Guevara, Ernesto “Che.” Back On The Road: A Journey Through Latin America. Grove Press: New York, 2000.
“…experience of the journey was to lead him towards something entirely different: a greater understanding of the harsh material conditions of the great mass of the people in Latin America, and the corresponding need to do something to improve their lot. In the two years covered by this narrative Guevara dramatically shifts his outlook. He moves from being a detached and cynical observer to becoming a fully-fledged revolutionary…”
Today within what is labeled as the “conscious” or “revolutionary” circles you find many individuals who are firm believers in change. Change is synonymous with the word revolution. The activities the people within those circles are immersed in, whether they are community activists, cultural, musical, and/or political icons, occur with the purpose of serving and bettering original people’s conditions, whom they most popularly refer to as “people of color.”(1) They “fight” for immigrant rights, police brutality, the freedom of political prisoners, for solidarity with the current struggles in our respective mother countries, labeled as third world countries, and even for LGTBQ acceptance. These struggles become known as creating revolution and the people involved label themselves revolutionaries. While the work of many of these beautiful and well-meaning people has some significance, (i.e. in that within their music they created a new sound/genre altogether, or the march/vigil/protest they organized brought new participants, or the poem they wrote created common bonds of struggle). However, it is up for argumentation whether these “revolutionary” methods truly created change in the psycho-social, political, economic status of original people that is truly liberating. It is important to note that these initiatives take place within the framework of the grafted man’s society. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad in his book of speeches, Message to the Blackman in America, details this idea through the context of the so-called African American in the United States, which inevitably becomes the same social-mental conditioning of most original peoples who come to the U.S., mainly the so-called Latino/a. On pages 169 and 170, Elijah states “…so it is with the American Negroes; they are charmed by the luxury of their slave-master, and cannot make up their minds to seek for self something of this good earth, though hated and despised by the rich man and full of sores caused by the evil treatment of the rich man. On top of that he is chased by the rich man’s dogs and still remains a beggar at the gate, through the gates of Paradise were ever open to him…The American Negroes have the same gates of Paradise open to them but are charmed by the wealth of America and cannot see the great opportunity that lies before them.” The quotation articulates the mental state of original people. Throughout their history of oppression they have been led to feel helpless and seeking for solutions with the same people who have kept them in a subordinated state. They have been led to believe that the only way to get a piece of the wealth is by continuing to seek friendship and work within the boundaries their enemies have provided for them. They do not see solution in separation. Even within the ranks of the philosophical so-called Negroes, the preachers held the Christian view of bonding together and forgiving. Elijah saw that this would not yield any advances of freedom for original peoples. The “asking” and “unifying” methods, to him, would never manifest true freedom. This is why he was so critical of Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights movement. He didn’t see this as an effective method of liberation for Original people in the United States. Asking a people whose nature was to create chaos, inequality, and confusion, hence devilishment amongst original people, to give them equal rights under the law, was to continue begging. On page 173 he stated, “The Black man in America faces a serious economic problem today and the white race’s Christianity cannot solve it. You, the so-called American Negro, with the help of Allah can solve your own-problem. The truth must be recognized by the black man. He, himself, has assisted greatly in creating this serious problem of unemployment, insecurity and lack. Before the black man can begin to gain economic security, he must be awakened from the dead and gain knowledge, understanding, and wisdom which will enable him to follow my teaching. Islam and only Islam will point the way out of the entanglement of ‘want in the midst of plenty’ for the followers of Islam, the true religion of the black nation.” Here Elijah is clearly stating that before we can even start devising the mechanisms of how to attain economic and social independence, original people must first be awakened to the truth of themselves and of this world. Education is the first step in the trickling down process of enlightenment. It brings all the pieces of the puzzle together. Islam is the culture of Mathematics and Science through its application of the Self, to gain a deeper awareness of everything. Therefore, those asking for rights and equality are doing so with blind eyes to the truth of the All. Without the awareness of who the white man and who the original man is, no accurate solutions can be devised. This idea of asking and seeking a solution by negotiating with the same people that have kept one in bondage yields results that only add-on more efficiently to the illusion of equality.
In Latin America because of the vast economic oppression, and the U.S. ideas of racism that have been implanted within the people, we learn that to those fighting for sovereignty do so from the same government the so-called Negro has had to struggle against. In the South of the Western Hemisphere, this has come to be known as U.S. imperialism and neocolonialism. So-called Latin Americans, because their independence movements led to the concept of nationalism as a marker of identity (i.e. Mexico-Mexican, Brazil-Brazilian), have fought ardently the usurpation of their economy by world powers. Like the so-called African American, these areas are heavily dominated by the Christian doctrines. Religion plays a big role in the formation of ideas within the society of original peoples. So ingrained are the Christian concepts that they are found synchronized with the original spiritualities, as in in the Yoruba Santeria faith of the Caribbean and Curanderia of Mexico/Central America. This idea of “placing at the centre the historic figure of Jesus, the true Jesus of Nazareth, and believing in him and no other abstraction - Christ Messiah, Son of the Living God, the Word Made Flesh and Blood”(2) is one that has kept the people from mentally dead to the reality of themselves and from fighting efficiently against the Yankee devils. The church teaches that we must wait and pray for better things to come, that we must love thy neighbor, and that remaining faithful to our Lord and the Virgin will bring an abundance of wealth into our lives. Examining Che’s trajectory as a true revolutionary for the liberation of original peoples in Latin America, we can understand the application of Elijah’s teaching of Separation and Father Allah’s teaching of True Islam, within the Latin American context of acclaiming one’s Indian culture and roots, fighting the racism against the “Indigenas” and U.S. power. Che goes through this same process. One where he first learns the ways of our people in each country, understands the politics behind the economic conditions of each nation, and goes deeper into our ancient societies.
“Explotan al campesino
al minero y al obrero,
cuánto dolor su destino,
hambre miseria y dolor..
Bolívar le dio el camino
y Guevara lo siguió:
liberar a nuestro pueblo
del dominio explotador.” –Victor Jara, Zamba del Che
Reading his journal, where he traveled for the second time throughout Latin America, Central America, and ending up in Cuba, was a refreshing experience that allowed me to get a glimpse of his development from Ernesto Guevara, the doctor, to el Che, the socialist and revolutionary. What’s most important in this compilation of diary entries and letters sent to his mother, aunt, and Tita Infante (his long time friend), Che exposes his political and humanistic evolutionary process. This inspires me to provide an analysis of his experiences living in Latin America without the middle-class status he denounces, and leaves behind, in connection to his political narration of each country he visits that eventually transforms him into a full-blown righteous fighter for the poor. Towards the end of his growth as a devotee of marginalized peoples, Che becomes somewhat of a Simon Bolivar, identifying deeply with all of Latin America and not necessarily with his native Argentina. In fact, in a letter to his mother he stated, “Anyway, the truth is that Argentina is extremely dull…”(88). This idea of one people, one land is one that resonates with the teachings of the Nation of God and Earth, where we say we are all really one tribe, varying within our experience of blackness, which makes it one deep reality. We even have a degree directly addressing the issue of Oneness. The 7th degree in the 1-14 says, “Why does the devil call our people African?” and the ending statement to this degree is, “to make us think we are all different.” The label points to a loss of knowledge of who we are due to the oppressive measures taken by the grafted man, which leads to false identities based on geographical locations: Nationalities. It is precisely this felt connection with the peoples of the world that aided his decision in liberating Cuba. With this, the intention is to provide those with limited knowledge on this historical figure a framework that will inspire readers in furthering their understanding of this original man.
Che’s second journey begins on July 7th, 1953 at La Quiaca, Argentina, very close to the Bolivian border. Perhaps of most interest in his trajectory is the knowledge acquired through the many lived realities that led him to a solid understanding of his most deepest thoughts; he would devote his time mechanizing ways in which to help the disfranchised, particularly against Yankee imperialism, and would inevitably connect with an alternative system that had characteristics of justice inscribed in its core: socialism/communism. Of note, Che was present in the actual revolutions and anti-communist movements taking place in most of the countries he visited. During his initial stay in Bolivia, Che’s journal narration opens with a detailed account of revolution and changes taking place in this nation. The new social position Indians and Mestizos embraced Che regarded as important as well the youth’s involvement in the redistribution of wealth. From then on, all throughout his narration, Che seems to focus upon the changes occurring for the poor, specifically of the leftist movements forming in each nation.
Throughout his voyage, Che struggled with finding work, nourishing himself appropriately, resulting in chronic asthma attacks, and maintaining a flow of cash for his daily living. He struggled with paying the rent and finding work that could pay him enough to survive. His journal entries contained references to these hardships, he would write things like “I am falling into debt…The days have passed with the usual chain of hopes and disappointments that characterize my proletarian life” (89). These were harsh conditions he endured and survived. They reinforced within him the growth of his revolutionary spirit, hence the spirit of all original people in Latin America. This is the hell (12. L-Love, Hell, or Right) that he imposed upon himself to come out right as a man who already possessed moral convictions unmatched to anyone of its time. During this early formative period, Che starts to realize that although medicine is a profession he likes and respects, it is one that comes with privilege and must be used for the benefit of all. In a series of letters to his mother, Che describes his great efforts in finding work, but denials and “no” were the responses he commonly received. He was well aware that he could have discontinued struggling if he wanted to, but to do that would mean to sacrifice his principles. In one of the letters he wrote to his mother he states, “I could become very rich in Guatemala, but by the low method of ratifying my title, opening a clinic and specializing in allergies (it’s full of tell-tale colleagues here). To do that would be the most horrible betrayal of the two I’s struggling inside me: the socialist and the traveler” (61). His true inclinations are solidified when Guatemala City is attacked by pirate aircraft. This united all Guatemalans and revolutionaries attracted by the changes occurring that favored the poor. Che rapidly reported to the youth brigades.
Up until this period he spent most of his time writing, traveling, observing, and exchanging thoughts with friends about topics relating to economics and politics. The friends and associates he made were through previous contacts in his travels. These varied from ambassadors, leaders of political parties, reformers, poets, intellectuals, doctors, and others. While these people held high ranks in their respective line of work, they were also figures who held sentiments favoring the betterment of people without power. They ranged from progressive liberals to full blown communist leaders. Most were critics of the institutions of power and the clever/exploitative policies of the “Yankees” (United States) in their countries. Some notable leaders he encountered were the “Dominican short-story writer and revolutionary, Juan Bosch, and Costa Rican communist leader Manuel Mora Valverde” (30). His discussion with Juan Bosch revolved around the many corrupt leaders in Latin America, like Batista and Perón. Valverde provided an extensive history on Costa Rican politics and the failures of the Communist Party. Among the various people he met were Mariano Oteiza, president of the Panama Student Federation and a sculptor by the name of Manuel Teijero. Other members of the federation he met were Adolfo Benedetti, Rómulo Escobar, and Isaías García. In Guatemala, Che met Carlos Manuel Pellecer, a peasant leader with communist leanings. He also became acquainted with Peñalver, a Venezuelan exile. Amongst the multiple other people he met were Mario Sosa Navarro, Alfonso Vanergais, Edelberto Torres, and Señora Helena de Holst. One of the first he meets is Hilda Gadea, who would later become his first wife. There are endless names of other people he meets in his travels, culminating with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and simply one of the baddest mothafuckas the world has seen in the last few decades.
Throughout his narration of the situation in Guatemala, Che is very sympathetic towards the Arbenz government and he seems to express frustration when he writes of the forced resignation of Arbenz. He characterizes the Yankees (“gringos”) as hypocrites due to the not-so good neighbor policies of being behind the bombing and attacks committed to the Guatemalan people. In the succeeding days after Arbenz’s fall, the country becomes immersed in chaos. All people with alternative politics were deemed as “communists.” Therefore, many people had to flee to the embassies for fear of persecution. Hilda, Che’s wife, was one of the people held captive, but was later freed. Che was able to file for voluntary exile and headed towards Mexico.
Once in Mexico, Che writes another letter to his mother where he talks about Argentine politics and the communist party there. He states “I think they deserve respect, and sooner or later I will join the Party myself” (88). Throughout his time in Mexico, he was always connected to the original culture around him. In one particular event he describes and looks for the unifying characteristics between the peoples of the various nations he visited. He wrote, “On Sunday I went to the Virgin of Guadalupe Day, which wasn’t as crowded as people say it usually is. As always it was a mixture of pagan festivities and a bit of religion; a lot of Indians made to look more like Indians, with a simple rhythmic music similar to that of Peru or Bolivia”(90). It was this continual immersion within the people that would lead him to have a deeper realization of who he was as an original man and who our people were as a whole. This mixture of understanding the politics governing Latin America, as well as the people who made up the nations, brought Che closer to attaining deep awareness of Self and the world. In another letter to his mother he gives a detailed example of how he’s come to the realization that politics is governed by a set of scientific principles which the Yankees use to keep Latin American submerged in oppression. “As to the changes in my thinking which, as you see it, are becoming sharper…The manner in which the gringos treat the American continent (remember that the gringos are Yankees) aroused my growing indignation, but at the same time I studied the theoretical explanation for what they do and found that it was scientific”(91-92). By studying the concepts within political science and experiencing first-hand how they manifest within the living situation of the people, Che was able to clearly see this science of Yankee (devil) oppression. Just as those with higher awareness of self realized the science of Separation as it is explained by Yacub’s rules and regulations to metaphorically denote how all the original seeds became detached through the creation of the grafted man, Che was able to understand the science that plays out to create material inequality. It is precisely in this time of his life where he decides to join the Cuban Revolution.
“Caminando entre valles y montañas
para siempre tu imagen guerrillera
y tu sangre corre ya por nuestras venas
y se agiten los techos bolivianos…” –Ali Primera, Comandante Amigo
Che’s knowledge on poor people it’s not just confined to the circle of revolutionaries he was immersed in. His observations from his lived experience shed light on his deep understanding of the state of the poor population. There exists evidence, from what is known of his life, that he really did understand the life of the poor, which to some extent he experienced as well. By the time he makes his first trip out of Argentina, his family lives in lower middle class conditions. The constant battle with finding work in Guatemala, his constant analysis of the treatment of the “Indian” in the places he visited, and the times he spent with oppressed people are all strong indicators of his understanding. In Bolivia, when visiting a farm ran by Salesian priests, he was reminded of an idea a teacher he knew once said, in which he refers to the animals as being regarded and treated better than the Indians. Che said, “I did not say anything in reply. But the Indian continues to be an animal for the white mind, especially for Europeans, whichever holy order they belong to” (6). Che further describes a visit to a national mine where the workers are not present in honor of the Day of the Indian and the Agrarian Reform. On a visit to the Ministry of Peasant Affairs, he witnesses an atrocity. There were different cultural indigenous groups waiting to be given an audience; once each assembly went in they are sprinkled with DDT, a hazardous pesticide. Che was well aware that these were actions resulting from the deep hatred against the indigenous populations of these nations. Moments like this resulted in Che’s reaffirmation of his commitment to bettering the conditions of indigenous peoples.
Perhaps one can grasp Che’s deep insights of the conditions of the poor in his paper, entitled “A Look from the Banks of the Giant Rivers” where he provides a beautiful and precise description of the Amazon;s inhabitants. During his visit to the Amazon, Che’s mission was to visit a colony of patients living with Hansen’s disease, popularly known as Leprosy. As he travels through the forest he becomes aware of the daily live of the people of the area: the Yaguas. He provides a detailed portrayal of the Yaguas’ living conditions that has changed from a forest clearing, due to the rain season, to the highlands. It is here that Che learns of their lifestyles and the extreme condition of their poverty. It seems as if the life of a Yagua is limited to obtaining food nourishment due to the season’s effect on the change of available food. Their expertise in fishing was one of the most efficient techniques he'd ever seen. No one in the tribe worked unless it was to eat (122). To live in a jungle, one must have vast knowledge on what plants are poisonous and which aren’t. Walking into unknown areas can prove to be fatal. To avoid this, one learns the plants’ positions very well. The humility and kindness these people contained were two of the traits that he described in his account. Before leaving the tribe, they were met with a wonderful goodbye ceremony and were given a monkey to feast on. The fact that these people even welcomed Che and others into their living environment shows their lack of assuming. This experienced allowed Che to see a population adapted to living conditions that are to an immense extreme to the way other populations of people had ever lived. This particular group of Native peoples allowed him to add-on deeper understanding.
There are other interesting aspects of el Che, such as his vast knowledge of archeology and his true love for ancient civilizations, specifically the Mayan, which adds to his all around thinking as a revolutionary. However, this topic is a whole new essay. Instead I will provide a fact that, those of us who have studied the subject know, about the realization Che came to after having visited the Mayan cities of Uxmal and Chichén-Itzá; “Here I became completely convinced of what my American identity had refused to be convinced of: namely, that our forefathers were Asiatic”(58). Che’s growth in ideas leads him to explore the deeper concepts of the Self, or our origins. In learning and seeing what our ancestors left behind (studying our older history of Blackness), he sees a blockage from fully living our reality with the presence of U.S. interests in our land and forms a philosophy guided by equality (socialism) and unity amongst all of Latin America and the separation from the U.S. government. This means that true revolution comes with the fight that one will separate from the devils creating chaos and for learning that we are all one people must unite as the tribe we once were. This is what the Cuban revolution was all about and how Che was able to add-on uniquely. What is to be admired most about Che is his transgression as a Man, Scholar,Thinker and Revolutionary is that he never denied the bit of privileged he possessed. Just like Fidel he used this privilege to clearly analyze and portray the situation of all original peoples in Latin America. His character of set principles (just like the God and Earth are guided by their determined right and exact principles) that he outlined a revolutionary should always have with him is what still is taught and lived on today within the youth of Cuban society. It doesn't get any better when he ruggedly wrote to his mother, "What [really] gets me down is your lack of understanding for all this and your advice about moderation, egoism, and so on: in other words, the most execrable qualities an individual can have...if I ever detect in myself that the sacred flame has given way to a timid votive flicker, the least I can do is vomit over my own shit"(109). It was that driving flame that he sought to preserve, the energy of righteousness and truth that he carried within himself. That's the same form of energy the Father carried with him, when he decided that true separation came with the accurate teachings of Islam, that, just as our ancients had already studied and known, everything was a reflection of the mind itself.
(1) It is important to note that people of color, although I won’t provide any etymological nor historical roots of the adaptation and usage of these words, it is an incorrect term to designate to original people. Scientifically when we refer to people that are of color we are referring to those who reflect light. The black, brown and yellow seeds are all capable of alchemizing/processing melanin by absorbing the energy of the sun. Thus, when we speak about a true people of color these have to be the Caucasoid who are not able to activate their melanin. This means they are literally reflecting back the sun light. The usage of the words it is a mental conditioning we still deal with as it was wrongly adapted by the original populations attending institutions of higher learning. To them, it was a form a raising the esteem and awareness of their populations of these college campuses.
(2)Vigil, José María. “Believe as Jesus Did: The Spirituality of the Kingdom.” Available at http://www.sedos.org/english/vigil_1.htm. 29 September 1999.