026. the mother of all cubans: mariana grajales cuello

*Note: this is an automated transcript. Please excuse the typos!*

[00:00:00] Carmen: Hey Fryda. Hey Carmen,

[00:00:10] Fryda: what's up? Yo mama. Yeah, that all of our

[00:00:13] Carmen: mama's, that would be correct. You are correct. This episode is all about Lama that you should actually be Chi because this is the mother of all Cuban.

[00:00:22] Fryda: Yes, she is Mariana Grajales, the mother of all Cubans, the mother of Lari, a figure of the Cuban war of independence against the Spanish born July 12th, 1815 in Santiago.

[00:00:34] Carmen: And also Antonio Mao's mom.

[00:00:37] Fryda: Right? So Antonio Mao is a figure that we already usually know about if you're Cuban or Cuban American, you learn about his role in the military and indirectly fighting the Spanish. But Mariana Chaz dude, once we started learning about who we were just like, we need to dig deeper.

Uh, and we made this episode about her, what she represented and everything that digging into her story tells us about. Cuban society at that time. And the role of

[00:01:06] Carmen: motherhood, this woman is an absolute beast. She was the OG badass. She was just like unstoppable. She was born to Dominican parents and Jose chales MAs.

She is a black woman, but she was born free. And so were her parents. In some

[00:01:24] Fryda: articles we've read. It said that her parents were also landowner in the area and this area that we're referring to is

[00:01:35] Carmen: so a little background on first of all, it's the Eastern most part of Cuba. So geographically it's tough terrain in this particular area of Cuba. Most people are actually free black people. And we are starting to see the rise of the white planter class. So during Mariana's lifetime, she saw firsthand a lot of what that actually meant.

[00:01:59] Fryda: She experienced the effect of Spanish colonization in the region. She was also importantly surrounded by some black middle class Cubans. So there was. Definitely more opportunity for people who are black in Audie than, um, what we would usually think of. In the Caribbean at this time where slavery existed, where the transatlantic slave trade was a big deal and affected all rungs of society.

Also notable that in this particular time, among black people in Eliane women actually outnumbered

[00:02:36] Carmen: the men. So, this is a little bit about the society that brought Mariana up and she eventually goes on to marry her first husband fr reg

[00:02:45] Fryda: Fuso. The sweet man. Sweet, sweet man.

[00:02:50] Carmen: why would somebody name their kid fr DSO?

I swear.

[00:02:53] Fryda: I don't know the same way you name a kid. He know Santa and he's not that innocent. Like maybe, maybe he wasn't. Sweet,

[00:02:59] Carmen: you know, maybe he wasn't. So she marries, uh, fructo corn syrup and she has four kids, but that doesn't really matter. Those were just like practice kids. Cause, um, then the worst, then she went on to marry this dashing Venezuelan fighter named ma mu.

And he married the right person because Maria was definitely the number one queen B, when it came to leading for Cuban independence, she

[00:03:26] Fryda: married a man who fought. With the Spanish back in Venezuela, the whole situation was a complex war, but this was a man who fought for his bat for his country and then went off and moved to Cuba.

And so there's this, there's this foundation already of having a partner who has already fought in a war of independence.

[00:03:50] Carmen: Marcos was BFFs with Simon BVA who became Venezuela's first president after they won independence. So Marcos moves to Cuba and meets Mariak and they have a bunch of kids because that's what you do.


[00:04:05] Fryda: this woman had 13 children. And while that was not uncommon at the time, I think. Was notable that she lost so many to war and lost so many to resistance and struggle. She lost children to the little war, which is a war before the war of independence. And then she also lost children to the 10 years war.

So. She had her last child at age 52. So this woman worked really hard at childbirth and rearing. Okay.

[00:04:33] Carmen: Just imagine, just for pause for a minute, just imagine 13 years. Okay. It's like nine months for one, at least. So like that's 13 years where you're just pregnant. And then on top of that, you're always like nursing then, like you always have a kid on top of you.

And you're also trying to raise them. And you're also trying to uphold an entire revolution, organize uprisings and like everything this woman did, every, I just can't. I imagine Marcos would come home from war and he would be like, Hey honey. And she would be like, okay, we're down two kids. We gotta try for twins.

Let's go

[00:05:04] Fryda: seriously. And. Let's make a note that this is just Carmen's imagination. This is not part of

[00:05:10] Carmen: historical record. This is not fact, this is now me just being stupid, but yeah, so we're, , I think Mariana actually didn't quite look at things as, uh, so negatively when it came to losing her children. I mean, obviously it.

Painful for her. No mother wants to lose her kids, but I think she also viewed her ki like her children as her contribution to the revolution. At

[00:05:37] Fryda: least that's what we imagined someone with so much dedication and who continued to clearly encourage her kids to continue to fight, even as she lost so many, like she, she didn't become fearful of losing and fearful of loss, even though that was all that was happening.


[00:05:56] Carmen: remarkable. Yeah. Her one true priority really was Cuban independence and also Afro Cuban independence

[00:06:02] Fryda: in a way it's, they're not two things, but the same thing, at least in the view of the mom visas, who we talk about. And in the view of Mariana black liberation was Cuban independence. It needed to happen together.

[00:06:18] Carmen: This emancipation brought to you in great part by abolitionism and viewers like. And viewers like you.

[00:06:25] Fryda: Yeah. I mean, Mariana let's like, like when we go into her identity and her position in society, she was in a position of marginalization, not just as a woman, not just as a Cuban in a place colonized by Spanish, but also as a black person and a person who experience colonization at a deeper and different level.

It almost explains her dedication because I'm sure she was seeing a lot of loss of life, a lot of loss of Liberty in her surroundings and saw how possibly worthwhile it was to sacrifice everything for a different reality. And this smarter Dom being a concept. Very very familiar and lasting in Cuban consciousness.

And it's at the core of the ideas of the Cuban communist revolution.

[00:07:20] Carmen: Even the Cuban national Anthem has a line that says not UN.

Which literally says, don't be afraid of a glorious death because to die for your country is to live or to die for your nationhood is to live.

[00:07:36] Fryda: We talk a lot about how she sacrificed her children and encouraged other people to fight, but she didn't just put other people in the line of fire and not get her hands dirty.

She did a lot of hands on work, leading up to the war and leading up even to the most pivotal. Moment in starting the war of independence.

[00:08:01] Carmen: This is the first uprising that led to armed conflict between the Spanish and the Cubans that effectively started the war of independence. IRA translates to the cry of YRA and YRA was the town that Maria started the uprising.

I just wanna, let's just backtrack for a second here. This. Started the war of independence in Cuba. I don't know if I can say that a little louder for the people in the back. This woman started the war of independence. Like that's crazy.

[00:08:28] Fryda: Yes. That is so crazy. So Maria and Carlos, Manuel, a military officer started this together.

Um, but outside of the diaspora, It seems to only be attributed to Carlos Mandi, this, uh, but you know, women and people of color are often run out

[00:08:45] Carmen: of history. There's actually a lot of places that do still give her credit. If you're Cuban, you know who your mommy is, you know what I'm saying? There's monuments, , there's monuments out there commemorating this.

[00:08:54] Fryda: And there are celebrations of a, that include her as well as Carlos in one of them, both of their graves were moved over to the site of Edgar. So, you know, we, we know that they're both connected with this important

[00:09:07] Carmen: moment in history. Yeah. And a lot of these celebrations are actually commemorating her role in the war, which going back to that, speaking of her role in the war, she actually ran a whole mountain settlement and an improvised Bush hospital that she operated with all of the women in her family, including Antonio Marcel's wife, the wives of her other kids and the women in the Bacardi family.

Yes, that Bacardi family, the rum Bacardi. So

[00:09:34] Fryda: this is Mariana Grajales in charge of organizing and coordinating resources in the day to day life of a society that was started during wartime in this mountain settlement. It's. Amazing. She's among the mom visas, running their hospital, helping to heal people who needed help and coordinating resources in that day to day life.

This is a huge, huge job. She's basically the mayor of Mumbia city.

[00:10:01] Carmen: let's not forget that this is in the mountains. Okay. There's mosquitoes and there's lack of resources. You're at an incline. The terrain is hard, like imagine carrying grown ass men who are dying up and down mountains to go treat them. And, and this gives

[00:10:18] Fryda: us a, a good opportunity to take a step back and look at how this mini society was in settlement.

Organizing itself. During this time,

[00:10:28] Carmen: the Mumbia were known to be people who were rebels in opposition to Spanish colonization and taking over. They were a group of people who organized under this name and they were composed of several different people of society. Again, including the Pcards, the rum makers, and many other people who just did not want the Spanish coming in and being the

[00:10:47] Fryda: Spanish.

The Maas were primarily from . They were primarily black people. Black people were at the core of this movement. As they organized themselves in this movement and resettled into the mountains, they created kind of like a little microcosm of society where things shifted a bit and operated a little differently.

Namely women were. Able to have claim to property in these settlements. And that was totally unheard of in larger Cuban society where only men or their fathers could lay claim to private property. also in terms of distribution of labor, there was a relatively even distribution of labor among people who lived in the settlement, regardless of gender and a couple of other roles.

And so this can remind us of how much society can shift and change in times of war.

[00:11:36] Carmen: Well, I mean, yeah, that, that's what happens when Maria sets up shop, right? She's like, okay, we're gonna have to change a few things around here because I need to run stuff and I'm a woman. So let's, let's rethink a few of these things.

Right. And that's what happens when all of the men are off fighting. There's just no one else left. But the women to literally holds on the Fort. Suddenly you see spaces for women to come in and do their thing. And what's remarkable is that in this role change in these new systems, we start to see new allocation of resources.

We start to see a lot of efficiency in how things are run, because guess what, that's what women are taught to do, right? Like how to manage resources, how to manage a household, how to pay the bills, how to keep people fed, how to keep people clothed, how to keep people safe. All of that is the most fundamental definition of being a mother.

And I think that's very fitting for Mariana

[00:12:25] Fryda: shortly after independence. So if we're fast forwarding, when Cubans rewrote the laws women's control over property became law shortly after independence. So that's kind of like one part of society that the mum visas were already kind of like moving forward in, in terms of moving Cuban society forward with gender roles.

But on the other side of things, like things weren't like picture perfect for the rebel. If you think about intersectionality, when thinking about various identities, it's important to note that if you are a woman and you are a black person, there's the intersection of race and gender working against you, because those are two oppressed groups.

It's really important to note the priorities that we' apparently in place during this time where racial. Slavery was a bigger priority than women's rights at that particular time. Well,

[00:13:18] Carmen: that's not surprising. We've seen that happen across history in a few other places as well. And of course, What do women have to say about this?

There's definitely gonna be a few other baddies in line waiting to be like, excuse me, we need rights to, and one of those was ACOR again, another batty of the time she is most notable for standing up for Cuban independence, which we're gonna have an, we're gonna have to do a whole episode on this woman because she's, she's a whole nother character.

That's. You know, covering, but go, who's mostly known in Cuban history for supporting the war of independence against the Spanish and at the same time advocating and spearheading for women's rights. As part of the struggle in a speech in 1869, she said that she really hoped that the men would return from war and work on women's rights in society.

But that's ACORD. And that's another story for another day back to Maria. Host Marti, another Cuban writer and big proponent of Cuban independence praised her often for nursing, both Spaniards and Cubans in the battle. It's like she understood that people need care and it doesn't matter if they're your enemy, I'd assume

[00:14:29] Fryda: she didn't necessarily have hatred for the soldiers, the foot soldiers that were fighting, but rather hatred for the oppressive system that existed.

Thanks to the Spanish. Yeah. You know, and that's a very reasonable thing to think.

[00:14:40] Carmen: Apparently one day she went. Into the battlefield to rescue Antonio ma

[00:14:44] Fryda: mat wrote that her feet were bleeding as she helped to carry her son. And while she was doing that, she was helping to encourage others to not be anguished, to continue fighting.

So really multitasking at a difficult time, honestly, you know, you know, but that's what mothers

[00:15:04] Carmen: do. There was actually a statue of Mariana erected in LA. And I can describe it to you. It's it's basically her holding up a soldier. Who's limping. Like you can tell he's dying. He's on his very last legs and you can tell she's encouraging him to keep going.

She's got one finger pointed firmly towards the future, and she's got her head bent down almost as if she's kissing his forehead or whispering to him. And this is how the Cuban people have chosen to commemorate. And imortalize Mariana. Guil. This is her brand. This is who she.

[00:15:37] Fryda: I love how you said pointed towards the future.

She's simultaneously pointing them towards what would be the future of Cuba and also pointing them towards the battlefield at the same time. And so it's like this bittersweet notion, um, because this soldier in this monument looks really exhausted, like yeah, ready to give up, but then

[00:15:55] Carmen: imagine that's actually her own son Frida.

The thing that blows my mind about this is. The idea that you could make 13 humans and raise them and then so fearlessly give them up. And I think in some ways, It's like this don't fuck with me attitude that then actually permeates so strongly throughout Cuban motherhood. I'm not saying Maria started it, but I'm saying Maria started

[00:16:23] Fryda: it.

Mariana Graz being called to the mother of Cuba. It says a lot about what we think about motherhood. So what does it mean? That being a good mother means to be full of loss and sacrifice to even lose the very children that make you a mother. I feel like it does not feel weird for that to be a Cuban idea of motherhood.

[00:16:45] Carmen: Oh no. A hundred percent. It's not.

[00:16:46] Fryda: So even modern day, Cuba was built on this idea that the government and the communist revolution owns your children and that you as, as parents or caregivers don't own your children. This woman was a complex character. She was a being, she had a lot. That is very unique about her, but because she was given this label, like almost this sainthood after death, she also embodies a lot of ideas.

So it's so interesting to think about her, both as a person and as an

[00:17:23] Carmen: idea, she also did a lot to help. People that were once enslaved by helping them gain work or set up businesses. That way they'd be able to sustain themselves in a society that wasn't really ready to incorporate them. And later in her years, she was actually exiled to Jamaica and she continued to help free people and organized.

Them in Jamaica as well. She died in 1983, ironically, the same year that blacks and Cuba were given ID cards and legal rights and were recognized as citizens.

[00:17:57] Fryda: If she were a man and she was a parent, she would've not been called the mother of Cuba. I, I believe that if she was. A man in her similar capacities, she would've been known as like a famous, mambiza, a famous resistor, even though we literally have centered this whole episode on.

Her as the mother of Cuba, I think it's important to note that she didn't call herself the mother of Cuba in 1957, she was named the mother. And so I think that there's a notable difference in the way that she might have wanted to see herself in terms of resistance, in terms of independence and liberation, versus how we, as a society end up seeing her, which.

in her role as a mother. I

[00:18:49] Carmen: think this is also a really good time to say that we actually don't really have many documents that are primary documents of Mariana's life. Everything that we know about Maria ahas is through the eyes and the diaries of people around her. Like. The Bacardi people, the Bacardi women kept diaries.

And so did her son, Antonio EO kept extensive diaries. He's kind of known for that. I really enjoy looking at figures in Cuban history and thinking about our perspective exactly. Coming from the Cuba that you know, outside of the Cuban diaspora, having grown up in Miami. So I feel like I. Number one, I feel like I'm discovering them for the first time now.

and I'm, I I'm able to see, you know, all of these larger arching themes that span across both time and society. And it, it kind of blows my mind. Like it never occurred to me that the. The hand manual on the DNA of motherhood in Cuban society was actually ordained by a woman named Maria who is not even talked

[00:19:55] Fryda: about another amazing part about discovering or reconnecting with Cuban historical figures is that you could always imagine that they had a little bit of a dirty mouth, right?

Like, come on. They're Cuban. If this woman Mariana was a mother, she definitely told her kids at some point. That far won't break your underwear. It just won't. Yeah.

[00:20:17] Carmen: I can just imagine her, like one of her little kids throwing a fit or something over something totally minuscule and her being like, can you please get over it?

This is not like a big deal.

[00:20:27] Fryda: that's what it means. This is a fart that will make it through the little holes in your custom se it won't make your custom seals explode. It's not gonna blow a

[00:20:34] Carmen: hole in your underwear, homeboy. Get it together.

[00:20:37] Fryda: We got a award fight. Get it together. We've got a award, a fight.

[00:20:42] Carmen: oh my God.

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