Cubans enraged at Che as
Miguel Perez. The
Record (Bergen County, N.J.), Monday,
April 11, 2005.
HACKENSACK, N.J. - Some people consider
Ernesto "Che" Guevara the ultimate
Latin American revolutionary leader, a man
who gave his life to free the people of
the Americas from U.S. imperialism.
Others see him as a cold-blooded killer,
the man who ran Fidel Castro's firing squads
after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
Thirty-eight years after his death, new
generations regard Guevara and his familiar
beard and beret as mostly a fashion statement.
Guevara's image has appeared on T-shirts
and other garments for years, but his status
as a cultural icon has taken on new significance
since the 2004 film "The Motorcycle
Diaries," which followed the Argentinean's
journey around South America before the
Generations at odds
Increasingly, when young Latinos wear his
image, older Cuban Americans are offended
- to the point of shouting matches that
threaten to erupt into fistfights.
One recent afternoon, 73-year-old Carlos
Barberia was waiting for a bus in Union
City, N.J., when he spotted a Guevara T-shirt
on a sidewalk rack. He bought the shirt
- and promptly set it on fire with a burning
"Che Guevara killed my father,"
he told a police officer, explaining his
outburst. "He had my father shot by
a firing squad in Cuba."
The officer turned out to be Cuban American,
too. "He told me, 'I have not seen
anything' and he walked away," Barberia
But the shopkeeper who sold the T-shirt
said he thinks Cuban Americans like Barberia
Jorge Posadas, who is Mexican, said he's
had many confrontations with Cuban Americans
who ask him to stop selling Guevara merchandise
at his Flamingo's Boutique.
"They tell me he was an assassin,
and I tell them that was his problem and
I don't care," he said. "I tell
them this is a store, not a political party
or a government, and that I sell whatever
people want to buy."
He said if his clients were interested
in Osama bin Laden shirts, he would sell
Another Union City merchant was more sensitive.
Sang Lee, manager of the Young Star boutique,
removed all Guevara merchandise after Cuban
"My boss was under the misunderstanding
that the Cubans would like those shirts,"
Lee said. "We depend on the community
and if they are offended by something we
sell, we're not going to sell it."
Young Star's response was appreciated.
"They showed us respect," said
Sergio Alonso, a Cuban American. "So
next time we buy a shirt, where do you think
we're going to go?"
Despite the Cuban wrath, Posadas' business
seems unlikely to suffer. He said he has
many young customers, a good number of whom
"don't even know who Che was, but they
have seen people wearing it and they buy
it because they think it looks cool."
Sending a message
For others, wearing a Guevara garment is
more than fashion. It's a statement.
"El Che is a revolutionary symbol,"
said Douglas Fuentes, 38. "And I consider
myself a revolutionary."
Fuentes' apartment is a gallery of Guevara
paraphernalia - posters, photos, coins,
medals, refrigerator magnets - all with
Guevara's face. He drives a van covered
with Guevara's likeness. Almost all his
clothing has some representation of Guevara.
When he takes off his shirt, the image remains
- on his tattooed back.
Fuentes said he has idolized the guerrilla
leader since his youth in El Salvador. His
favorite slogan is "Seremos como El
Che" - We will be like Che.
His hair down to his shoulders, Fuentes
admits he even tries to look like his hero,
who was killed while trying to start a revolution
in Bolivia in 1967.
Just eight miles away, the walls of the
Union City headquarters of the Association
of Former Cuban Political Prisoners are
covered with very different images: the
photographs of Cubans executed by firing
squads under Guevara's command.
Here, the Cuban old guard ridicule Guevara
fans as "useful fools," a vintage
Communist term that described gullible people
who fall for the romantic appeal of leftist
"There is something wrong with a society
in which people wear shirts with the image
of someone who preached hatred and enjoyed
killing," said Armando Alvarez, of
West New York, who was at the hall for a
meeting of anti-Castro organizations.
Compared to Hitler
"It's like wearing a Hitler shirt,"
Alvarez said. "Che always said that
to be a good revolutionary, you had to hate.
And so when they wear the image of Che,
they wear the image of hatred."
On the subject of Che Guevara, Fuentes
and Cuban Americans are like oil and water.
Fuentes tells of the countless times he
has been confronted by Cubans who feel offended
by his clothing, from "the woman who
shouted at me from her Mercedes" to
"the Cuban judge who insulted me because
I brought Che's image into his court."
He said that when Cuban Americans get too
combative, "I ask them why they are
fighting with me, why don't they go fight
Cuban Americans counter with stories about
the firing squads under Guevara's command
at La Cabaqa, the imposing Spanish fortress
overlooking Havana Bay, where "enemies
of the revolution" were executed in
© 2005 The Seattle Times Company