I sat down with Dr. Tiffany Sippial to talk about her latest book, Celia Sanchez Manduley: The Life and Legacy of a Cuban Revolutionary (University of North Carolina Press, 2020). Celia Sanchez Manduley (1920-1980) is famous for her role in the Cuban revolution and being the "first female guerrilla of the Sierra Maestra." Sanchez joined the movement in her early thirties and went on to serve as a high-ranking government official and international ambassador. Since her death, Sanchez has been revered as a national icon, cultivated and guarded by the Cuban government. With almost unprecedented access to Sanchez's papers, including a personal diary, and firsthand interviews with family members, Tiffany A. Sippial presents the first critical study of a notoriously private and self-abnegating woman who yet exists as an enduring symbol of revolutionary ideals. Using the tools of feminist biography, cultural history, and the politics of memory, Sippial reveals the scope and depth of Sanchez's power and influence within the Cuban revolution, as well as her struggles with violence, her political development, and the sacrifices required by her status as a leader and "New Woman." Sippial reveals how Sanchez strategically crafted her own legacy within a history still dominated by bearded men in fatigues.
Dr. Sippial walked me through her journey as a researcher and biographer of one of Cuba’s most revered figures. We discussed Sanchez’s early life and her emergence as a political figure in her own right, her relationship with Fidel Castro and other notable figures, her significance in Cuban national memory, and what we can learn about her story during a politically tense time. Very timely, and important conversation. Enjoy!
Rozzmery Palenzuela Vicente is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Florida International University. Her dissertation examines the cultural and intellectual politics surrounding black motherhood in twentieth-century Cuba. Twitter: @RozzmeryPV