Duke University Press 2013

CHE ON MY MIND

, by Margaret Randall

Ernesto Che Guevara occupies a place in our emotional iconography unsurpassed by anyone with the exception of Buddha, Mohammed, Marx, Mary or Jesus of Nazareth. Still contemporary—his death at thirty-nine isn’t yet half a century behind us—he is a figure revered in equal measure by both convinced revolutionaries and apolitical youth at the farthest reaches of our planet. All see in him a symbol of nonconformity and resistance. And, like so many humans we’ve embalmed in myth, scholars and those who don’t think past the image, devotees and detractors alike, tend to ignore a more nuanced view of the man.
I am old enough to remember the world in which he lived. I was part of that world, and it remains a part of me. This won’t be a political or economic treatise, except where that sort of analysis strengthens my observations. It is a poet’s reminiscence of an era, and of the figure that best exemplifies that era. These musings may also help us rethink revolutionary change, and how a reexamination of history may point to more productive ways of achieving that change.
This is the story of how Che haunts me. I call it Che On My Mind, mimicking the old Hoagy Carmichael and Stewart Gorrell tune Georgia on My Mind. It’s that spirit and wandering rhythm I wish to evoke: moving in one direction and then another, exploring this texture or that, giving free rein to memory and to a consciousness Che helped to shape.
In these notes I want to remember that Guevara was first and foremost extraordinarily human. He felt the pain of others deeply, and was subversive to every social hypocrisy, every greed-based corporate crime and mean-spirited exploitation. Without doubt, the quality he embodied that made him beloved by millions was his unerring capacity to be who he said he was. In Che, words and actions were one. What he did was consistent with what he said. In a world in which corporate crime, governmental sleight of hand, and the deterioration of moral values are every day more evident and endemic, the man’s principles shine.
Because the energy of his internationalism burns as hot now as when he was alive, Che’s image moves beyond easy metaphor. His myth has remained alive in disparate cultures. That myth, however, has been woven by friend and foe alike. Che’s image, words, values, intentions, and his successes and failures have all been shaped to symbolize that which he most deeply abhorred as well as that for which he died . . .

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