Sunday, January 22

Who is Che Guevara?

Many young guys say that they know Che Guevara and that they idolize him.

Or, you might not know who Che Guevara is, but you know his face. You’ve seen it.

It has been an icon or a very popular design – on T-shirts, bags, a bottle of vodka etc. – in almost every corner of the world - whether serious or parodied, political or apolitical.

It was even used at a presentation of the Mercedes–Benz company in Las Vegas last week. And this has raised a lot of controversy. So much so that the head office of Mercedes soon issued a public apology.  

image courtesy of stock.xchng

Che Guevara: The Icon

Sad to say, it’s all very commercial now. Che has been reduced to nothing more than some businessman’s or some trend-setter’s money-making scheme.

So, chances are, if you think you know Che Guevara, you’re wrong. All you know is a shallow, mass-manufactured image of him.

And if you insist on saying that he is your idol, I suggest you do your homework first.

The very popular image of Che that you can find anywhere (see topmost photo here) was taken in 1960 by Alberto Korda, a photographer for a Cuban newspaper. Although the image has been reproduced ever since at such a wide scale everywhere in the world, Korda never asked for payment or royalties. Because he believed in the same revolutionary ideals that Che had, he thought that the more the image spread, the longer Che’s ideas will live on.

Indeed, over 5 decades after the image was taken, Che – both the man and the picture – is still very much alive. Time magazine called Cheone of the most influential people of the 20th century,” while his picture became “the most famous photograph in the world.

So much so that Trisha Ziff, a curator in the UK, said:

"Che Guevara has become a brand. And the brand's logo is the image, which represents change. It has become the icon of the outside thinker, at whatever level, whether it is anti-war, pro-green or anti-globalisation. Its presence, everywhere from Belfast to Soweto, or from walls in the Palestinian territories to Parisian boutiques, makes it an image that is out of control. It has become a corporation, an empire, at this point."

And 5 decades after its first publication, the copyright of the picture across international laws is still a living nightmare. But Guevara’s family hasn’t given up in protecting the image from exploitation. As Aleida Guevara, Che’s daughter, stated: “We’re not after money, we just don’t want him misused. He can be a universal person, but respect the image.”

Che Guevara: The Hero   

Che Guevara was a Marxist revolutionary originally from Argentina. Today he is regarded as the perfect embodiment of a man who is restless at the thought of social inequality in the world; a man of great vision, fusing revolutionary theory and practice.

If you read my earlier post about John Lennon, you can say John Lennon is like a fire-cracker, but Che, well, he is a bomb. 


Born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, "Che" got his famous nickname because of his habit of using the Argentinian interjection “Che,” which is a slang word that means "mate", "pal", "man", "bro", or "dude."

He fought alongside Fidel Castro in the three-year guerilla war in Cuba. And then, after the victory of the Cuban revolution, he became the Minister for Industry.

Aside from this, Che represented the new Cuban revolutionary government around the world, heading numerous delegations and speaking at the United Nations and other international forums. He was known as a man of great charisma and magnetic personality, and as a very passionate speaker. According to many reporters, he had the aura of a rock star.  

(In my mind’s eye, he’s a bit like Hugh Jackman as “Wolverine” !! ;-)

In 1966, Che went to Bolivia to establish a guerilla base there. He was captured and killed in 1967.

But Che Guevara is more familiar to the youth because of a book he wrote, “Motorcycle Diaries.”

He wrote this journal when he was just 23 years old and a young medical student. He traveled with his friend, Alberto Granado all over South America - through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, and Panama – on a motorcycle.

During this trip, he witnessed the widespread poverty and injustice throughout Latin America, and as a doctor, he felt the inability to treat a very sick child due to lack of money.

At the end of the journey, Che was a changed man. 

He had decided to walk the dangerous path of a revolutionary.

Che is also one of my personal heroes. In fact, I got a tattoo of him on my arm when I was around 22 years old.

But it is curious how Che affects other young people these days. Of course there’s always the element of romance, of going against the establishment and of being a rebel.

More interestingly, young people nowadays actually try to run away from the flow of the crowd. But they still end up falling into the trap of a bigger trend.

Most young people just know Che Guevara as the Backpacker, the Traveler. The one who got a lot of experience and learned a lot of things with very little money but a lot of courage.

Young people don’t know the real Che after the “Motorcycle Diaries,” which is kinda opposite to the purpose of the whole person.

In a word, young people don’t know who the real Che is.

And that’s also Ok if you’re just trying to look cool wearing a shirt with Che’s face on it. But to say that he is your idol is a whole different matter.

Maybe you could think of it this way: Another group of people actually has a different opinion of Che. For instance, one Cuban exile in South Florida has this to say after the presentation by Mercedes-Benz:  “I know who Che Guevara was and he was a criminal, a murderer and a person who hated the United States of America.”

I guess in the end, the moral of the story is, you can’t really keep politics away for a long time from something that’s originally political. And you’d better try to know the full story coz you might fall flat on your face talking about something or someone you don’t really know anything about.

You should always be ready to stand by your opinion if you say that you believe it. 

Keep on learning !

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article <a href="">"Che Guevara"</a>, which is released under the <a href="">Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0</a>.

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