Grajales Cuello, Mariana
Grajales Cuello, Mariana
June 12, 1815
November 27, 1893
Mariana Grajales Cuello is a legendary figure in Cuba. She was born a free woman of color in 1815 in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, the daughter of émigrés from Santo Domingo, and she died in 1893 in exile in Kingston, Jamaica. She is best known as the "glorious mother of the Maceos," the most famous of whom was her son, General Antonio Maceo (1845–1896), and much of what is known about her is filtered through him. She herself left no written documents, and, in contrast to the voluminous accounts of her son, comparatively little has been written about her. She was, however, an extraordinary woman in her own right.
While free women of color were often stereotypically portrayed in slave times as a buffer group, as moral matriarchal stalwarts of upwardly mobile families, or as sensual and licentious, Grajales refused to compromise herself or her family. She gave up an established position with three small farms and a Santiago de Cuba townhouse not for economic reasons but to fight against slavery and Spanish colonialism and to pursue a vision of a politically and racially free Cuba.
Free people of color were numerically strong in nineteenth-century eastern Cuba, and they were the only racial grouping in which women outnumbered men, as the Hispanic white settler and African slave populations were more predominantly male. In the more racially fluid society of Santiago de Cuba, Grajales's formative years were spent among free people of color of some property. They saw a relative erosion of their position, however, with the rapid expansion of sugar and slavery and a growing "fear of the black" on the part of the white planter class.
In these turbulent times, Grajales brought up thirteen children, four by her first husband Fructuoso Regueiferos, who died in 1840, and nine by Marcos Maceo (1808–1869), with whom she lived beginning in 1843 and whom she married after the death of his first wife. She and her family were catapulted to the heart of Cuba's late nineteenth-century struggles. It took thirty years of intermittent war (1868–1878, 1879–1880, and 1895–1898) to break the slave regime (emancipation became inevitable in 1886) and achieve independence from Spain (in 1898, though this ushered in the first U.S. military occupation of 1898 to 1902). War broke out in the less wealthy, more creole and free-colored eastern part of the country and culminated in an invasion of the western section, led by Maceo. While dogged by racial fears, the struggle brought together the races, and for many the old regime was as much a social (i.e., racial) as political anathema.
Memoirs and campaign diaries of the first war of Cuban independence (1868–1878) testify to how Grajales (with her daughters Baldomera and Dominga) and Maceo's wife María Cabrales, with whom Grajales maintained a close relationship, ran base camps, tending the wounded and seeing to the provision of food and clothing. When Marcos Maceo died in battle in 1869 and Antonio Maceo was wounded, Grajales sent a younger son off to fight. In 1878, after heading the Baraguá Protest against capitulation to Spain under the Zanjón Truce, Antonio Maceo agreed to leave Cuba with his family only when he had been entrusted by the revolutionary government to muster support for the cause among Cuban communities abroad. The family was given a Spanish amnesty and escort to sail from Santiago to Kingston, Jamaica. From 1878 until his return to Cuba to fight (and die) in the 1895–1898 war, Antonio Maceo was in and out of Jamaica, but Grajales was to remain there, part of a Cuban émigré community organizing for the renewed independence effort. When she died there in 1893, she was buried in St. Andrews Roman Catholic Cemetery. Thirty years later, in 1923, her remains were ceremonially exhumed and returned to Cuba, where they were laid to rest, alongside others of her family, in Santiago's Santa Efigenia Cemetery.
One of several statues to her memory in Cuba was erected in 1937 in the capital city of Havana. It depicts her with her small son, her arm pointing into the distance, and bears the inscription: "To Mariana Grajales, Mother of the Maceos. The people of Cuba." In 1957 she was declared the "official mother of Cuba," though she was portrayed as a Catholic, Marianist mother, and thus was whitened in the process. After the 1959 revolution, she was revered as the defiant and heroic, revolutionary mother-leader, whose loyalty was to causes beyond her own image and those of husband, father, or son. Due recognition was also accorded to her color. For many Afro-Cubans, Grajales symbolizes the spirit power of women of color to lead and commune with the orishas (spirits) to redress imbalance through ritual and action. To exhort others to kill and to die for a cause is seen as being within the power and right of a strong nurturer-warrior woman, and such a figure can resonate through history to take on mythical proportions.
La Mujer Cubana en los Cien Años de Lucha, 1868–1968. Havana, Cuba: Instituto del Libro, 1969.
Portuondo, Olga. "El padre de Antonio Maceo: ¿Venezolano?" Del Caribe 19 (1992).
Sarabia, Nydia. Historia de una Familia Mambisa: Mariana Grajales. Havana, Cuba: Editorial Orbe, 1975.
Stubbs, Jean. "Social and Political Motherhood of Cuba: Mariana Grajales Cuello." In Engendering History: Caribbean Women in Historical Perspective, edited by Verene Shepherd, Bridget Brereton, and Barbara Bailey. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
Stubbs, Jean. "Race, Gender, and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: Mariana Grajales Cuello and the Revolutionary Free Browns of Cuba." In Blacks, Coloureds, and the Formation of National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Latin America, edited by Nancy Naro. London: ILAS/Palgrave, 2003.
jean stubbs (2005)