Before I picked up Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson, I barely knew anything about Che. I barely knew who he was and what he stood for. I was introduced to Che back in 2014 while on Twitter. A number of the people that I follow on twitter spoke highly of Che and how he helped Fidel liberate Cuba. I never even knew how Che would look like until I seen his most famous and commodified picture float around on Twitter one day. The only other time that I would even hear or seen anything related to Che was on the newest Scooby-Doo reboot “Mystery Inc.” on Cartoon Network. On the show, there was a character named Ernesto and a radical student activist who resembled Che down to the facial hair and beret (Kudos to whoever wanted to bring Che back to life as a cartoon). When I moved to Miami, Florida back in August 2016, I was prepared to face the anti-blackness from members of the Latinx community that engulfs Miami, but one thing I was not prepared for was to be surrounded by Cubans who hated and displayed hostility whenever Fidel was mentioned and an image of Che was displayed. I received a number of weird and angry looks from my coworkers whenever I would pull out my copy of Anderson’s book and read during lunch breaks. When Fidel died last year, FIU (Florida International University) sent out a mass email with a statement from the university’s President, Mark Rosenberg. In His statement, Rosenberg states “The passing of Fidel Castro marks the beginning of the end of a most painful chapter in the lives of Cubans…” I didn’t understand the hate Cubans had for Che and Fidel. At work, a number of my coworkers were relieved and ecstatic that Fidel had died and spat on Che’s name. This is when my curiosity of Che, Fidel, and the Cuban Revolution began to bubble. In my real, offline life, I had people speaking ill about Che and Fidel. Online in my Twitter life, I had a few people such as Erica (@_Rickii_) and Taurean (@SankofaBrown) speaking so highly of Che and Fidel, especially of Che’s dedication to Marxist, Socialist, and Communist thought and teachings. That is when I learned that in history, you are seen as both the hero and the villain. The US has done an amazing job at painting Fidel and Che as villains for the last 4 decades.
Jon Lee Anderson’s biographical work Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” painted Che in a way that is both critical and needed whenever Che is the topic of discussion. At first glance, the size of the book is pretty intimidating. 819 pages of information about the bigger-than-life man with a soul piercing stare we all know as Che Guevara. But when I started to read it, I found that the book was engaging and was easy to read and follow. Reading the first page of the first chapter, a bombshell is dropped. Che’s parents, Ernesto Sr. and Celia lied about Che’s real birth date of June 14th, 1928. A friend of Celia’s who happened to be an astrologer did calculations on Che and determined that he was a Gemini and a very boring one at that. But at the time Che was already a household name all over the world and on the CIA’s “to watch” list by the early 1960s along with Che. How could this “boring” and “gray” person described in his astrological chart be the same outspoken and highly visible figure known as THE Che Guevara? The confused astrologer took her findings to Celia where Celia laughed and confessed that Che had been born a month earlier, May 14th, 1928 and this actually transformed Che from a boring Gemini into a headstrong and decisive Taurus whose hands were always ready for whatever and was always ready to shoot. While reading Part One: Unquiet Youth, Anderson beautifully describes Che’s life from childhood up until he joined Fidel and Raul Castro’s movement to liberate Cuba. The many stories and thoughts that are shared about Che on Twitter and in real life paints Che as this untouchable and serious man who only had character flaws and had those who wanted to eliminate the Cuban Rebels fear and hate him. But as I continued to read the first chapter A Plantation in Misiones, Anderson reveals that Che had chronic asthma. Che Guevara, the man who was about that action suffered from asthma. Asthma that would leave him bedridden for days with haggard breathing and a horrible cough. Che, the man who had the US shook with his Marxist thinking and Guerrilla warfare expertise suffered from chronic asthma from childhood until his execution on October 9th, 1967.
Born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, Ernesto didn’t start school until he was 9 because of his chronic asthma, but that didn’t stop Celia from educating Ernesto. Celia passed down her love and passion of literature down to Ernesto and from that they shared a close mother-son relationship. Ernesto became a lifelong learner and a voracious reader. When Ernesto was just 17, he began to write his own “philosophical dictionary.” His philosophical dictionary notebook consisted of biographies of noted thinkers and definitions. He also had quotations on Marxism and Hitler. This notebook was the first of seven which he worked on for 10 years. As his studies deepened and expanded and his interests became more focused, his notebooks began to reflect that.
“Everything began with literature for him” – Osvaldo Bidinost Payer, if there was ever a sentence to sum up Che as a reader, this is it. Literature led Che to Fidel and Raul. Literature led Che to hating imperialism and capitalism. Literature led Che to becoming our revolutionary idol, hero, and brother. Literature allowed Che to live on in our revolutionary souls. Before Che was murdered, he developed a habit of documenting everything, the history he became a part of and his honorable legacy. We should follow Che’s example by documenting everything as a way to keep our legacy alive. “Che – alive as they never allowed to be”. Through the words he left behind and his courageous and rebellious spirit, Che solidified himself in history and etched a place in our consciousness.
Jon Lee Anderson did an amazing capturing the man behind the beret, the man whose entire death was shrouded in secrecy and his life became romanticized. Thanks to Jon Lee Anderson and his research, we were able to finally locate Che’s body and give our hero a proper burial after 28 years. Che’s last words is a small look into the man who became a symbol of resistance figuratively and literally.
“I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.”