory fervor, Hart proclaimed to the Cuban nation that Celia was:

great in her heroic abnegation, her unconditional loyalty, great in her identification with the people, in her love for the revolutionary project, in her passionate interest in others. Great in her preoccupation for the concrete and decisive elements of every aspect of the Revolution. Great, perhaps, beyond every other virtue, in her modesty and simplicity. Among all her qualities we should certainly single out her rejection of all forms of ostentation and her fondness for simple manners and for the simplicities of life and work. This was, surely, one of her most moving virtues. Celia's character is reminiscent of the words of Martí: "The rivulet of the mountain ridge pleases me more than the sea."40

Throughout his eulogy, Hart highlights Celia's exceptional work ethic as a virtue to be emulated by all Cubans. It is this dedication to the advancement of the revolutionary project that provides the inspiration for the fiery conclusion of Hart's speech. Switching abruptly from a lengthy enumeration of Celia's virtues, Hart ends his speech by proclaiming that: [End Page 163]

a dignified homage to Celia Sánchez is to . . . fortify the work of our mass organizations, improve the workings of the State and all the administrations in labor centers, and elevate the efficiency of our administrative, labor and political organizations . . . with the noble purpose of advancing the Cuban Revolution.41

This call to action was punctuated with shouts of "Victories against deficiencies! Victories against imperialism! Victories for socialism!"42

The many similarities in language and symbolism among the selections discussed above from the Granma and Bohemia commemorative issue merit our attention. Words such as "loyalty," "modesty," and "simplicity" appear in both. However, the Bohemia pieces take the commemorative act one step beyond mere praise to one of action. While the "Captain of the People" piece utilizes a much more symbolic language than Hart's eulogy, there is a common theme in both. Both authors highlight Celia's intimate connection with the Cuban people, but both also stress the responsibility that relationship now carries. With Celia's passing, the burden to continue her life's work now falls on the "sea of the people," for whose benefit her labors were always intended. To this effect, Dávalos quoted Julio Antonio Mella's phrase that "even after death we are useful!" explaining that "Celia should continue being useful, but this no longer depends on her. It will depend on every one of us being capable of understanding and applying the lesson of her life."43 Thus, Hart's eulogy ends on a highly practical note, in which the needs of the state are projected onto the Cuban people through Celia. For a nation facing increasing economic and social difficulties and desperately in need of both uniting a fracturing society and spurring them toward collective labors, this oratory strategy proved both dramatic and functional. Coincidentally, it would reappear frequently over the next years.

On 16 January 1981, Fidel Castro recognized the first anniversary of Celia's death by dedicating a hospital in her name in her hometown of Manzanillo. The dedication service for the large facility, which contained 630 beds and 16 operating rooms,44 drew a large crowd. In an exhaustive commemorative speech, Castro outlined the history of medical services in the area and praised the work of all the individuals whose labors had made the construction of the hospital possible. Aside from the obvious health benefits the hospital would offer to the inhabitants of the region, Castro claimed a symbolic purpose for the facility. Encouraged by eager applause from the audience, he proclaimed that the Hospital Celia Sánchez would serve as an

homage to our compatriot Celia Sánchez, on the first anniversary of her death . . . [APPLAUSE] . . . I truly believe that this is the best form of tribute to pay to someone who dedicated herself to duty, without resting for a moment, without forgetting one single detail; and I believe, sincerely, that this is the most heartfelt, profound, and [End Page 164] revolutionary homage that one can give to a compatriot who gave her life for the Revolution [APPLAUSE].45

In June of that same year, the periodical Mujeres published a short article entitled "A Dignified Homage to Celia." The article-whose title bears a striking resemblance to the words employed by Hart in the conclusion of his eulogy to Celia the previous year-praises the work of the 2,900 female members of the "Celia Sánchez Manduley" volunteer labor brigade. The article's author, Gilberto Blanch, relied primarily on interviews and his personal observations in order to reflect on the women's work in the sugarcane fields of Ciego de Ávila. The multiple photos interspersed throughout the article's text depict smiling women proudly wearing the brigade's signature uniform-broad-brimmed palm frond hats and wristbands bearing the image of Celia-driving tractors, cutting sugarcane, and carrying potatoes in large wooden crates. While the women are clearly hard at work under the Cuban sun, the author of the article seemed particularly interested in the women's appearance. He wrote: "To see them in the fields is a feast for the eyes, because all are dressed elegantly in their uniforms."46 In reference to this commentary, Mirta Benedico, head of propaganda, stated that the women had been instructed that "all the members had to shine prettily, with hats, with the image of Celia Sánchez on our wristbands . . . and with blouses of different colors."47 The article concluded by proclaiming the honor of the brigade's contribution to the nation's productivity levels and the importance of their labors as a "dignified homage to our beloved Celia."48

In both the dedication of the hospital and in the establishment of the "Celia Sánchez Manduley" female volunteer labor brigade, Celia's memory was evoked as a means for encouraging social and economic development. The Celia Sánchez Manduley Hospital-a highly appropriate memorial to a woman remembered for her consistent dedication to the Cuban people-appears to have fulfilled both practical and symbolic functions. The medical care provided by the individual doctors and nurses working at the facility is a symbolic extension of the caretaking Celia performed in life. The female labor brigade is perhaps even more fascinating, as it embodied the qualities most associated with Celia-hard work and selflessness. Interesting also is the focus on the women's appearance, as it resonates with Rojas's description of Celia in the 1980 issue of Granma in which she made special reference to Celia's penchant for adorning her hair with flowers and ribbons. Just like Celia, the women of the labor brigade are both fiercely revolutionary and delightfully feminine.

Taken as a whole, these earliest attempts to construct an official or public memory of Celia were about much more than recalling the significant dates, honors, and accomplishments of one woman. The new challenges being faced by the Cuban state throughout the 1970s and 1980s required a new language, a [End Page 165] new set of solutions, and a new mythology in order to mobilize the nation for change. In fact, in his book Political Order in Changing Societies, Samuel Huntington defines revolution itself as "a rapid, fundamental, and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership, and government activity and policies."49 As we have seen, the national mythology that emerged in the years following Celia's death was decidedly female-centered and female-directed. Aside from representing the ideal Cuban revolutionary, Celia represented a distinctly female ideal. This role-model status is not perhaps as problematic as the list of characteristics that qualified it: simplicity, modesty, femininity, selflessness, austerity, and devotion. The key point here, however, is that this fairly standardized list of personal virtues represented much more than mere symbolic references to a deceased individual. Rather, they provided a blueprint for Cuba's New Woman. For a country in desperate need of remobilizing its female labor sector, creating a vision of the ideal Cuban woman as someone who was capable of balancing physical labor with caretaking, strength with femininity, and leadership with modesty served a purpose above and beyond the mere commemoration of one woman.

Myth, Mother, Mujer: Celia in Popular Memory

Celia, you have sung to me the song that I chose.            You cradle me in your round breast                Which is a nest of feathers.            You are the one who exalts me.            You are the one who knows me.

-Nancy Morejón50

Just as official commemorative speeches and newspaper editorials flourished after Celia's death, so too did more personal reflections on Celia's role in the Cuban revolution. While Celia's intimate connection to the Cuban people may have provided the inspiration for government propaganda, there were those who reflected on their personal memories of Celia in other ways, and did so with, perhaps, other motivations. Among these more individualized expressions of memory, the poetry of the Afro-Cuban poet Nancy Morejón quickly rose to prominence. While Morejón's poetry was public, in the sense that it was widely circulated, it represented a uniquely personal expression of memory. Images of Celia as a tender mother figure, as a friend of the people, and as the embodiment of strength and devotion are prevalent in all of Morejón's poems, just as in the commemorative speeches and public editorials we have already seen. Morejón was clearly familiar with the general tenor of official discourse on Celia's role in Cuban society, and the imagery she employed often contained [End Page 166] subtle-and at times not so subtle-references to larger social and political issues. However, the language, symbolism, and message of Morejón's poetry reveal a level of intimacy with the subject that sets it apart from official sites of memory.

Perhaps the most famous of Morejón's poems dedicated to the memory of Celia is "Elegia coral a Celia Sánchez" ("Choral Elegy to Celia Sánchez") that appeared in the January 1984 issue of Revista Revolución y Cultura. Utilizing vibrant language and a distinctly Cuban symbolism, Morejón espouses Celia's memory as a national treasure.

Celia és ágil y fuertey atraviesa una rutade orquídeas, cada día.Celia es cubana y nuestracomo los montes de la Sierra.Celia, buena y sencilla,entre los pescadores de Niqueroy el esplendor de la bahía.Fusiles, hachas, flechas,piedras del río condujohacia el pico más puro.

Llega Fidel de la montañay Ella deshierba helechosy lo pone a sus piespara avivar el corazón del pueblo.Como el viento sutil en Media Luna,Celia es así, callada, buena.Su boca amanecidasiempre pronunciarála palabra que amamosla que necesitamos en la vida.Celia es así, como era Celia,sonrisa y tempestad,y con ella se marcha,entre mantos y orquídeas,hacia las puertas de la eternidad.51

(Celia is agile and strongAnd she traverses a routeOf orchids every day.Celia is Cuban and oursLike the mountains of the Sierra.Celia, good and simpleAmong the fisherman of Niquero [End Page 167] And the splendor of the bay.Rifles, hatchets, arrowsRiver rocks she carriedToward the purest peak.

Fidel arrives from the mountainAnd She plucks fernsAnd places them at his feetTo enliven the hearts of the people.Like the soft wind in Media Luna,Celia is like that, quiet, good.Her dawning mouthWill forever pronounceThe word that we loveThe one we need in this life.Celia is this, as Celia was,Smile and tempestAnd she departsBetween robes andTowards the gates of eternity.)

Clearly, for Morejón, Celia is a woman of mythic proportions. She is "strong," "sincere," and, above all, devoted to the Cuban people and to Fidel. It is this devotion to others that earns Celia the semidivine status signaled by the capitalized pronoun "Ella." It is interesting to note, however, that it is only in the thirteenth line, where Celia defers to her male compatriot, Fidel, that she is granted her semidivine status. In all the other lines of the poem, "ella" begins with a lowercase "e." The Biblical imagery present in Morejón's poem similarly serves to elevate Celia to a divine status. Celia plucking ferns and placing them at Fidel's feet resonates with Christian images of Mary placing palm leaves before Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. The irony, then, of Celia's power is that she must be willing to surrender it in order for it to be worthy of praise.52

While Morejón's poetry was undoubtedly one of the most widely circulated forms of personal reflection on Celia's role within the Cuban revolution, at least one other significant memory text appeared in the years following Celia's death. In November 1985 Julio M. Llanes published a small book entitled Celia nuestra y de las flores.53 Illustrated throughout with brightly colored collages of flowers and butterflies interspersed with photos of Celia and fanciful sketches of idyllic landscapes, the slim volume actually resembles a personal scrapbook more than a scholarly biographical study. The story presented in the book centers around a young Cuban boy from Manzanillo, the boy's grandfather, and an impromptu road trip to Havana. The adventure begins with just five words from the grandfather: "I have to see her."54 The reader [End Page 168] soon learns that the "her" referred to is Celia, and that the purpose of the trip is to lay flowers on Celia's coffin, where it is on display in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution.

The story of the journey is told through the grandson's own thoughts, and the focus of his reflections is primarily on his grandfather's character, habits, and talent for storytelling. In the earliest pages of the book, the grandson recalls:

There are two stories that Grandfather told, time and again, and that I have never forgotten. He told them a thousand times; however, whenever you heard them it seemed like the first time. I remember that he would light his cigar, sit back in his chair, and ask me:

"Have I told you the stories of Norma [Celia's nom de guerre] and the 'Granma?'" . . .

"No . . . I don't remember," I would answer him, so that he would tell them again.

Then, Grandfather would blow the smoke from his cigar through his nostrils and begin very slowly, with the same hoarse voice . . .55

The long car ride to the capital becomes a pilgrimage for the bereaved grandfather and a history lesson for the grandson. As they travel through the Cuban countryside, the grandfather recounts all of his personal stories of Celia during the earliest years of the revolution. Using a mixture of both past and present tenses, he shares intimate memories of the first time he met Celia in the Sierra Maestra, of the multiple beautification projects she organized around the rebel base, and of the flowers she always wore in her hair.56 In an especially emotional segment, the grandfather reflects on Celia's caretaking role:

If someone put on a pair of new boots that were sent from the plains, he/she thought of Celia. We knew that she was the one that had sent them. If a package arrived with uniforms or knapsacks . . . we would go crazy with happiness and think: "'Celia sent this!'" . . . Such was the level of her help that we loved her like a sister, or like a mother. Because mothers are like that: always worried about the needs of others. And if someone doesn't have something, they leave no stone unturned looking for it, and they deliver it with a smile.57

In reference to Celia's character, the grandfather states that "she is quiet. She does a lot and says little. She doesn't like to make noise for anything. She does it all quietly, but she does it."58 Unfortunately, the grandfather's reactions to seeing the body of his beloved compatriot are not included in the story, and the book ends with a final poignant conversation between the grandfather and his grandson as they begin the journey back to Manzanillo. As the taxi passes through Havana's city limits, the boy suddenly comprehends the finality of Celia's death and asks innocently: [End Page 169]

"Grandfather, now we won't see Celia anymore?" I asked him.

He paused for a moment before answering me; then he said:

"Perhaps now we will see her more in photos and we will hear more anecdotes about her. Now, everyone who knows something about her will say it"-he stopped talking, as if thinking . . .

"You know something?"-he asked as he glanced at me out of the corner of his eye-"People die when they are forgotten; but when they are remembered with love, they are alive."59

In the final scene of the book, the young boy and his grandfather are clasped in a tearful embrace.

This poignant story of one man's personal memories of Celia is a fascinating example of the ways in which individual and collective, as well as official and unofficial, histories can intersect. In order to grasp the significance of this book as a memory text, we must first set aside the question of "truth." Whether or not the characters in the book represent real people who actually experienced the events described is irrelevant. What is important here is the book's emotive content-the "virtual reality" being created in order to tell a much larger story.60 While the book presents the memories of one individual's (the grandfather's) personal relationship with Celia, the language and symbols used to relate those memories resonate with other sources we have seen. Descriptions of Celia as a self-abnegating mother figure who was both hardworking and feminine had been in circulation for over five years at the time of the book's publication. Thus, it is at least reasonable to assume that the book's content was produced through the commingling of the personal recollections of the author, Llanes, and the existing public discourses surrounding Celia's memory. If the originality of the book's content is somewhat questionable, its form is nonetheless unique. Presented as an intergenerational dialog, Celia nuestra y de las flores becomes the story of storytelling itself-of the dynamic social process in which memory is both transmitted and transformed. From the grandfather, to the grandson, to the reader of the book, these memories of Celia are passed from the imagination of the author to the imagination of the public, only to then be incorporated into new dialogues between different people at other moments in history. It is this cyclical movement of memory, from the public realm to the private realm and then back to the public realm, that permits Celia's memory-with all its attendant lessons, myths, and symbols-to be passed on to the next generation of Cubans.

Clearly, Celia nuestra y de las flores is a rich source of individual memorymade public in and of itself; however, the final exchange between the grandfather and his grandson speaks to the existence of a final "site of memory" that should be addressed-oral testimony. It should be noted here that while oral and written sources come into being through rather different processes, both [End Page 170] pass through a number of memory "filters" before their final articulation.61 In the same way that the written sources we have seen were influenced by the existing discourse surrounding memories of Celia, so too are those memories transmitted through oral testimony. What is important about oral testimony, however, is that it offers an intimate glimpse into the ways in which the language and symbolism of official memory can be integrated into or challenged by individual "truths."

When asked about Celia's contributions to the Cuban state subsequent to the triumph of the revolution, it is neither her titles nor her involvement in large-scale government projects that are remembered. Rather, it is her dedication to answering the most fundamental questions facing the Cuban people that Cubans recall most vividly. Lourdes Sang, an organizer of women's work within the Federation of Cuban Women, recalled:

Celia never really worked within the FMC or in the other large governmental bureaucracies, and she was rarely seated behind a desk. She worked from wherever she was . . . that became her office. She was never seen with a chauffeur, instead she drove her own jeep. Celia was a campesina, and was never seen enjoying the smallest privilege. Instead, she concentrated on the Cuban people's most basic needs. In fact, when she heard that my father-in-law died, she even came to our house to be with us in our time of need. She didn't even know us. That's how she was.62

Thus, what Sang remembered about Celia is not based on her activities as a public official, but rather as a compatriot who was intimately aware of the hardships of her fellow countrymen. In the same vein, Sergio Rego Pita, an employee of the Provincial Direction of International Relations in Havana, claimed Celia was "a person with great sensitivity toward humanity in general: the elderly, children, and guerrillas."63 Consequently, when the people had problems, they would write letters to Celia asking for help. Men, women, and children wrote letters soliciting everything from employment, housing, and healthcare to clothing, food, and personal items.64 Nirma Cartón, a prominent Havana lawyer who fought alongside Celia in the Sierra Maestra, recalled both Celia's generosity and her graciousness:

Everyone came to [Celia's] office to talk to her . . . there was always a line. And when she would go to visit the homes of the peasants in the countryside to attend to their problems, she wouldn't scratch herself when fleas bit her for fear of insulting the people who lived there.65

Similarly, Nilda Porot, an employee at the José Martí National Library in Havana who lived across the street from Celia for several years, recalled that "Celia gave houses and cars to people, she even fixed people's roofs. If she couldn't help you, she sent someone who could. We had everything thanks to [End Page 171] her . . . clothes, everything."66 Interestingly, Porot also made repeated references to Celia's status as a "believer" who placed fresh flowers at the foot of a small altar dedicated to the Virgen del Merced (the black Virgin of Mercy) that stood at the entrance to her apartment.67

It is interesting to note the numerous thematic similarities between these various oral testimonies. In each selection, Celia is presented as a sensitive, caring, and humble woman who placed primary importance upon addressing the daily needs of the Cuban people. Not only did Celia take the time to visit individual Cubans during their time of need, but she also lived a life of relative austerity herself-a further sign of her solidarity with the people. Equally as interesting to note, however, are the discrepancies between the testimonies. First, Sang's comment contains an ambiguous reference to Celia not having an office, whereas Cartón makes special mention of Celia's office as the center of her popular outreach programs. While there are several known photographs depicting Celia working from her office in the Plaza of the Revolution, what is important is that these two women used the existence or absence of Celia's office to make the same point about the nature of Celia's connection to the Cuban people.68 Yet another intriguing component of Sang's testimony is her reference to Celia as a "campesina." In terms of class, Celia was not a campesina, as Sang indicates; rather, she was from an affluent family. Thus, there are at least two possibilities for what motivated Sang's comment. Sang may not have been familiar with the true economic situation of Celia's family, or she may have chosen to use the term campesina more as an indicator of Celia's solidarity with Cubans of more humble origins than as an indicator of her social class. Finally, Porot's reference to Celia's dedication to the Virgin of Mercy is fascinating in that it is the only such reference to Celia's own religious identity. While it is difficult to assess the accuracy of this statement, it is nonetheless interesting to question why this facet of Celia's personality does not appear in any of the official sites of memory we have seen. The revolutionary government's strict division between church and state, at the level of policy and discourse, may account for the fact that no other mention of Celia's religious beliefs has been encountered. It is important to note, however, that Porot wore the beaded necklace and bracelet of a devotee of santería (Afro-Cuban religion) to her interview. Thus, perhaps Porot's reference to Celia's religious identity was an attempt to draw a link between Celia and herself, as a means for demonstrating the depth of their personal/spiritual relationship, or as a means for Porot to validate her own religious identity. As we have seen, attaching personal meaning onto memory is not an infrequent practice.

While this essay has only presented a small sampling of the diverse forms that individual memory can take, there are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from the above examples. In Morejón's poetry, Llanes's Celia nuestra y de las flores, and the oral testimonies of individual Cubans, Celia is described [End Page 172] as the epitome of nurturing, devotion, self-abnegation, and hard work. The enumeration of these personal qualities demonstrates the persistence of a relatively standardized language and symbolism to describe Celia, from the time of Hart's eulogy in 1980 to Porot's interview in 1998. However, the focus of the unofficial memories of Celia differs from that of official memory in at least one significant way. The focus of these unofficial memories is on the nature of Celia's relationship to a particular individual and not to a more abstracted "Cuban people." In each of the sources above, the mythology surrounding Celia is grounded in the world of personal experience. At times these real or imagined experiences converge with official memory, and at others times they diverge from it, thus opening up new spaces for memory to exist. The often ambiguous, but always highly interactive, relationship between official memories of Celia and the memories that are transmitted by individuals highlights an important characteristic of national memory. Each story, each experience, and each conversation (whether it exists in written or oral form) that makes reference to memories of Celia is just one thread in the much larger memory quilt of the Cuban people. Over the years, these threads of memory have been woven together by various individuals to serve a range of purposes, from rallying the nation to collective action in the face of an economic crisis to simply recalling the lived experience of the early years of the revolution. However, these memories of Celia, in all their multiple forms, prove that "memory is not a passive depository of fact, but an active process of creation of meanings."69 The meanings ascribed to Celia's memory have had ramifications far beyond the memorializing of one woman; they have played a crucial role in the creation of Cuban national identity itself.


In the final pages of his article entitled "Collective Memory and Cultural History: Problems of Method," Alon Confino states that "memory as a whole . . . is bigger than the sum of its parts."70 As we have seen in the case of Cuba, an often fragmented set of memories concerning a multiplicity of social, political, and cultural experiences have, over the course of more than twenty years, converged (albeit in contradictory or ambiguous ways at times) in order to create a national blueprint for Cuba's New Woman. This New Woman, embodied most closely in Celia Sánchez Manduley, is the result not simply of an official memory that has supplanted memories that exist at the level of the individual, but rather of a continuous process of commingling and cross-pollination. It is important to note that because "memory is not static but alive," this process is perpetual.71 Today, official commemorative sites such as Celia's tomb have become creative spaces where visitors exchange memories about Celia, recount stories of their own participation in the revolution, and ascribe their own [End Page 173] meanings onto their national heroine. Through the interjection of new voices and experiences, the mythology surrounding Celia is continuously being redefined and reinvented. As Nora states, "Sites of memory only exist because of their capacity for metamorphosis, an endless recycling of their meaning and an unpredictable proliferation of their ramifications."72

It would seem that if revolution is a "process," then the process of constructing collective memory is as much a part of revolution as are the battles won and lost.73 The grand unifying historical events of the Cuban people, their revolution, and the ideal female revolutionary, Celia Sánchez Manduley, become common reference points against which all citizens (but perhaps women especially) are encouraged to measure their revolutionary conviction. Through the expression of various types of collective and individual memories, Celia's life has assumed mythic proportions that far exceed the possibilities of any one woman. In the words of Armando Hart Dávalos, "In the history of every true revolution, legend acquires very real characters."74 Whether or not popular imaginings of Celia and her life represent the reality of whom she was matters much less than their ability to reflect the ideals of a larger revolutionary discourse-one which Cubans aspire to, reformulate, or reject accordingly. Consequently, the fact that Celia is remembered as both a private and a public figure, as tough but tender, as hardworking but feminine, and as dedicated but humble perhaps tells us less about Celia than it does about the revolutionary values of officials and activists determined to (re)define the parameters of an ideal cubanidad in the face of new national challenges.

Tiffany A. Thomas-Woodard

Tiffany Thomas-Woodard is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of New Mexico. She has been awarded a Fulbright-Hays fellowship to complete her dissertation, titled "Between Bomba and Zanja: Prostitution, Race, and National Identity in Cuba, 1880-1930."


This essay began as my Master's thesis entitled "Myth, Mother, Mujer: Celia Sánchez Manduley, A Cuban Revolutionary" (University of New Mexico, 1999). I am grateful to Judy Bieber, Linda Hall, Elizabeth Hutchison, and Jane Slaughter, and to my colleagues at the University of New Mexico who all offered helpful advice on earlier drafts of this work.


1. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991), 205.

2. While the date of her death is certain, it is interesting to note that, as is the case with so many details of Celia's life, there is some confusion surrounding the exact year of her birth. While some sources claim that she was born in 1916, others claim 1920. However, 1920 is the date most frequently encountered. The cause of Celia's death was lung cancer.

3. Here, I am referring to the original definition of the term, as coined by Pierre Nora. While his definition of lieux de mémoire ("where memory crystallizes and secretes itself") may leave room for interpretation, his three-part definition of their purpose (material, symbolic, and functional) is not only insightful but useful as well (see Pierre Nora, "Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire," Representations 26 [Spring 1989]: 7-24).

4. Here, I am using the term memory as defined by Confino: "the ways in which people construct a sense of the past" (see Alon Confino, "Collective Memory and Cultural History: Problems of Method," American Historical Review 102 [December 1997]: 1386). On a related note, it is important to keep in mind, as Noakes points out, that "this sense of the past is created in [End Page 174] two ways: through public representations and through private memory" (see Lucy Noakes, War and the British [London: I. B Tauris, 1998], 12).

5. Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott, eds., Gendering War Talk (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993). Noakes defines masculinity and femininity "as related cultural and social constructs. They are not living, breathing men and women but sets of ideas about how living, breathing men and women are expected to act" (War and the British, 16).

6. Lucy Noakes has provided us with a succinct definition of "public" and "private" memories, and their interrelationship. She states that "private memories refer to memories that focus, at least in part, on the individual experience and memories of the war years; public memories refer to more general images of the war that appear in public sites of memory." Noakes is also quick to point out the interdependent nature of these two forms of memory. "In the practice of people's everyday lives, of course, public and private memory can be difficult to separate. Public and private memories are essentially interactive: private memories can be validated when they are shared by large numbers of people, thus gaining access to the public field of representation, while dominant public or popular memory has to have a purchase with most people's personal memories of the war years in order to become widely accepted" (War and the British, 12-13).

7. Although Celia's contemporaries never expressly referred to her as the "New Woman," I utilize this terminology to refer to an explicitly gendered formulation of the ideal Cuban revolutionary that emerged following Celia's death. The original concept of Cuba's "New Man" was the focus of many of Ernesto "Che" Guevara's writings; namely, his classic essay "Man and Socialism" (1961). The full text of Guevara's essay can be found in Arthur Lothstein, ed., "All We Are Saying...": The Philosophy of the New Left (New York: Capricorn Books, 1971), 365-81.

8. The only published information on the Sánchez family's economic status that I have encountered thus far was located in a small pamphlet entitled "Celia: Los años de Media Luna," which was published by the Sección de Investigaciones Históricas Comité Provincial in May 1990. The pamphlet claims that the Sánchez family owned three farms ranging in size from 60 caballerías (1,998 acres) to 12 caballerías (399 acres). Unfortunately, the pamphlet does not document its sources for this information. Considering that Celia was a prominent member of a socialist revolution, it seems logical that information concerning her family's elevated economic status has been omitted from Cuban popular memory.

9. The Mariana Grajales Brigade, named after the heroic mother of Cuban independence, was officially inaugurated in September 1958, with Isabela Rielo as the commanding officer. Though consisting of only fourteen women, the Marianas participated in a number of military encounters with Batista's army (Lois M. Smith and Alfred Padula, Sex and Revolution: Women in Socialist Cuba [New York: Oxford University Press, 1996], 30-31).

10. The language associating Celia with a form of national motherhood seems to have first been coined by Raúl Castro in the early years of the revolutionary struggle. In an oft-cited letter of April 1957, Castro wrote: "You have become our weeping cloth [and thus] we are going to have to name you the 'Official Godmother of the Detachment'" (see Celia: Heroína de la Revolución Cubana [Havana: Editora Política, 1985]; the original Spanish reads "Tú has convertido en nuestro paño de lágrimas... te vamos a tener que nombrar 'Madrina Oficial del Destacamento'").

11. Jon Lee Anderson, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life (New York: Grove Press, 1997), 235, 344.

12. José Llovio-Ménendez, Insider: My Hidden Life as a Revolutionary in Cuba (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 99.

13. Several scholars have attempted to explain the prevalence of the assumption that powerful female figures achieve power through their sexual relationship with a male leader. See, e.g., Jean B. Elshtain, Public Man/Private Woman: Women in Social Political Thought (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); and Marian Sawyer and Marian Simms, A Woman's Place: Women and Politics in Australia (Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1984). [End Page 175]

14. A cursory search within the Library of Congress's online catalog revealed that there are currently forty-one published official and/or unofficial biographies of Fidel Castro and sixty-five biographies of Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

15. Julián Marías, "La intrahistoria, dominio de mujer," in La mujer y su sombra (Madrid: Editorial Alianza, 1986), 63-71.

16. Elizabeth Jelin, Women and Social Change in Latin America (London: Zed Books, 1990).

17. Ibid., 8.

18. Ibid.

19. In her work on female resistance during the Spanish Civil War, Shirley Mangini likewise notes that "recounting memories is a slippery task. Questions of truth versus fiction are based on the fickle nature of memory, the passage of time, the need for self-justification, self-compassion, and self-aggrandizement, and so on" (Shirley Mangini, Memories of Resistance: Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War [New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995], 53).

20. I believe this type of discussion of the potential effect my own presence had on the production of my knowledge of Celia is important. As Susan Crane states, "Historical research is a lived experience that the self-reflexive historian consciously integrates into collective memory. Historical representation is inadequate to this lived experience only so long as the author remains absent and the textual or site-artifact serves only the function of commemoration" ("Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory," American Historical Review 102 [December 1997]: 1382).

21. On 9 February 1995, Senator Jesse Helms introduced the "Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act," which would tighten the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The full text of the law is available in "Legislation and Regulations-United States: Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (Helms-Burton Act)," International Legal Materials 35, no. 2 (1996): 359-79. For an analysis of the events leading up to the legislation, see Joaquín Ferrao, Helms-Burton Law: Historical Background and Analysis (Miami: Endowment for Cuban American Studies of the Cuban American National Foundation, 1998).

22. Aira Morelo Fonseca, interview by author, tape recording, 8 July 1996, Oficina de Asuntos Históricos, Havana, Cuba.

23. In her work on memory in Italy, Luisa Passerini notes that "all those who have collected oral testimonies have noted that one of the constant features of the left-wing activists' life-histories is the 'canceling out of individual private life'" (Fascism in Popular Memory: The Cultural Experience of the Turin Working Class [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987], 41).

24. Elizabeth Van Houts has similarly stated that "if... we are interested... in the process of remembering and the formation of memories, the criterion of historical reliability is of little or no importance in judging the significance of the memory" (Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe, 900-1200 [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999], 7.)

25. "Sería transmitida hoy por radio y televisión la despedida de duelo de Celia Sánchez," Granma 16, no. 10 (12 January 1980): 8. The original Spanish reads: "El sepelio de Celia Sánchez Manduley, miembro del Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba, diputada a la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular y secretaria del Consejo de Estado, partirá hoy sábado a las tres de la tarde, desde la base del Monumento a José Martí, en la Plaza de la Revolución, donde se encuentra su cadáver."

26. For more information on the events surrounding the Mariel boatlift, see Felix Roberto Masud-Piloto, With Open Arms: Cuban Migration to the United States (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1988).

27. For a more thorough discussion of the economic problems facing Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s, see Patricia Ruffin, Capitalism and Socialism in Cuba: A Study of Dependency, Development and Underdevelopment (London: MacMillan Press, 1990); Carmelo Mesa-Lago, The Economy of Socialist Cuba: A Two-Decade Appraisal (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, [End Page 176] 1981); and Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Cuba in the 1970s: Pragmatism and Institutionalization (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1978).

28. Armando Hart Dávalos, La más autóctona flor de la Revolución (Havana: De la Cultura, Ediciones, 1990), 13. The original Spanish reads: "Celia, con su valor, su constancia, su abnegación, su laboriosidad y su trabajo altamente eficaz junto a Fidel entró definitivamente en la Historia. Celia, en la Sierra, no fue sólo la heroína de la guerra. Fue eso y, además, la heroina del trabajo. En ella la leyenda adquirió formas y contenido reales" (emphasis mine).

29. Armando Hart Dávalos, "El ejemplo de Celia: Aliento y enseñanza," Bohemia 72, no. 3 (18 January 1980): 59. The original Spanish reads: "El pueblo conoce la historia de cómo se forjó ese símbolo; pero en este momento estamos en el deber de rememoria." Interestingly, Nora makes reference to a similar notion of the "impossible debt" of memory each individual feels they must pay to the nation (see Nora, "Between Memory and History," 16).

30. Pedro Pablo Rodríguez and Manuel González Bello, "Capitana del Pueblo," Bohemia 72, no. 3 (19 January 1980): 53. The original passage reads: "Es imposible calcular cuántos desfilaron por la base del monumento a Martí o se congregaron en la Plaza de la Revolución y a lo largo de la ruta del cortejo fúnebre. Pero, sin lugar a dudas, fueron cientos de miles.... Porque aquel serpenteante río humano que llenó la Plaza desde la tarde del viernes 11 quería dar su último adiós a esa mujer que ha sido y será siempre imagen de la Revolución."

31. The caption from the Bohemia photo layout reads: "Cuando al frente de ellos Fidel Castro iniciara la guerra el 26 de julio de 1953, invocando el ideario martiano, la efigie de José Martí, desde la Sierra Maestra, oficiaría el ámbito revolucionario desde las más altas cumbres cubanos. Meses antes, ese mismo año, junto a su padre, el doctor Manuel Sánchez Silveira, Celia Sánchez Manduley había fijado el busto de Martí en la cúspide del Pico Turquino."

32. "Mensaje de la Dirección Nacional de la Federación de Mujeres Cubanas," Granma 16, no. 10 (12 January 1980): 2. The original Spanish reads: "Nuestro pueblo pierde hoy una figura gloriosa que puso muy en alto el nombre de la mujer durante la lucha revolucionaria, que supo ganarse el respeto y el cariño de todos los hijos de nuestra Patria por su heroísmo, por su valor a toda prueba, por su sencillez y modestia, por su actitud ejemplar, por su entrega plena a cada tarea necesaria en la construcción de la nueva sociedad."

33. Marta Rojas, "Hemos perdido un centinela a toda prueba," Granma (12 January 1980): 5. The original Spanish reads: "su audacia, valor y optimismo; la disciplina, modestia y entrega total a la jefatura de Fidel; su tacto, discreción e inteligencia le hicieron acreedora del respecto de todo el Ejército Rebelde, de los cuadros del Movimento y de los campesinos durante la insurreción al igual que en la Revolución triunfante..."

34. Ibid. The original Spanish reads: "profundamente humana"... " infranqueable muralla de concreto contra la que se estrellaban los desleales a la Revolución y los enemigos de Cuba."

35. Ibid. The original Spanish reads: "hecho de una sola y sólida pieza revolucionaria, desde los pies a la punta de los cabellos, que tanto gustaba adornarse con flores, lazos o peineteas."

36. "Celia," Granma (12 January 1980): 6. The original Spanish reads: "Su nombre y su figura sólo esporádicamente aparecían en público, pero no hacía falta. El pueblo sabía que estaba allí, donde debía estar, como la sal invisible en el inmenso mar de la Revolución. Y así, día tras día, se adentró más y más en el corazón de los cubanos, conquistando ese lugar tan difícil de escalar que es el cariño, la admiración y el respeto de un pueblo entero."

37. Ibid. The original Spanish reads: "pocas veces una gloria tan genuina ha marchado acompañando de semejante modestia, sensibilidad humana y entrega leal y desinteresada al servicio de la causa revolucionaria."

38. The gendered nature of the language used to describe Celia best comes into focus when compared with the language used to describe one of Cuba's most famous male revolutionaries, Ernesto "Che" Guevara. On 19 October 1967, ten days following Che's untimely death in Bolivia, the Cuban periodical Granma dedicated a full issue to espousing Che's status as a theoretical [End Page 177] visionary and fallen hero. Among his personal characteristics were listed his status as an "insuperable soldier; an insuperable commander... an extraordinarily capable man, extraordinarily aggressive." Contrasted with the construction of Celia's image as a woman of modesty and simplicity, Che is described as representing the perfect union of "the man of ideas and the man of action" (Granma [19 January 1967]: 2-4).

39. Pedro Pablo Rodríguez and Manuel González Bello, "Capitana del Pueblo," Bohemia 72, no. 3 (19 January 1980): 53. The original Spanish reads: "Porque, qué mejor ejemplo de vivir en el morir que el de Celia. Porque si un poeta dijo que la vida son los ríos, que van a dar a la mar, qué es el morir; Celia ha ido a la mar, esa que da siempre imagen de fuerza y de permanencia más allá del corto espacio de la vida humana. En la mar de la Revolución, en la mar del pueblo, en la mar de la nación cubana... ha desembocado la vida de Celia."

40. Hart, "El ejemplo de Celia," 61. The original Spanish reads: "Grande en su abnegación heroica, en su lealtad incondicional, grande en su identificación con el pueblo, en su amor a la obra de la Revolución, en su interés aspasionado por los demás. Grande en su preocupación por los aspectos más concretos y decisivos de cada obra de la Revolución. Grande, quizás, sobre cualquier otra virtud, en su modestia y sencillez. Entre todas sus cualidades debemos efectivamente destacar su rechazo a cualquier forma de ostentación y su apego a las maneras simples y sencillas de vivir y trabajar. Esta era, seguramente, una de sus más conmovedoras virtudes. El carácter de Celia recuerda aquellos versos de Martí: 'El arroyo de la sierra me complace más que el mar.'"

41. Ibid., 62. The original Spanish reads: "Un homenaje digno de Celia Sánchez está en fortalacer el trabajo de nuestras organizaciones de masas... mejorando el trabajo de nuestro Estado y de todas las administraciones en los centros laborales, y elevando la eficiencia de nuestros organismos administrativos, sindicales y políticos... con el noble propósito de hacer avanzar la Revolución Cubana."

42. Ibid. The original Spanish reads: "¡Victorias contra las deficiencias! ¡Victorias contra el imperialismo! ¡Victorias por el socialismo!"

43. Hart, "El ejemplo de Celia," 61. The original Spanish reads: "'¡Hasta después de muertos somos útiles!' dijo Julio Antonio Mella. Celia debe seguir siendo útil, pero esto ya no dependerá de ella. Dependerá de que cada uno de nosotros seamos capaces de comprender y aplicar la lección de su vida."

44. Dr. Arnaldo Gómez Satti provided me with this information when I visited the Hospital Celia Sánchez on 27 July 1996.

45. Fidel Castro, "Fidel en la inauguración del Hospital Celia Sánchez Manduley," Bohemia (16 January 1981): 52. The original Spanish reads: "homenaje a nuestra compañera Celia Sánchez con motivo del primer aniversario de su muerte... [APLAUSOS]... yo creo que realmente ésa era la mejor forma de rendir tributo a quien de manera tal se consagraba al deber, sin descansar un minuto, sin olvidar un solo detalle; y creo, sinceramente, que éso es uno de los homenajes más sentido más profundo, y más revolucionario que se le pueda rendir a una compañera que haya dado la vida por la Revolución [APLAUSOS]."

46. Gilberto Blanch, "Digno homenaje a Celia," Mujeres (June 1981): 8. The original Spanish reads: "Verlas en los campos es una fiesta para los ojos, porque todas visten elegantes uniformes."

47. Ibid. The original Spanish reads: "todas las integrantes tenían que lucir bonitas, con sombreros, con la efigie de Celia Sánchez en el brazlete... y con blusas de distintas colores."

48. Ibid. The original Spanish reads: "un digno homenaje a nuestra querida Celia."

49. Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968), 264 (emphasis is mine).

50. Nancy Morejón, "Coral del pueblo," Revolución y Cultura (January 1984): 59. The original Spanish reads: "Celia, tú me has dicho al oído la canción que elegí / Tú me acunas en tu pecho redondo / que es un nido de plumas / Tú eres quien me enaltece / Tú eres quien me conoce." [End Page 178]

51. Nancy Morejón, "Elegia coral a Celia Sánchez," Revolución y Cultura (January 1984): 59.

52. The various continuities between Christian and revolutionary imagery have been the focus of several recent studies. Perhaps most relevant to this discussion of the semireligious imagery surrounding Celia Sánchez is J. M. Taylor's work on Eva Perón. Taylor likewise found for the case of Eva Perón that themes of sacrifice, maternal love, purity, and devotion were prominent, both during and after her death, primarily as they related to her image as the Lady of Hope (see J. M. Taylor, Evita Perón: The Myths of a Woman [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979], 104-10). For an interesting, albeit fairly controversial, examination of the links between Christian (specifically Catholic) imagery and male public figures, see Glen Caudill Dealy, The Public Man: An Interpretation of Latin American and Other Catholic Countries (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997).

53. Julio M. Llanes, Celia nuestra y de las flores (Havana: Editorial Gente Nueva, 1985).

54. Ibid., 10. The original Spanish reads: "Tengo que verla." It is interesting to note that the book was written with the collaboration of Celia's sister, Acacia Sánchez Manduley, and with Nydia Sarabia of the Oficina de Asuntos Históricos, who, coincidentally, I interviewed eleven years later.

55. Ibid., 25. The original Spanish reads: "Hay dos cuentos que el abuelo hacía, una y otra vez, y que nunca se me han olvidado. Los hacía mil veces; y, sin embargo, siempre que uno los escuchaba, parecían nuevecitos. Recuerdo que endencía su tabaco, se echaba hacia atrás e el sillón, y me preguntaba: '¿Yo te he hecho los cuentos de Norma y el 'Granma?'... 'No... no me acuerdo'-le contestaba, para que él los volviera a contar. Entonces, el abuelo botaba el humo del tobaco por los huequitos de la nariz, y comenzaba muy despacio, con su voz ronca de siempre..."

56. Ibid., 19, 22, 50.

57. Ibid., 47. The original Spanish reads: "Si uno se ponía un par de botas nuevas que enviaban el llano, pensaba en Celia. Sabíamos que era ella quien las mandaba. Si llegaba un paquete con uniformes o mochilas... uno se ponía loco de contento y pensaba: "'¡Esto lo mandó Celia!'"... era tanto su ayuda, que la queríamos como una hermana, o como una madre. Porque así son las madres: siempre preocupándose por si a uno le falta algo. Y si uno no lo tiene, se lo buscan hasta debajo de la tierra, y lo traen con una sonrisa."

58. Ibid., 73. The original Spanish reads: "Ella es callada. Hace mucho y dice poco. No le gusta hacer ruido para nada. Todo lo hace calladita, pero lo hace."

59. Ibid., 79. The original Spanish reads: "¿Abuelo, ya no veremos más a Celia?-le pregunto. Él se demora un ratico en contestarme; luego me dice: "'Quizás ahora la veamos más en fotos y eschuchemos más anécdotas de ella. Ahora todo el que sepa algo sobre ella lo va a decir'-deja de hablar, como pensando-: "'¿Sabes una cosa?'"-pregunta al mismo tiempo que me mira derechito a los ojos. "'La gente se muere cuando la olvidan; mientras que lo recuerden a uno con cariño, uno está vivo.'"

60. See Susanna Egan, Patterns of Experience in Autobiography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984); and Shirley Mangini, Memories of Resistance: Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), 57.

61. Elda Guerra has described the difference between written and oral sources, stating that "written memories are influenced by the weight of past literary models, the conviction of the author, the intended reader and the ambiance in which the text eventually survives. Oral recollections raise these issues and more, being especially coloured by the relationship between the interviewee and the interviewer, and thus by the communicative past which they establish" (see Elda Guerra, "Memory and Representations of Fascism," in Italian Fascism: History, Memory, and Representation, ed. R. J. B. Bosworth and Patrizia Dogliani [London: Macmillan, 1999]), 197). The notion of memory "filters" is discussed by Patrick Geary in Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 7, 177. [End Page 179]

62. Lourdes Sang, interview by author, tape recording, 8 July 1996, Havana, Cuba. Celia's jeep is on display at the Automobile Museum in Havana. The original quote reads: "Celia nunca realmente trabajaba con la FMC, ni con las grandes burocracias, y ella raramente se sentaba por detrás de un escritorio. Ella trabajaba de cualquier lugar... eso transformó en su oficina. Nunca se veía con chofér, ella manejaba su propio yipi. Celia era una campesina, y ella nunca disfrutaba de lo más mínimo privilegio. En vez de eso, ella se concentraba en las cuestiones más fundamentales de la gente. En verdad, cuando ella se dió cuenta de que mi suegro se murió, ella pasó por nuestra casa para estar con nosotros durante nuestras horas de necesidad. Ella no nos sabía para nada. Ella era así."

63. Sergio Rego Pita, interview by author, tape recording, 10 July 1996, Dirección Provincial de Relaciones Internacionales, Havana, Cuba.

64. Smith and Padula have likewise commented on Celia's attentiveness to the daily needs of the Cuban people, stating that Celia "served as a national benefactress, a socialist Eva Perón, who through the years responded to personal appeals for assistance and investigated complaints of injustice from thousands of Cubans" (see Sex and Revolution, 32).

65. Nirma Cartón, interview by author, tape recording, 6 July 1996, Havana, Cuba. The original quote reads: "El mundo entero pasó por su oficina para hablar con ella... siempre había una cola. Y cuando ella visitaba las casas de los pobres en el campo para atender a sus problemas, ella nunca se rascaba por miedo de ofender a las personas que vivían allí."

66. Nilda Porot, interview by author, tape recording, 26 June 1998, Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana, Cuba. The original quote reads: "Celia siempre daba casas y máquinas a personas, y hasta arreglar techos. Si ella no le podía ayudar, ella mandaba alguien que podría. Teníamos todo gracias a ella... ropa, todo."

67. Ibid. The original quote reads: "Celia era creyente. Ella siempre ponía flores por frente de una virgencita al entrar en su casa."

68. It is important to note here that the subtle tensions expressed within these personal testimonies-namely in terms of Celia's simultaneous role as a public official and as a mother figure-are perhaps indicative of broader ambiguities within Cuba's revolutionary project. As Sandra McGee Deutsch has pointed out, various Latin American revolutionary projects (specifically those that occurred in Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, and Chile) struggled over the definition of revolutionary womanhood and encountered difficulties when attempting to rectify the new image of the revolutionary woman with more traditional conceptualizations of gender roles (see Sandra McGee Deutsch, "Gender and Sociopolitical Change in Twentieth-Century Latin America," Hispanic American Historical Review 71 [May 1991]: 259-306).

69. Alessandro Portelli, The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History (New York: State University of New York Press, 1991), 52.

70. Confino, "Collective Memory and Cultural History," 1399.

71. Van Houts, Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe, 7.

72. Nora, "Between Memory and History," 19.

73. For a discussion of revolution as "process" (rather than endpoint), see Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent, eds., Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994), xii.

74. Hart, "El ejemplo de Celia," 59. [End Page 180]

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