In a summer 2018 interview conducted for this special issue of RHR, the US-born lesbian feminist artist, activist, and scholar Margaret Randall reflects on the Cuban Revolution’s achievements and shortcomings in the arena of women’s and sexuality rights. What have women and sexual minorities contributed to Cuba’s experiment in radical equality, and what remains to be done? How has feminism—in all its variety—shaped the aspirations of Cuban men and women, and what have US feminists learned from their efforts? What makes gender justice happen, and who or what constitutes barriers to change?
Among those who have gathered, translated, and disseminated the stories of Cuban women, Margaret Randall holds pride of place: the US-born lesbian feminist artist, activist, and scholar published some of the very first interviews with Cuban women in the 1970s, discussed women’s issues with Latin American revolutionaries in the 1980s, and has since produced a raft of creative and scholarly work about Cuba, with a particular focus on women and gender relations. As a corpus, these works trace a vital history of women’s activism within Latin American revolutionary movements, in which Randall actively participated for over three decades. Born in New York, she grew up in New Mexico and at the age of twenty-four moved to Mexico City, where she founded and for eight years coedited the iconic bilingual literary magazine El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn. In 1969, forced into hiding as a result of her participation in the Mexican student movement, she moved to Cuba with her four children, where she lived for almost eleven years, working as an editor and writer at the Cuban Book Institute and as a freelance journalist and writer. During this time, Randall also attended important meetings of the international women’s movement, including those sponsored by the Popular Unity government in Chile (1972) and by United Nations International Women’s Year in Venezuela (1975). By 1980 she had moved on to Nicaragua, where she served as publicist for the Ministry of Culture and helped shape a new journalism in the fledgling Sandinista government. Randall then moved home to New Mexico in 1984, which has served as her home base for teaching in women’s studies and English and continuing to produce new creative and scholarly works at an impressive clip for over three decades. Randall’s manuscripts and photographs are now held at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Southwest Research.1
Out of Randall’s Latin American travels arose an uncompromising socialist activism, which allowed her both to influence revolutionary policies (particularly toward women) and to transmit those views to a wider audience. As a participant-observer in these movements, Randall was uniquely positioned to assess the progress and limitations of socialist revolution from a feminist perspective, even as her own notions of revolution and feminism changed over time. Resident in Cuba between 1969 and 1980, and a constant artistic and scholarly collaborator with Latin American revolutionary leaders thereafter, Randall has remained an important observer of the Cuban Revolution, bringing an insider’s view to the origins, impact, and limitations of the “revolution within the revolution” announced by Castro in 1966. By the time she moved to Nicaragua in 1980, Randall’s expertise on the subject of women and revolution allowed her to provide informal advising to Sandinista colleagues and women’s organizations during a critical period in the development of Sandinista policies on women, gender, and sexuality.
Randall’s work has been instrumental in the politics of North-South transmission, which is manifest in her work on tasks of oral history and translation of Latin American voices for a North American public. The longest trajectory within Randall’s scholarly work began with oral history: in Cuban Women Now, the English-language edition of a 1972 Cuban publication, Randall told the stories of women in the Cuban Revolution and allowed readers to glimpse the nuance and complexity of that government’s commitment to gender equality.2 Randall continued to develop her feminist perspective on gender and revolution in later works,3 taking readers inside women’s experience of revolution through her series of English-language publications on Nicaragua, which provided urgent testimony for solidarity movements as well as Latin American and women’s studies programs in the United States.4 The fact that many of Randall’s books have also been published in Spanish also means that her works have also been widely appreciated among Latin American readers, and her most recent monographs have opened new windows onto Cuban histories of gender, art, and internationalism.5
As I sat with Randall in the heat of Albuquerque’s summer of 2018, the task of understanding women’s role in revolution, particularly through the lens of Cuba’s long struggle, seemed ever more urgent. In oral and written exchanges, we discussed a variety of questions: What have women and sexual minorities contributed to Cuba’s experiment in radical equality, and what remains to be done? How has feminism—in all its variety—shaped the aspirations of Cuban men and women, and what have US feminists learned from their efforts? What makes gender justice happen, and who or what constitutes barriers to change? As always, the Cuban people show us some of the ways that these changes can come about.
Elizabeth Quay Hutchison: As I prepared for our conversation, I was again struck by the remarkable nature of your journey through Cold War Latin America. As you have recounted elsewhere, these moves were driven by a mixture of curiosity, repression, and family, as well as your evolving political and professional commitments. How did your experience as a young translator, artist, and ethnographer in Cuba shape your later experiences in Sandinista Nicaragua?
Margaret Randall: I’ve often been asked how I happened to live and work in such interesting places, and I’ve usually responded that I was lucky enough to have “found myself in the right place at the right time”: in New York City as the abstract expressionist movement came to prominence, in Mexico during a particularly vibrant period brought to its dramatic end by government repression against the student movement of 1968, in Cuba during the revolution’s exciting second decade, in North Vietnam six months before the end of the war, and in Nicaragua immediately following the Sandinista victory of 1979. But I didn’t just “find myself” in any of these places at those times. Some of my moves were driven by repression or family considerations, but I actively sought out places where important changes were taking place, and—as much as possible—threw my lot in with the people making those changes. I wanted to experience social change, to understand and be part of it. As a poet, I quite naturally became a translator. As a woman discovering the power of feminism, I wanted to know about women’s lives in these places. And so I asked. I developed projects that would allow me to speak with women, listen to their stories. I became an ethnographer through my own on-the-ground experience.
I made mistakes, but I also learned and grew. So, my experiences in one place very naturally led to working better in the next. And, of course I wasn’t working in a vacuum; I was interested in what others in the field were doing, and had ongoing conversations about ethical implications and methods. The twenty years separating the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions were also important: the decades when what we now call the second wave of feminism swept the Western world and liberation theology became an important force within the Catholic Church. Both movements freed Nicaraguan women in ways that the Cuban Revolution had not. By the time I did the field work for Sandino’s Daughters, in 1979, and went to live in Nicaragua at the end of 1980, my thinking was quite a bit more advanced. After eleven years in Cuba I could see that a gender analysis was needed there, that without such an analysis, profound change was not likely to come to that country. Women in Nicaragua’s revolutionary leadership were considerably more advanced than their Cuban counterparts in terms of how they envisioned women’s roles. I was becoming a better feminist and better ethnographer, and I was also interviewing women who were more advanced in their thinking and social participation.
And I brought my own artistic vision to my work. I became a photographer by apprenticing to a Cuban photographer in 1978–79, and this also enabled me to develop a particular practice that I think made my oral history work deeper: I began photographing my informants as I interviewed them. People often wondered how I could make pictures and record interviews at the same time, but I never felt I was neglecting one for the other. Later, I would develop and print those images—gestures, expressions—as I was transcribing the words. One practice fed the other. My later oral history books, those with Nicaraguan women and others, benefited from this merging of two skills. The faces emerging from the developer fluid in my darkroom influenced how I edited our conversations, and vice versa. In all sorts of ways, from simple professional growth through the march of history and because of my own artistic practices, I simply became better at what I was doing.
In your memoir, To Change the World, you talk about the ambivalence you felt about continuing discrimination against women when you lived in Cuba in the 1970s. How did you handle this, especially when—as you write in that memoir—“feminism redirected me”? How did this awareness shape your political work at the time?
I went to live in Cuba in the late summer of 1969, fresh out of several months in hiding as a result of paramilitary repression because of my involvement in the Mexican student movement of the year before. Fearing for their safety, I had been forced to send my four children on ahead. I was seriously ill—I had to have a kidney removed shortly after my arrival—so I was both physically and emotionally vulnerable. This, along with the fact that my incipient feminism wasn’t yet solidly grounded historically and culturally, made me expect too much from a revolution just ending its first decade and seriously threatened by the United States. My discovery of feminism had redirected me, professionally as well as in my personal life. So, when I encountered contradictions between the revolution’s stated aims and residual attitudes, it surprised, sometimes even shocked me. But I believed in the revolution and thought that, once consolidated, these other issues would be addressed. We are talking about half a century ago, and I should also say that back then I too considered the class contradiction to be the more important.
I remember a scene in a toy store where I was helping each of my three older children pick out their one big and two smaller toys before International Children’s Day in January of 1970. My daughter Ximena, then five, wanted a cowboy outfit, and became irate when she saw that the girl’s version didn’t include the gun or lasso included in the boy’s. Ximena sat down on the floor of that store and threatened to throw a tantrum. I gave a “feminist speech” trying to convince the saleswoman to alter the toy’s contents. She finally consented, probably more out of an effort to appease the foreigner than because my argument had convinced her. I had to learn the hard way that Cubans had other priorities in those days: consolidating the revolution, defense, jobs, food, and housing. Women saw issues such as equal pay for equal work and childcare as the main achievements that would bring them equality. I was considered irrationally feminist by many. I remember writing an article addressing women’s double shift; I suggested housecleaning brigades that might lighten their task. Cubans were indignant at the thought of outsiders invading the privacy of their homes!
I’ve written in several places about being asked, in 1970, to help judge Cuba’s annual Carnival Queen contest. The person who asked me was Haydée Santamaría, revolutionary heroine, president of the country’s preeminent arts institution, and someone I deeply admired. I was horrified but didn’t feel I could say no. I judged the contest but wrote an article about how beauty contests have no place in a revolutionary society, and my article appeared the next day on the front page of the most important newspaper. Several years later I was able to ask Haydée why she had asked me, someone she knew was a feminist, to participate on that jury. She replied that she chose me precisely because she knew it would make me uncomfortable, and that I would find a way to help rid the country of the sexist tradition. It was only then that I realized those contests had ceased to exist.
I think it was a few years later that the government issued a list of jobs considered inappropriate for women because they would presumably harm our reproductive systems. It was quite a long list. I struggled with that one and spoke out against it. My opinion was considered “too feminist.” They did shorten the list, but I don’t believe it was ever eliminated. Despite decades in which women have fought alongside men on internationalist missions and done a great deal of heavy lifting at home, the revolution has maintained an analysis of the woman’s role that is very much rooted in biological determinism.
In the early 1970s, you published the edited collection of feminist writings in Spanish translation and your first collection of interviews with Cuban women. What motivated you to focus your attention on questions of women and gender, and how did your colleagues and friends respond to what you wrote about women in revolutionary Cuba?
Las mujeres came out in Mexico in 1970 and the Cuban edition of Cuban Women Now was published in 1972, although its English edition didn’t appear until 1974. I worked on the first book while I still lived in Mexico. I had begun reading texts from the women’s liberation movement surging in the United States at the end of the 1960s, and my world changed. Perhaps because I lacked the disciplinary direction university studies might have provided, my personal and professional lives tended to move as one: when I became passionate about a subject, that subject claimed my professional attention as well as influencing how I was living my life. It was personally illuminating to realize that the problems in my relationships with men hadn’t necessarily been “my fault” but had social roots. At the same time, I wanted to know how other women dealt with misogyny and sexism, and it seemed logical to me to ask them. Being in Cuba also made me curious as to whether or not a socialist revolution really brought equality for women. So shortly after my arrival, I decided to interview women about their lives. I had no training in ethnography, simply charged ahead with the passion and discipline that has always characterized my work. That was the project that became Cuban Women Now, the first of more than a dozen books of oral history, most with women.
It’s important to remember that because I left the US in 1961, I hadn’t really been part of the women’s movement in my country of origin. I was an outsider in some ways, an insider in others; perhaps this is what allowed me to become a bridge. My colleagues and friends at the time weren’t necessarily feminists; most were artists or others involved in trying to bring about social change, revolutionaries and leftists of various stripes. So, I think most responded gratefully to my transmitting the stories of Cuban women. There was very little available in the United States back then about what was really happening on that island so close to our shores but so distant ideologically. It wasn’t until a bit later that some of the important feminist theoreticians—Maxine Molyneux, Isabel Larguía, etc.—began to question the ways in which a gender analysis was largely absent from Cuban revolutionary discourse.
Cuban film, poetry, and other artistic production has offered other ways for us to understand how gender and sexuality changed after the revolution. Based on your long experience with Cuban and other revolutions, do you believe that there are some things that even a radical social revolution cannot change?
My idea of what constitutes a radical social revolution has changed. My own experiences—in Mexico, Cuba, Vietnam, Peru, and Nicaragua—and my connections to other revolutionary projects throughout the 1970s and 1980s have taught me that unless a revolution considers and changes a society’s power dynamics, long-term change is impossible. Profound and lasting change can’t be made by a political party acting on behalf of the population. And unless all social sectors feel truly represented, it isn’t likely they will defend the revolution in hard times. Forms must be developed so that all sectors can orchestrate the changes they need. The Leninist model failed, although I don’t yet see a successful alternative (the Zapatistas in southern Mexico notwithstanding). Power itself—who wields it, how it is wielded, and to what ends—is key. And feminist theory gives us the best tools I know of to analyze power. This is why I have stopped thinking of feminism simply as necessary for women. It is necessary to changing society overall. Nowhere is that more obvious than right here in the United States today.
As for Cuban film, poetry, and other artistic production, these are all very powerful, both as reflections of the status quo and as agents for change within the Cuban Revolution. Cuban theater groups have a long history of showcasing social problems; Teatro Escambray and other groups are brilliant examples. Cuban cartoonists have been incisive in their social critique. The New Song Movement (Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Sara González, and others) pinpointed important social issues in their lyrics, and successive generations of singer-songwriters have continued the tradition—including today’s exponents of rap and hip hop. Some of these are all-women groups and specifically target sexist attitudes. Poetry and other literary manifestations provide the arena in which social issues are exposed, a task that in other countries might be taken on by the press (which is notoriously one-sided on the island). Poets were those who first came out publicly against the repressive period known as El quinquenio gris, demanding public forums and open discussion to safeguard against such repression repeating itself in the future. As a scholar of Cuban culture and recent translator of a great deal of Cuban poetry, I have examined the immense role that art has in shaping the Cuban consciousness; it continues to surprise and impress. And, unlike the elitism that surrounds art and culture in many countries, in Cuba these are national pastimes. The 1961 literacy campaign gave almost all Cubans access to literature. The cost of books is subsidized and so they are extremely easy for people to buy. Entrance to most cultural events is free. It’s also true that Cubans freely and loudly express diverse opinions about anything and everything. Even with Cuba’s considerable restrictions on the internet, people there have found ingenious ways to share access to social media.
In your 2009 memoir, you reflect on your early defense of the revolution from the critical gaze of certain European and North American feminists, writing that you had become “blindly defensive of poor little David” (104). How do you now see revolutionary leaders and institutions, gender and family policy, and the treatment of women and sexual minorities?
My thought process in this respect has followed a broad arc, mostly related to personal experience. I had never lived in a socialist country before Cuba. I was awed by a society that seemed to be working for real equality, that was spending its resources on health and education. I was also influenced by the great social benefits my family and I enjoyed. The Cuban Revolution had rescued my four children from a situation that could easily have claimed their lives. And it cared for them with generosity and sensitivity until I could get to the island. Thousands of children whose parents were involved in revolutionary struggle at the time were in Cuba in similar circumstances. And there was more: free healthcare, including preventative care; living quarters assigned to us by the number of people in our family, not by how much rent we could afford; free daycare for my youngest and free education for my older children; and a job in line with my skills and interests. And there were less tangible things: the extraordinary feeling one gets from participating in a society intent on creating equality—however imperfect that equality may seem in retrospect, or whatever social groups may have been devalued at the time. It would be difficult to overemphasize the differences I experienced in comparison with my years in the US or Mexico. A single example is illustrative. In Mexico my daughter Ximena needed an ear operation to save her life. It was prohibitive, and when the repression hit we were still saving for it. In Cuba, soon after our arrival, she received that operation without cost.
Having said all this, my years in Cuba and since have taught me that profound social change is only wrought by changing the power dynamics. When a small group of (mostly) men govern a country, they are unlikely to admit the need to look at how power is being exercised. The Latin American revolutionary experiences of the past century were all led by powerful men who, to varying degrees, became authoritarian figures who held on to power far too long. In Cuba there were a number of women in the inner circle, some of them exceptional. Haydée Santamaría was an innate feminist long before that word was used. Yet a male-dominated political party held unquestioned power. My generation does have examples of great male leaders, such as Ho Chi Minh and Nelson Mandela, whose modesty and disinterest in personal power helped them avoid the patriarchal stance. They have been the exception to the rule.
The FMC [Federación de Mujeres Cubanas/Federation of Cuban Women] was a huge mass organization, at one point representing 80 percent of all Cuban girls and women over the age of fourteen. Its stated goal was to mobilize women in support of the revolution and to bring women’s needs to the attention of the revolutionary leadership. It was always more successful at the former than the latter. Thus, gender issues and also race were present in the discourse; but when power was threatened, the unity required to confront US aggression was used as an excuse for postponing real change.
Recognition of the rights of sexual minorities wasn’t on the official radar when I lived in Cuba. On the contrary, moments of extreme denigration and repression came and went. Early on there were the infamous UMAP [Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción/Military Units to Aid Production] camps, where homosexuals and others deemed “different” were sent for “reeducation.” The “New Man” was still a macho man, and a warped idea of masculinity ruled. Then there was the 1971 Education and Culture Conference, at which homosexuals were judged unfit to be teachers. The quinquenio gris in general targeted gay men and lesbians. During my last years in Cuba I argued against these attitudes and policies. Since then, however, respect for the LGBTQ community has improved considerably. Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), founded in 1989 and headed by Mariela Castro, Raúl Castro’s daughter, has centralized efforts to organize and educate around sexual difference. At the moment, Cuba’s National Assembly is considering a major overhaul of the country’s constitution, and CENESEX and others are pushing hard for marriage equality.6 It is much more comfortable to be openly gay in Cuba today than when I lived there. I see positive changes each time I visit. There is also still a long way to go.
At the same time, I think it’s important to point out that Cuba is traveling its own journey to full equality for LGBTQ people, and that journey is different from the one we are traveling in the US. There are ways in which the country lags behind and others in which it has outpaced us. One example of this different journey can be seen in Cuba’s response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, which Cuba dealt with as a health crisis. Cuba established a community outside Havana where those who were HIV positive were required to live for a time, with their families if they chose, until they learned how to handle the disease. Outsiders protested, but when a group of gay visitors from San Francisco was taken to the community they found the inhabitants wanted to live there. In another example, sex reassignment surgery is carried out free of cost under the country’s universal healthcare program. And marriage equality, while important, doesn’t carry the same weight as it does here, because in Cuba the taxation, inheritance, adoption, and other laws affecting people’s lives are more egalitarian.
I believe that until power is understood as a political category, and exercised differently, long-term social change is impossible. This means every social group must be seen, listened to, taken into account: Women. Those of all races and ethnicities. Every sexual identity. The differently abled. Young people and children. People of different ideologies. Believers and nonbelievers. Pacifists and others who understand that wars only provoke more wars. Cuba is making progress toward this goal. As for criticizing that which one believes is wrong, it is always important to speak truth to power, respectfully and taking into consideration that one is speaking as an outsider. But I honestly do not think any big leaps will be made until the generation that won the war dies off and younger generations have some years of leadership experience. Today Cuba is rapidly opening to the world. Despite Trump’s reversal of Obama’s initiatives, massive tourism and travel promote a broad range of ideas about governance and civic responsibility as well as bringing positive and negative influences to the country. Cubans living in the diaspora and Cubans living on the island relate to one another and the influences run in both directions. Pundits outside Cuba like to talk about how these influences are affecting Cuban society, and of course they are. But they often forget that Cubans, after sixty years of revolution, have also changed; and that they possess expectations and attitudes central to the way they see themselves and society.
What is it about the revolutionary project—especially the Latin American experiments so deeply shaped by the Cuban example—that has facilitated or obstructed projects for gender equality and sexuality rights? What discourses, spaces, and policies of the revolution did Cuban women, LGBTQ individuals, and Afro-Cubans use to challenge what they saw as the limits to their full participation in Cuban society?
I believe that the main thing about modern-day Latin American revolutionary projects—all of them inspired and deeply marked by the Cuban Revolution—that has obstructed projects for gender equality and sexuality rights has been a (mis)reading of Marx that assumes that working-class unity trumps all other considerations: women’s rights, the combating of racism and other social biases, and certainly the rights of the LGBTQ community. In the face of covert and overt attack by outside forces, unity is certainly important. But it has clearly been used as an excuse by those in power to prevent challenges to that power. What has facilitated projects for gender equality and sexuality rights in all these experiments is obvious: all have included efforts aimed at giving all sectors of society equal opportunities in education, work, healthcare, and so forth. Those important gains, especially in situations of ongoing vulnerability to invasion and military and economic coercion, made it easy to sidestep deeper discussion but also opened up diverse spaces for struggle. In Cuba I remember visiting a nightclub in one of the provinces; it was run by a gay man but open to gay and straight citizens alike. The idea was that if homosexuals and heterosexuals drank and danced together they would get to know one another and barriers would break down. The place was immensely successful in promoting understanding of and respect for gay life among the general population, and soon similar places opened in other cities. Some Latin American revolutionary organizations, such as the Chilean MIR [Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria/Revolutionary Left Movement], the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the early Sandinistas, and the Zapatistas in southern Mexico, went further than others in contemplating women’s rights. But these efforts either faded because a male leadership dominated or because the movement itself was defeated.
As for the spaces that Cuban women, Afro-Cubans, and the LGBTQ community are using to challenge the limits on their full social participation, they are many and innovative, ranging from public protest to artistic critique. For those who may not know about it, I want to mention MAGIN, a group of women communicators (journalists, filmmakers, librarians, and anyone whose job entailed communicating with the public). These women got together in the early 1990s, developed a gender analysis of Cuban society, and began holding workshops for women and men. Their work was powerful. I was taking groups of US women to Cuba at the time, and we always spent an evening at the home of one of the MAGIN women, where we took part in rich discussions of gender on the island. Although the MAGIN women tried to interest the FMC in their work, the latter organization couldn’t bear what it considered competition. It pressured the Cuban Communist Party to prevent MAGIN from continuing. Some of the women emigrated, but most remained in Cuba where they continue to exert their influence in other ways.
You have returned many times to Cuba since 1980, speaking about your creative and scholarly work, presenting works of translation, and leading delegations of US women and others, all the while collecting new stories about Cuban experiences, especially those of women. How, in your experience, has the revolution continued to shape attitudes and beliefs about women, gender, and sexuality in Cuba over the last three decades?
As you say, I have returned to Cuba often, especially in recent years. In 2018, I was there twice, and I went again in March 2019. I feel a deep connection to the country, its revolution, and to my many friends there. Over the past several years I have written a number of books about Cuba or a particular Cuban, including a large bilingual anthology of eight decades of Cuban poetry and an in-depth study of Cuban internationalism. So, I am also involved in ongoing research. I try to avoid presenting any “snapshot” I get of the country at a specific moment as either “the way things are” or “the way things are going.” It’s impossible not to observe directions, tendencies. But knowing Cuba as I do, I understand these can shift and change depending on multiple variables. I believe many on the Left as well as the Right, especially those who spend a few weeks or months in Cuba, judge what they see out of context and without sufficient knowledge of Cuban history, culture, and idiosyncrasy. They have frozen a moment in time, the moment they have experienced, and read too much into that moment.
Over the last three decades, progress in terms of women’s power-sharing as well as attitudes about gender and sexuality in Cuba have all been frustratingly slow. The revolution’s very real struggle to stay afloat—in the face of one economic crisis after another, the dissolution of the socialist bloc, continued hostility from the United States, and the double-edged “solution” which is tourism—has inevitably kept issues such as gender, race, and sexuality on the back burner. I don’t think the revolution itself has wanted to promote a conversation about these issues, because that would require a conversation about power. The generation that waged the war and made the revolution still holds power. And until that generation gives way to younger, more adventurous minds, profound change in these areas is going to be difficult. This change has begun, but just barely. The radically egalitarian ideals that brought equal education, equal pay for equal work, and childcare, the improvement in women’s lives enshrined in the work of the FMC, the Family Code of 1974, the honoring of heroines who continue to be held up as examples: all this is evident in Cuba. But new ideas about power are not yet on the agenda. Over the past decade, Cuba has also opened to a daily exchange of influences with the outside world, via foreign investment, vastly increased travel, and the internet. Current constitutional debates augur a few changes, but nothing really radical; from what I can see, they will mostly involve incorporating into the laws of the land changes that have already taken place in practice. Yet, having said all this, I am still optimistic. Revolution is not simply a set of decrees, more egalitarian access to education and jobs. Revolution is an idea, the idea that justice is desirable and possible. The legacy of the revolution lives in people in ways that are often difficult to access by the usual social science indicators. We are talking about a people who stood up to the greatest power on earth, a power that is only ninety miles from its shores, fought a war of liberation and won. And not only won but sustained itself—for better or for worse—for six decades. Cubans, and Cuban women in particular, have shown themselves to be extraordinarily brilliant, creative, and resilient. Every time I visit I am surprised.
Margaret Randall is a poet, essayist, oral historian, translator, photographer, and social activist. She lived in Latin America for twenty-three years (Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua). Randall received the 2017 Medalla al Mérito Literario from Literatura en el Bravo, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. A collection of her poems, Time’s Language: Selected Poems (1959–2018), was published in 2018. In 2019 she was awarded the “Poet of Two Hemispheres” prize in Quito, Ecuador, Cuba’s prestigious Haydée Santamaría medal, and an honorary doctorate in letters from the University of New Mexico. A memoir, I Never Left Home: Poet, Feminist, Revolutionary, is forthcoming in spring 2020.
Randall’s corpus also includes more than a hundred works of poetry, prose, photography, translation, and anthology. Major retrospectives include Hedeen and Rodríguez Núñez, Time’s Language; and Randall, Photographs by Margaret Randall. Details of Randall’s collections can be viewed in finding aids at rmoa.unm.edu/docviewer.php?docId=nmu1mss663bc.xml and rmoa.unm.edu/docviewer.php?docId=nmu1pict000-663.xml.
The new constitution, passed into law in April 2019 subsequent to this interview, did not include marriage equality.