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.
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.
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.