Sunday, July 22, 2007

Che for the Millenium

This morning, one of the young men who clerks at our neighborhood grocery was wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, which I found intriguing since at twenty-two or three, he was not yet born when the famous revolutionary died in 1967. Flip, acting out of some obscure rationale, told him about my encounter with Che during the Cuban Revolution. The kid was understandably confused because I'm sure the iconic photo on his garment meant nothing to him. He probably had no idea who Che was, and certainly knew nothing about his life. It's just a t-shirt, man. A local baby store has a size onesy top in their window with the same photo, and somehow this bothers me. I am well aware that there have been conflicting biographies over the years, some of which portrayed Guevara as less than a saintly, martyred idealist. Yet, I choose to discount much of that because he showed a flash of his common humanness to me, and he died for his beliefs, however flawed they may or may not have been.

He lived a life of action, not just one of inaction or reaction, like most of us. Che Guevara was a medical doctor who gave up a comfortable middle class existence to devote himself to making the world better. From the vantage point of so many years, I don't think it matters whether he was right or wrong about what would in fact build a better world. What is important is that he tried. But please don't take my argument to its "logical" conclusion by stating that I must then believe that Hitler tried, too, and so it doesn't matter that he was wrong. There are instances in which logic must be disregarded because of such egregious errors in judgment that there can be no doubt that certain acts were deeply wrong. And that goes for Vlad the Impaler, too, in case you wondered. And all the nameless villains who traded in human flesh.

I hate to see Che dishonored by becoming a mere celebrity photo flaunted by those who know absolutely nothing about him or the world that produced and then executed him. It's a sad day indeed when a notable human life becomes just another bit of t-shirt art. He might as well have been Paris Hilton.


eastcoastdweller said...

Is that not preferable, though, to the utter oblivion of so many other notables in history, who don't even make it onto tshirts?

At least his tshirt stirs up conversations, as evidenced by your experience,and so perhaps some knowledge will drill through his teenage skull.

la cubana gringa said...

I think Che had a lot of good ideas and there are flashes of evidence that his heart was in the right place...I just don't know if violence was the best means by which to implement his ideas. That alone is what will keep me from ever wearing a t-shirt with his face emblazoned on the front.

Sienna said...

I am so glad your Dad got you all out of there Hearts....such volatility, even amid beautiful roses and revolutions.

I understand (he just wanted a better world)...I get that..I hear what you are saying, maybe some people somewhere look and ask and then research a little...

This is just so interesting to read this perspective, thanks again for sharing all that, I loved it.

Dancing eyes! hooley dooley...that would have melted my heart a little.

meno said...

I think about this every time i see Einstien or Twain or (fill in the blank) used to advertise cell phones or spinach or processed cheese spread. I wonder how they would feel about being turned into a marketing tool.

Ian Lidster said...

Ah -- you are such a wise woman. We live in a very strange era, indeed, and so much in life becomes a publicity bite. Second page of the largest Vancouver daily yesterday had a prominent story about a new theory on the death of the Doors' Jim Morrison. for God's sake, the guy died in 1971, how would such a story warrant prominent space in a large 'news'paper? With Che, however, there was that iconic thing about him, rightly or wrongly. Remember National Lampoon a number of years ago in their 'Is Nothing Sacred?' issue had the classic image of Che being 'pied'.
You have such intriguing comments to share, that's why I want to have coffee with you someday.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Doubt it. But then, I'm not sure that being on a t-shirt is exactly the holy grail anyone seeks in life.

La Cubana,

I have to agree that violence is never the answer to anything.

I suspect that like many idealists, no matter how intelligent, who lead with their hearts, Che failed to realize what he was involved in until it was too late.

Admittedly, this may be a romanticized version, influenced by too many roses, my own youth, and animal magnetism.

It is also abundantly clear that the "Revolution" was the worst thing that ever happened to Cuba and its people, and nothing can whitewash his part in that.

I have never owned a piece of Che-wear either.


I have to admit that on my own, I might have stayed for the romance of it, and I probably would not be here now.

I was quite a foolish young girl, and my view of life was not fully formed, kind of like my Spanish, which I spoke ungrammatically but with a perfect accent.


We have a disgustingly vampirish society which sucks the life out of everybody if there is a buck to be made.

Strangely, though, it kind of delights me to see Beethovan on a shirt, or Shakespeare. Einstein would probably be amused, as he was a natural clown who was famously photographed sticking his tongue out.

Josie said...

Hearts, Che Guevara was the ultimate 'bad boy' and what a gorgeous man. What woman wouldn't have been swept away by his roses and his 'dancing eyes' remarks. To think that someone as iconic as that was smitten with you, my gosh. But, you're right, you probably wouldn't be here now if you had stayed. Sometimes parents do know best, don't they?

mcewen said...

Lummy! You mean that you can buy a t-shirt with Ms. Hilton's visage! Does anyone buy them? Does anyone wear them?

thethinker said...

I didn't know a thing about Che until Spanish class in sophomore year. I'd always seen the shirts and wondered who he was. A lot of my friends wear the shirt and are completely clueless about who he was and what he did. It's kind of pathetic.

The CEO said...

Congratulations on meeting Che. I consider that an honor you have had. On the other hand, I think Vlad deserves better than to be grouped with Paris Hilton.

Liz said...

Goodness, Heart! I'm beginning to think you've met everybody worth meeting!

You are so right about the trendy factor. The Silver Lake hipsters around here always have the cool (and dead) icons on their t-shirts. I remember one of my neighbors didn't know who Marvin Gaye was but was wearing the shirt.

Anonymous said...

HinSF, I hadn't read your post from August of last year so the best part of this post was the story itself. What a story. Goodness. You have the most amazing, compelling stories and your storytelling is supurb.

As far as whether one agrees or disagress with Che Guevara tactics and beliefs and life, it seems lost in the fact that so much of what we (as a society) do is based on how things look. We don't really care who someone was, or if that was a real person or not, we just like the design, like the look of a t-shirt. We don't even think twice about who Che was, we have no desire to learn about him, about his choices, his actions, we just think it's a cool shirt.

You must get your memoirs lined up. That is a best seller, waiting to happen.

thailandchani said...

I think you've all got it right, basically.

It's just more commodification. Is there anything in US culture that isn't subject to being used as a marketing tool?

Something comes to mind about the sacred becoming profane.



furiousBall said...

I agree, everything is capitalized. The more iconic, the better. I've often said that Paris Hilton was like Che with a sweeter bod.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Ooooo. I too think it would have been an honor to have met this man but to have him give you flowers!!! If I were a woman, I think I would be enthralled.

I am uncomfortable about the violence but I recognized that he was a believer and he believed in a better world. We don't have to resort to violence but more of us should follow his example to make a difference. I think his story should be told in schools. He should not be reduced to just an image that sells t-shirts. I would proudly wear a T-shirt with his image but that's because I know his story.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It never occurred to me before that my flowers may have had something to do with my father's decision to leave since it coincided with Castro's first Anti-American speech.

My parents were more interested in protecting my chastity than I was. It must have been trying for them.


Lummy!!! It wouldn't surprise me to see a Paris Hilton Bobblehead or Barbie. I hope I'm carrying an airline barf bag when I do, though.


That's my point. People should at least know something about a person whose likeness they wear because they are endorsing it.

People should not be just fashion statements.


Now if we could get Vlad and Paris together, throw in a little wine...


It's hard to imagine anyone not knowing who Marvin Gaye was. I would have sent HIM flowers if we'd met.

Now I'm going to put on one of his albums and fantasize a bit.


I suppose it could be considered a compliment to wear somebody's face on your body, but I think of it as mining them for fun & profit.

If I wear a t-shirt with Vivaldi on it, it is because I love his music. It just seems odd to clothe oneself in somebody's charisma without knowing anything about him.


Oh, we've long since passed into the realm of profanity.

As far as Che is concerned, I do not ever endorse violence, or believe that the end justifies the means.

I was very young. I like to think that our brief contact was outside the realm of politics, just a man and a woman who found each other attractive, ships passing in the night.

Cuba was a magical place then.

I hope it will be again because while I was a mere visitor, it was home to so many people who had to leave or die.

I speculate often on what will happen after Csstro dies. Meanwhile, whole generations of Cubans have come of age in the US and other places who have never seen their ancestral homeland or in many cases, their relatives who were unable to leave and lost everything.

It's impossible to know where Che would have stood on the devastation. I was no judge of character at that age. I liked flowers and beautiful men.



You have such an interesting world view.


I'm a sucker for flowers. They are never violent.

WNG said...

Because I believe there is a quote from The West Wing for every occasion I will share this with you, "It doesn't bother me that he doesn't know his history, but has the guy never seen a movie?".
There are many you could recommend to your wayward friend, as I'm sure you know, but The Motorcycle Diaries is my favorite.

Voyager said...

I wonder if the people who printed the t-shirt even know who Che was? Or is just a great graphic.

Melanie said...

great post. I completely agree with this. I found a che card abandoned on the streets of SB one day, and it had a very interesting bit of writing on it. Talking about how the middle class was using him as an icon, and how sad that was.

I believe that anyone that makes sacrifices for what they believe in, and to help others is better than most that surround them.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


The Motorcycle Diaries is great. I doubt the kid at the market would care, though. He's probably wearing a Homer Simpson t-shirt today.

Thanks for your visit.


Everything goes into the public domain sooner or later, and somebody capitalizes on it.


I wonder if the middle class uses such people as icons because it doesn't produce many artists or thinkers itself. Certainly, no middle class revolutionaries come to mind.

I don't know -- it's just a thought.

Open Grove Claudia said...

Che.... Huh...

I'm not sure why Che is making a resurgence right now. He's kind of every where or that stupid picture of him is kind of every where.

I think people want desperately to believe in something. Che made a difference - in some awful ways, but he made a difference.

I think you should be grateful that your checker wasn't wearing a Cheney or Rumsfeld shirt. That's just my opinion.

urban-urchin said...

Your right that the revolution was the worst thing to happen to cuba and not to whitewash his part in that. what i find offensive in the teeshirt matter is that it's just a fad- a human life and meaning and death have been reduced to some hipster notion of cool. Know what you're promoting at the very least.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Do they HAVE Cheney or Rumsfeld shirts?




I don't feel that Che was sacred. Evil or misguided, it's hard to say, but he helped to create a tragically miserable situation for the Cuban people. Whatever his motives, the facts are indisputable.

What I object to is turning ANYBODY into a fad that makes its wearers feel cool.

I also musts admit that if he had not been personally hot and paid attention to me, I would have no feelings for him other than that he got what he deserved.

My greater sympathies are with the Cuban people whose lives were overturned. I have great admiration for the way so many of them came to the US stripped of their possessions and their job credentials and rebuilt their lives.

In Miami, there were many former doctors, lawyers, professors and scientists who could not work in their fields here and took menial jobs to support their families and to educate their children to make it in their new country.

Those people were the true heroes.

Anonymous said...

I bet he's rolling in his grave at that comparison.

I can't imagine the life you lived, through your posts, at least, you sound like you've done everything and been everywhere. I mean that in a respectful, envious way. I would love to sit and chat with you one day. I think you are about one of the most interesting people I don't know.

CS said...

That's funny - we were in a T-shirt store last weekend and my son saw one of those T-shirts and asked who it was. Although I am a firm believer in non-violence, I still have to admire the ideals. (It isn't the same thing as Hitler, whose actions were based on hatred.) And what cool story!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I haven't been to nearly as many places as I would have liked. I just have near-total recall of them, that's all.

You have a very beautiful eye.


Synchronicity (again.) I am also a firm believer in non-violence, and would like to think that most peoples' ideals eschew it in the beginning, before they get lost in their own power.

MsLittlePea said...

Well today I saw a girl who couldn't be older than 12-13 wearing a shirt that said,'Will you be my sugardaddy' on the front, 'You can't afford me' on the back. I would rather see my daughter wearing a shirt with Che's face on it whether she knew who he was or not than something as dumb as that. I imagine this girl is probably a big fan of Paris Hilton. Speaking of Paris Hilton and shirts, last week I saw a photo of her wearing a shirt with her own face on it...nice.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Sweet Pea,

You have to wonder: Where.are.the.parents?

Paris Hilton wearing a shirt with her own picture is hilarious. She must have looked like she had two heads.

Dumdad said...


I absolutely agree with you about the T-shirt and Paris Hilton. We live in a trivialising society.

I hadn't read your piece on meeting Che (I wasn't a blogger then). It's a fascinating read. You were there at a turning point in history. And you spoke to Che! Pity you didn't get a photo.....

heartinsanfrancisco said...


We do, indeed. After reading a heartbreaking post on My Reflecting Pool's blog about a family in her town that was brutally murdered yesterday, I tried to find out more online.

There was absolutely nothing on this tragedy in which two young sisters and their mother died, but a million articles on Lindsay Lohan's newest DUI early this morning.

Do you not think there is something terribly wrong here?

Lex said...

I share your reaction to Che T-shirt donners. I remember asking a 20-something if he even knew who Che was. He did. He had read him extensively. I was very proud of him.

Unfortunately, he is the exception to the rule.

You make a very interesting point about how to evaluate one's contribution to the greater good. Perhaps its not the details of that contribution that matter so much having put your hand to the plow and to do something you believe in. For that I honor Che and those like him, despite my take on their philosophies.

Melanie said...

As to your point, What I really find interesting is that these people that choose these icons as a representative, what greatness are they avoiding in their own lives? Small or large. Having an icon that is revolutionary should represent something that you are revolutionizing in your world. That is where my mind goes when you mentioned that. How have we become such a fear driven society that we don't stand up and fight for our rights? Lets get on the subject of health care, since sicko is out now, what about revolutionizing that? :lol:

*smells a new blog topic*

heartinsanfrancisco said...


We're in agreement. If Che miscalculated to a shocking degree or was just plain wrong-minded, he did stand up for his beliefs.

We live in a world in which few people do so anymore.

I would have been surprised, too, that the young person you questioned actually knew about the man whose likeness he was sporting.


You raise a most interesting point: Does living vicariously fulfill something so that such people are not compelled to achieve their own greatness?

I love your take on wearing a revolutionary icon suggesting that the wearer is also revolutionizing his own life in some way.

And yes, there is SO MUCH that needs revolutionizing in our society. And it won't be done with a t-shirt, no matter how cool the graphic on it.

Josie said...

Hearts, how is the cherry pit?


Molly said...

What a romantic story! Oh you of the dancing eyes!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


My throat still feels a little funny, but it's getting better. Thanks for asking.


;) !!!

Lee said...

Che sent you flowers?! You've gotta be the coolest lady I have ever read. Wow.

The pacifist in me has always been uncomfortable with Che, despite his cult status. Still, I'm glad there are people out there willing to stand for what they beleive in.

Jocelyn said...

Man. And I totally had my comment to you about Hitler all worked out. You popped that particular balloon of logical fallacy for me!

Wonderful post, one that's making me think. I do agree with the principle of what you're saying, but then again, if/when the shirt is worn as a genuine tribute, that's cool.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


That was my point. Whether or not we believe in what he stood for, he took a stand.

I'm a pacifist, too, at least under normal circumstances. If my family were threatened and the situation depended upon action from me, I would act.


And a great comment it would have been. I'm sorry I headed you off at the pass.

A shirt worn as a tribute is different. I once had a wolf t-shirt that looked like my Baby, and I wore it until the fabric was transparent and full of holes.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

OH Hearts! Ouch... I cringe at this development. Yikes.

I hadn't realized it had gotten this bad.
That's horrible.

I hope the kid that you and Flip talked to learned a little about the man whose image he is flaunting for fashions sake.

Ugh. That makes me physically sick.

Normally, this is where I'd start griping about education in this country and why didn't he know who Che was, and what the hell is going on with these kids today anyway...

but I won't.

I'll just sit here and steam a bit.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Girl on the Run... said...

You never ever cease to amaze me! Would love to hear about your encounter wih Che. I honestly must admit I know little about the man except for what I saw in movies or brief bios I read.

Like you said, anyone who is willing to try and make this WORLD a better place is indeed a person to admire.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


There is a link to that story in the second paragraph of this post.

Making the world better is something we all mean to get to someday, but most of us are so caught up in the logistics of our own lives that we don't.

I totally admire those who sacrifice themselves to a greater cause, as they see it.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Sorry, I didn't see you there. And carrying a lion, too.

It doesn't make me mad, just a little perplexed when people become fashion statements.

katrice said...

Che and Paris... It hurts to put them in the same sentence.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


True. Whatever we may think of Che, he didn't smirk hatefully and consider himself above the law and other people.

velvet said...

Our culture these days can all be boiled down to sound clips and flashy graphics. Any deeper meaning is generally thought of as insignificant.

I'm sad for us all.

Great story about Che, btw. You've truly had a unique life.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I totally agree with your commentary about our culture. It IS sad, especially for kids who have never known anything else and are being raised with sound-bite attention spans.

And to think "1984" once seemed like a marvelous fabrication.