|The Sánchez family moved to Pilón circa 1940. The original home, which included a medical clinic, was destroyed by Hurricane Dennis in 2005 but a replica was built and is now a charming museum.|
A true flower of Cuba's revolution first took root in Media Luna, a town so named because the river curving through it emulates a half moon. Media Luna is located in the province now called Granma, named for the ship that brought Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and 80 others from Mexico to Cuba in 1956. At the time of this revolutionary flower's birth, however, that eastern region of the island was still known as Oriente.
|Celia's birthplace in Media Luna is a now a museum.|
Celia's knowledge of the local people and the Sierra Maestra mountains proved extremely advantageous when she joined the resistance movement that was developing in the early 1950s. Her exploits and accomplishments before, during and after Cuba's revolution are well documented in books such as One Day in December: Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution by Nancy Stout, Celia Sánchez: The Legend of Cuba's Revolutionary Heart by Richard Haney and Celia Sánchez Manduley: The Life and Legacy of a Cuban Revolutionary by Dr. Tiffany A. (Thomas-Woodard) Sippial. An abundance of information about her can also be found through Internet searches.
|Another view of the Sánchez home/museum in Pilón.|
One of my favorite anecdotes about Celia is that she liked to collect jeeps and tanks – but it wasn't a private hobby! While fighting with the guerillas in the Sierra Maestras, she used her knowledge of the terrain to aid in luring Fulgencio Batista's forces toward swampy areas where the heavy vehicles would become mired, thus allowing the rebels to successfully conquer their opponents. To this day, I would imagine, much of that tank collection remains submerged in the swamps below La Comandancia de la Plata, the secret mountain headquarters of the rebel army.
|Celia in uniform (Pilón museum).|
Another story about Celia that never fails to affect me, whether I read or recount it, illuminates what motivated her to become a rebel fighter: her profound compassion for the people of Cuba, especially the children. One incident in particular incited her to step away from her privileged position in society and join the underground movement that sought to oust Bastista, the corrupt dictator who was backed by both the U.S. government and American Mafia.
By 1953, this brutal regime was firmly ensconced in Havana and they could do whatever they wanted. In catering to the needs of Mafia clients flocking to the city's numerous casinos and hotels, Batista's henchmen often kidnapped young women and girls to be used as disposable sex toys. A 10-year-old child named Maria Ochoa, whom Celia had known since helping at her difficult birth, became one of their victims. When Celia learned that her dear Maria had been cruelly raped to death and her little body left like garbage in the basement of a Havana hotel, she was so incensed that she made the decision to change her life. And, in doing so, she helped change the course of Cuba's history.
|Media Luna's Celia memorial fountain.|
When Fidel was freed from prison in 1955, he immediately fled to Mexico. He returned in December 1956 but did not actually meet Celia until 1957, even though she had played a significant role in preparing for the Granma's landing. If that arrival had gone as planned, she would have had jeeps waiting for him. When they did finally get together, they were effectively inseparable for the remainder of her life. If she was not beside him, she was usually nearby.
|Pilón memorial in a small park.|
|"The most beautiful flower."|
|The western entrance to Pilón has a row of memorial signs, beginning with Celia.|
Here are more photos from Media Luna, Pilón and Manzanillo de Cuba, where there's an interesting memorial to Celia Sánchez positioned on a staircase, rather than a park.
~ Media Luna ~
~ Pilón ~
~ Manzanillo ~
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