Forty years ago today, when I was living in Argentina as an exchange student, I wrote a letter home about the death of Che Guevara. The news filled the Argentine newspapers and was the talk everywhere I went.
“Nobody knows for sure if he’s really dead or not,“ I wrote. “Last Sunday, October 8th, a number of “guerrillas” were killed in one of the many Bolivian battles. This battle took place in the southern part of Bolivia, in the province of Santa Cruz, near a small village named Vallegrande. Among the dead, the Bolivian government presumed, was Che Guevara.“
Growing up in the 60’s, we had all heard of “Che.” But because of the year I spent in Argentina, and being there when he died, I felt a special connection to him, and the story of his life and death is still fascinating to me. I didn’t understand or have enough information at that time to make a judgment about him–whether he was the mass murderer some claimed or an heroic revolutionary according to others. And I don’t know where to find the truth about him even today. Which sources or which versions of his story can I trust? In the last few years government documents have been declassified, many books and articles have been published about Che, and the controversy still rages.
I just know that I have always viewed him as a person rather than as an icon. I have preferred to read his own writings rather than biographies of him written by various people. I read The Motorcycle Diaries a few years ago and was captivated again by his youth and idealism. It transported me back to my own youthful idealism as an exchange student in 1967. I loved reading about his journey and his expanding awareness of the complex world of Latin America. And I felt that he spoke directly to me when he described the impact of his journey through South America:
“The person who wrote these notes passed away the moment his feet touched Argentine soil again. The person who reorganizes and polishes them, me, is no longer, at least I’m not the person I once was. All this wandering around “Our America with a capital A” has changed me more than I thought.”