Friday April 18th, 2014

One Day in December reviewed on Human Needs Before Profit

"I love this book. Biographer Nancy Stout is to be congratulated for her insightful, mature and sometimes droll exploration of a profoundly liberated, adventuresome and driven personality."
—Alice Walker

One Day in December – A review

One Day in December – Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution
By Nancy Stout, 2013
Monthly Review Press

For many years, I’ve been inspired to read about the lives of revolutionaries. These are people who had been raised in a more or less typical environment, and transformed themselves into leaders of political movements. These political movements didn’t merely attempt to reform one or another aspect of society. No, these leaders attempted to form a new kind of government that would have completely different priorities. The list of some of these leaders would include, Spartacus, Thomas Paine, Tecumseh, Frederick Douglass, Jose Martí, Ida Wells, Mother Jones, Vladimir Illyich Lenin, Eugene Debs, Malcolm X, Ernesto Che Guevara, and Nelson Mandela.

Looking at this list we see that most of these leaders were men. Nancy Stout spent ten years researching her biography of Celia Sánchez. Reading Stout’s book, we can see why the name Celia Sánchez clearly needs to be added to this list. In this biography we see a woman who overcomes unbelievable odds to put in place a government that transformed the lives of the Cuban people.

Celia Sánchez’ early life

Celia Sánchez was one of eight children. Her mother died when Celia was a child. Celia’s father, Manuel Sánchez was a medical doctor who was born into a prominent Cuban family. Manuel Sanchez decided that he didn’t want to pursue a lucrative medical career in Havana.

Instead, he set up a practice in a small town called Pilón, on the southeastern part of Cuba in the province of Oriente. Pilón also happened to be in close proximity to the Sierra Maestra mountain range. The Sánchez home was located next to the sugar mill that dominated the life of the town. While this home was the most prominent in the community, it only had access to electricity for a few hours per day.

Manuel Sánchez’ decided that he would not charge his patients who could not afford his services. Many of those patients never had access to medical care and could barely afford to survive.

Celia Sánchez decided not to pursue a formal education. Instead she pursued a different kind of education as a medical assistant to her father. She talked to all of her father’s patients and assisted in their treatment. At times, Celia and her father would make house calls where they visited their patients on horseback.

Manuel Sánchez also taught his daughter about the long and revolutionary history of Cuba. He introduced her to the rugged forest of the Sierra Maestre and taught her to appreciate its beauty. He also took her deep-sea fishing, and this became one of Celia’s passions. After a day of fishing, Celia and her friends would eat their catch of the day on the beach and under the stars.

Celia also liked to wear makeup with bright red lipstick. She read the fashion magazines and oftentimes visited Miami where she purchased goods for her side business. Even after the revolution, when she usually wore military fatigues, she also liked to wear high-heel shoes.

Celia also became intimately aware of the grinding poverty that surrounded her. Many, if not most people were illiterate. Workers who did the backbreaking work of cutting sugar cane only had an income for about three months per year.

The rural guards operated as a despotic and tyrannical dictatorship. They took whatever they wanted from the campesinos who lived in the area. The rape of women by the rural guards was a common occurrence. Those who resisted the will of the rural guards routinely faced torture and or death.

Celia and her father supported two political leaders who attempted to put in place a rational government in Cuba. Both these efforts failed.

Then, a new organization was formed called the July 26 movement. Celia joined and had a new hope of transforming Cuba…

Read the entire review on the Human Needs Before Profit blog