Che Guevara. Should a Chicano Care?

DOES CHE GUEVARA DESERVE TO BE AN ICON for Xicanos, Xicanas, Latinas, Latinos? Only if we remember where the struggle lies and what it is about, at heart.

¡hasta la victoria siempre!CHE GUEVARA IS A HERO not only to many Cubanos, but to all people who understand and fight for autonomy from oppressive forces and human rights for all.

Why do I write of this now? Recently a question was posed as to if he deserved his place as a Chicano icon and legend; after all, went the argument, why should we revere this Argentinian who fought for Cuba’s independence? After all, it went on, he did nothing for México. He never once uttered the word “Chicano.”

But posing this division—that Cuban icons (or Argentinians) ought not be embraced by Mexicanos, or Mexican Americans—is not only ignorant of Che’s legacy, but at heart yet another symptom of the colonized mind. And I should make clear that my reply here—and any hints of ire you may pick up in putting down my thoughts—are not directed to the online friend who inspired this post. I think it was a good set of questions. And I’m glad I have the chance to answer it. Any intensity I employ here is aimed at the matrix of obfuscation and lies that demonize gente in our ancestral lands and attempt to keep us mental and physical captives of a corrupt system. If I wanted to play snarky, I’d simply reply that much-revered Chican@ (and Mexican@) icon Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe certainly never uttered the word “Chicano,” either. But I think the question deserves some thought, not a cheap semantics volley. Which is why I brought it here.

What is it that Latin America has in common? Why would México understand revolution? What unites the movements in Latin America—from México to Venezuela—so often? What oppression is it that has spread throughout all of Latin America and does to this day? What shadow covers one and all, despite their other struggles? It is the same shadow that has fallen on Haiti, on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on India, and on México. It is greed and white supremacy. It is non-concern for human rights. It is a loathing of the poor. It is a yearning to be of the elites at the expense of all else. It is the audacity of hypocrisy—such as President Obama’s criticizing China’s Hu Jintao on human rights while the USA maintains torture sites on foreign soil, the right to assassinate US citizens without due process, and drone attacks that slaughter countless innocents in illegal and undeclared wars abroad.

This shadow that unites Latin America specifically is cast by the imperialist exploitive forces of Europe and North America who time and time again install occupational forces throughout so much of the world, steal resources, undermine populist efforts, and then, propagandize the media with tales of Latin America’s deviance; their criminality; their weakness. Do we, as Chican@s, suffer here in the USA from the echoes of this propaganda? You better believe it.

This is why the politically involved Chicano understands Che’s fight. Che ought only be a Cuban icon? Perhaps. Many Cubanos do not embrace Che for where some of Fidel Castro’s choices, or for the same reasons as posed at the link above. Che was not Cuban, but an Argentinian whose family lived in Mexico while he fought in Cuba. He was a doctor in el D.F! But what took him away from his familia? Corazón did. Concern for imbalance and human suffering. Che Guevara was horrified by poverty and by peoples’ inability to be treated for sickness. He was not someone who wrote in a blog every day thinking that was somehow going to attain this goal. He was a man of action. Is that something a Chican@ ought to get behind? Yes, he was extreme, and willing to bring violence behind such goals. Only unlike powerful nations in that they bring violence to continue an unfair imbalance of wealth and hegemony in the name of fossil fuels. Just as Batista’s military brought violence on his own citizens, torturing adults and executing even children attempting to squeeze them for information on the rebel forces in Cuba. Che’s violence was meted out in the name of human rights. Much as the mythical character Robin Hood. But instead of wearing tights, he brought a rifle and machete. Che’s vision was for global revolution to attain justice. Not just for Cuba. After Cuba, he wanted to take his fight first to the rest of Latin America. Which is why he died in captivity in Bolivia, after all.

Why did so many campesinos in Cuba accept him, ultimately, and support the revolution? Why did he win the support of not only the poor but the middle classes eventually? Do not the divisions that cause this question about whether us Xican@s should celebrate his life and efforts exist, too, between all Latin Americans? They do. And as you know, there is no common and all enduring bond between “Latin@s” within the US. The USA holds a microcosm of those divisions. Cubanos, Mexicanos, Puerto Ricans, Chileans, Argentinians, Venezuelans, and so on—you don’t need me to tell you that we struggle within the hierarchies and divisions sown between our peoples by the government that rules this very nation. Despite our being lumped together as Hispanics, or Latin@s—or Spics. These divisions, even while we all live here, are a product of colonization themselves and too often, prove stronger than the bonds that ought unite us.

Why was Che able to bridge the differences in ideology and methods that created various rebel factions in Cuba when he brought Fidel’s war to Santa Clara, closer and closer to Havana, and united them under his command? Why did Che speak (in the UN, no less) about blacks and Latinos and other minorities in the US living in “invisible cages”? What did he mean, referencing a sleep that we would (and should) wake from? He was reminding us, in public, in the full glare of cameras and history, standing in the belly of the beast that these cages—oppressive containers created by corrupt systems we cannot see—determine so much of our fate. And they keep us fighting amongst each other. They pose divisions between peoples who ought to band together to fight the real oppression. He warned us not to buy into the “Self Made Man” myth.

The amount of poverty and suffering required for the emergence of a Rockefeller, and the amount of depravity that the accumulation of a fortune of such magnitude entails, are left out of the picture, and it is not always possible to make the people in general see this.”

- Che Guevara

Che’s philosophies and speeches and diaries reflect ideas much larger than an effort to oust Batista from Cuba. When he talked of love in the revolutionary’s heart; a love that enables her to fight for justice, her family, and her puebla, he talks of ideas that unite all people. (Or should.) When he speaks of the Imperialist US forces that divide and suck blood from Latin America, he speaks of ideas that affect not just Latin America, but you and me—we “Chicanos.” Us, the hybrid results of that colonization meeting the indigenous with a sprinkle of distance and comfortable living thrown in the mix.

Some of us, far too many of us, who are descended from Latin America (often with family there even now), fight to defend those very divisions and that exploitation, because we benefit from it or because we have been brainwashed by the ocean of propaganda that informs the mainstream of literature and film and television, all intended to continue the influence and inertia of anti-populist reign. Imperialist nations punish severely any of their intended subjects for remembering the truth, for having heart, or worse—throwing off the chains that bind. Haiti, Cuba, and México are all nations that pay this toll to various extents. It was the USA that sent weapons into Bolivia and trained their soldiers, aiding and abetting in the capture and murder of Che Guevara. Just as it is the USA today who sends weapons into México to aid the corrupt and installed Felipe Calderón as he slaughters the citizens of México. You see what the USA’s vision of human rights and health care is. It certainly isn’t to treat all and any whenever they suffer. It certainly isn’t to educate any and all, despite what nation they came from. Look to Arizona.

Where ought the Xican@ stand in this continuum?

Here the US government is occupying Guantánamo as we speak! The USA’s military forces reside on Cuban land and have constructed a torture and prison facility that the government stocks with individuals from Afghanistan in a perverse retaliation for an attack on Wall Street that was (ostensibly) perpetrated by Saudi Arabians. And all the while, we well-to-do, well-educated, well-fed offspring of both the oppressor and the oppressed who ought to be using all our power to help our disempowered brethren in Latin America are instead, arguing against a liberator and rebel worthy of lionizing, if any ever were.

Those who criticize youth for wearing Che's image would much rather you be too embarrassed to continue than actually inform yourself.

When Che was able to recruit so many peasants and townspeople to his cause, his ability and methods echo the dynamics that allowed the people in México to defeat the imperialist French at the Battle of Puebla, using ordinary objects. Rakes, sticks, stones, stampeding cattle. Like the mythologized early American patriots who attacked the Imperialist British scattershot and hiding out in the woods; like the Han warriors in China who defended against Cao Cao’s superior forces in the Battle of Chibi (Red Cliffs), Che fought off larger numbers and more powerful weapons, and eventually gave his life, for the Peoples’ right to be free from tyranny. How involved in la lucha today are you to believe that changing avatars on a social media application is resistance to government oppression?How revolutionary is it to sit in a well-cooled theater, chewing red licorice and cheering for the rebel alliance to defeat George Lucas’ imagined Empire, but then return to the bosom of the actual Empire and condemn true rebel forces?

Does Che deserve to be an icon for Xicanos, Xicanas, Latinas, Latinos? Only if we remember where the struggle lies and what it is about, at heart. Only if we believe that truth and autonomy and human rights are worth dying for. Only if we truly believe that those with the truth, and the welfare of the People, on their agenda are in the moral right, despite how many guns, tanks, or hypocritical speeches about Democracy and Justice are on the other side.


  • Share


21 Comments

  1. Good points. Let’s not forget that Mexico City is also where he first met the Castros. Mexico was formative at the very least.

    • nezua says:

      Yup. It sure was. Mexico not only brought his burgeoning politics to a head, it is the land that sheltered his family, and the launching pad that brought him to Cuba.

  2. SJR says:

    Great points. What caused me to examine that photograph to begin with was another article that you posted recently (written by a college prof)that detailed how ignorant this younger generation can be about history. He pointed to how many of them cannot differentiate between communism and nazim, socialism and so on. They have been taught that they are “bad” but have no idea why.

    So I wondered if the same thing translates to young Chicanos and the iconography/history we have established thus far. A young vato may look upon the wall and see El Che and he may say, “Orale!” – but does he know why?

    It’s not a question of if Che should be an icon – he already is – the question is: does this younger generation understand why he is? Or are they merely accepting what is already there and regurgitating it without understanding it?

    I ask this as so many things that were strictly Chicano are no longer such. Everyone wants to be like us without the actual trouble of darker pigment and Latin surnames.

    When Che’s iconography came about there was a movement behind it and that movement carried on for some time. These days that movement is long gone (or at least held to a dull roar) yet his image remains steadfast. I only question if the younger generations (the ones without the benefit of politically conscious parents) will seek out his truth now that his image is a marketing phenomenon. There’s not really an answer for that question but it is an interesting one, especially in light of history being made illegal in AZ.

    It reminds me of being at a Rage Against the Machine concert somewhere in the 90′s and looking around at the 99% White crowd who was singing along with every word. I laughed! I thought to myself: do any of you have any idea what they are singing about or are you merely (mindlessly) repeating the words? Do any of you realize that Zach is Xicano or where he comes from? Probably not…and I’m not saying that was wrong but it certainly made me laugh hysterically during the middle of a concert. I still do when some cat lauds RAtM and has no clue about the actual meaning on the songs. “Maria” is a rad song, dude…

    I spent half a lifetime studying Guevarra and I thought it would be silly to permanently ink his image on my flesh unless I really understood the man. He is certainly complex and there is hardly anyone more polarizing, yet as I grow older I realize that there has been a giant disconnect from his truth. Things tend to get diluted when they are over exposed and he is certainly that. You may see his image in full force at an SB1070 rally but you might not see people taking the time to seek out his story/history. It’s easier to just wear the shirt or admire the mural on the wall.

    In this hyper-real world, with information a mere click away, it seems as if everyone has begun to loosen their grip on history (look at all the ignorant people citing the “founding fathers”). Everyone seems content to create their own reality.

    It is exactly the kind of truth (and everything that you mentioned above) that makes the White supremacist want to keep generations to come from learning about Che etc, i.e. making ethnic studies illegal. I am just not confident that enough of them will go above and beyond to seek out that knowledge on their own.

    I realize I’m rambling here – anyway, great points.

    • nezua says:

      I agree with your core concern. I do think the youth just integrate the icon without knowing the Why of it. And I do think it’s an important concern. Writing a blog post might not feed the poor, but I do hope that it adds a little more education on Che out there, so maybe this page (and thus, your question that inspired me to write it) has helped in that way. Thanks again.

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by unapologeticmex, Nezua. Nezua said: Órale! New Post: Che Guevara. Should a Chicano Care?: CHE GUEVARA IS A HERO not only to many Cubanos, but to al… http://bit.ly/fcysRM [...]

  4. Waheed Warasta says:

    Great article!
    I am a poet and writer from Afghanistan and a great fan of Che.
    There are many people in my country who love Che and we have celebrated him in Kabul too. The news of the Che celebration in Afghanistan has not been published widely but some Afghan sites covered it.
    Here is at least one link:
    http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/738-ernesto-che-guevara-honoured-in-the-afghan-capital-

    Please e-mail me so that I can send you some photos of Che celebration in Kabul and please share it with other friends. Viva Che! Hasta la victoria siempre!

    • nezua says:

      Thank you, Waheed. I think if I email you again—I’ve tried twice, now—I approach stalker. Or bill collector. :) So I’m going to give up. But feel free to contact me through here if you want to share those images. Peace.

  5. sweetleaf says:

    wow nez, so good to have you back here at elmachete, and che awareness is so worthy a topic/individual for you to return for. always i learn from you nezua.

    hell yeah he is worthy to be an icon – for us all.

    i am down with “intensity I employ here is aimed at the matrix of obfuscation and lies that demonize gente in our ancestral lands and attempt to keep us mental and physical captives of a corrupt system.” …and… “the audacity of hypocrisy—such as President Obama’s criticizing China’s Hu Jintao on human rights while the USA maintains torture sites on foreign soil, the right to assassinate US citizens without due process, and drone attacks that slaughter countless innocents in illegal and undeclared wars abroad.” … worthy of listing here: the inexcusable numbers of locked up people, with truly beautiful shades of brown in their skin, as well as us whites who will side with a higher law of right…incarcerated, locked up, divided and conquered, to control, to oppress and break down… “pose divisions between peoples who ought to band together to fight the real oppression. He warned us not to buy into the “Self Made Man” myth.”

    worthy of my focus is my personal role in this very real dynamic, which you always help articulate for me. che guevara’s purpose, is for us all to embrace and better understand, to aspire to and emulate. his is but a higher law of humanity he fought and gave his life for, no matter the color of our skin… we are all the same color on the inside, our soul, our spirit.

    i keep faith that there is a field where there is a higher collective conscientiousness, and hope there is something to the 100 monkey theory…to fight, “at heart yet another symptom of the colonized mind.”

    so please nezua, return here often with your insights. please. it may not seem pro-active to be what may feel like at times is just…talking talking … but you always give me something to take with me in my day, help me with my comprehension, and give me something to consider of importance and meaning. your work helps us to unify, to enlighten, and raise awareness to fight the good fight. i need you… this world needs you.

    i have missed you and your watchdog literary work. thanks for being here today my unapologetic mexican amigo.

    peace, one love, and pass it on as you do.

    • nezua says:

      thank you. :) i have not left this place for good. but to be wrapped up in the back and forth of everyday political nonsense, the theater that dare not know its own name, it’s too much for me. i want to keep writing when i can, when moved by organic events…so that means i won’t be writing as often. but nobody said goodbye. :) thanks again.

      and yes, on the human rights violations, there are so many other things i might have said. i realized that shortly after posting, actually. i was moving fast, feeling hot and just posted. thanks for adding a few things that definitely were missing from my list.

      thanks, as always, for your energy and clarity and undiluted commitment to love and community.

  6. oso says:

    I recall reading a few years ago, how some Indian people in Bolivia had no idea of Che’s sacrifice there, the quote was “Someone came here to help us?”. The timing wasn’t right, for Bolivia. Maybe I should say the imperial overlords prevented the time from being right.
    Most of us are unprepared to give in the manner Che was, but his committment was and continues to be an inspiration.

  7. Jorge82 says:

    CHE GUEVARA

    - Worked in a Leper colony and treated lepers

    - Is prayed to as “Saint Ernesto” by the poor in Bolivia

    - Was instrumental in teaching over 900,000 Cubans to read

    - Tended to thousands of sick campesinos

    - Helped construct dozens of schools throughout Cuba

    - Removed the Mafia and dictatorship of Batista from Cuba which had killed 20,000 Cubans and tortured thousands more

    - Desegregated the schools in Cuba before they were in the Southern US

    - Called out South Africa’s Apartheid in 1964, 30 years before the West!

    - Denounced the racism and KKK in America

    - Warned of the dangers of the IMF, 3 decades before most of the developing world realized they had been scammed into debt slavery

    - Left a bourgeoisie comfortable life of the upper class, a potential well compensated career as a medical doctor, and a high regarded governmental position, each time to slog through the jungle and fight guerrilla wars against impenetrable odds! … In fact, near the end it took 1,800 rangers to bring down his 25 men.

  8. [...] of nezua, we are reminded of the importance of perseverance. And Nezua had a real good piece up on Che Guevara a few weeks ago that deserves to be [...]

  9. Hola desde San Francisco,Califaztlán. Can anyone enlighten me about Che Guevara’s allegedly violent homophobia? Word is that he was virulently anti-gay and was known to personally execute gays, notably a fifteen-year old boy. Certainly gays were stockaded because considered unfit for military service, and a possible “negative influence” to Cuban society. For sure Fidel has accepted responsibility for such treatment of gays and lesbians; has been quoted as saying so. It is no desprecio to characterise Latino culture as harboring such unhealthy. And divisive attitudes, and I have encountered quite a bit of such sentiments everywhere as an activista. In Mexican cultura the family sees itself as the arbiter of sexuality, as opposed to. A somewhat more enlightened norteamericano view. I meet a lot of Anglos who were “out” to family when. Young, and plenty of Chicanos who endured oppressive lives or were literally cast out of their familia. If, as we Chicanos like to say; we pick and choose the best elements of our bi-cultural existence here in the EE UU, then we should give this important aspect of our lives serious consideration. I have a couple of long-time Fresno Chicano activists in my own family who saw fit to deprive me of the nice pad given me by my mother years ago. Actually they are quite criminal and psycho, and will therefore star in my new ‘zine: Hate Crime Review & Parody soon to be released. They may do serious time, quite deservedly. I created the famous Lowrider Magazine logo, but the dismal machista publisher has never seen fit to publicise that fact, and never paid me a cent. When he is tomado he tells people that he paid me fifty-grand. That is his guilt talking. His wife turned down a short-story by a lesbiana with “this is a family magazine!”–which means we are not family? What a destructive and short-sighted pendejada. Well, anyhow the magazine was sold to bolillos, who have reverted to the grody racist-version of our raza’s history on it’s pages..Do check out my bloga. Saludos.

    • nezua says:

      I’d love to see some documentation or links to that effect, re: Che’s “allegedly violent homophobia,” as I know nothing about it.

      Sorry to hear about your logo and troubles with Lowrider Mag. Thanks for stopping by. Peace.

  10. Documentation or links to that effect? I have and bring here no such thing, having satisfied myself that he was undoubtably a machista pig, any one can Google “Che Guevara Homophobe”, and satisfy themselves that he was a “hero” (as though we needed another), or was a depraved monster, as has been posited. My family is old, and I can find what are called such in spades, but they are not “heroes” to, only serving as examples of outstanding abilities and/or accomplishments in this or that field or vocation. Reading over the posts I see that everyone is all grown up, and can decide for themselves, I’m not big on “convincing” people. Saludos.

  11. That said, the list shown here of his accomplishments, and there were plenty, little doubt, should also include his screw-ups. That, I believe, would better serve us all. And, yes, I would wear a Che T-shirt, the “Liberache” one. Now that would be right-on, and a nice statement. I am an illustrator and biased toward grafica; towards “drawing people a picture”.

    • nezua says:

      Okay, well I’m glad you had a chance to speak your peace.

      Me, I don’t expect any person who does something important, or fights for something important to be a HERO in all ways. In fact, every single “hero” one has, or that has ever been exalted as such, can easily be revealed to be imperfect and oftentimes contain sizable grains of a despicable nature—because, hey, they are all human beings. Just like you and me, and just like the people in your own family.

      We all weigh the good someone is or was or did against the harm they brought. Yes. As you note, so insightfully, we are all grown, here.

  12. Good, I am glad to hear that: weighing the good against the bad. I have closely observed or have been part of social action community action groups in various west coast venues. Looking closely at organizations which work with “stone vatos” I see the attempts to wean this demograpic “from gangs, crime and drugs”. Here is one of them. The organizer/blogger comes from a provincial agribiz region; has a degree in management, and reads the bible. For. The average citizen, of any color, it is likely difficult to get close to people of that age with those interests, to mentor them, to teach them, to turn them around. I suspect this organizer might be a little weak in leader-ship, or, weak or not, he is now in the process of creating a hero/example/legend/martyr to point to as a “good image to emulate”. This “hero of the past” died yung in an auto accident–but is now played up as “having been possiby set up by he man”, for being to effective”. The hero in question is depicted on the blog face-page, looking arrogant, looking like a “hard dude”, wearing an ample and attractive poncho, a cultural attribute, and a beret. He was California Co-chair of a then burgeoning political party, founded and taught at an alternative school. He also headed up a local chapter of a quasi-militaristic organizatin which serves to “protect our varrios”, which will “never start a fight” but “knows how to end one”. (unquote). However, this outstanding “ejemplo para nuestra comunidad” was actually only serving to redirect his vato followers destructive hypermasculinity, but not really sworking to bring enlightenment–and further, our blogger is too young to know that his “useful” hero had two lives: he was also teaching “Revolutionary Indoctrination”, and managed to draw in a couple very naive vatos, who may wind up in serious trouble. The blogger/organizer claims on his blog that he wants to be part of “analysing and debating” community issues. However I posted on this blog asking if he provides his recidivist rates on “rescuing vatos”, and I suggested that we do not need “more heroes”, and furrther, that all I see on his blog are vatos, no mention of women, children, elders, and for sure nothingabout LGBT’s. Only a vague reference to “serving the community”. I made pointed comments about his being careless about his choice of heroes. He (who claims interest in debate) never answered my posting. I did not say it, but his bible-reading might reinforce his latino-patriachist bent, I thoght Ind hold off on attacking his bible reading, for the moment. I have seen different versions of this organizer–too many times–and long ago decided that “the enemy” of our raza is within our varrios, as well as “outside” of our varrios, and in fact in our very families. I noted and will look closer at your comments on “white privilege”, how about “male privilege”? It’s a killer.

  13. [...] Hallway Che (2012), by El Machete [...]

Leave a Comment