Che on My Mind by Margret Randall is her account, as a poet, of Che Guevara. She never met Che but did meet members of his family and lived through Che’s time in Mexico and Cuba. A New Yorker by birth she has spend many years outside of the United States. She lived in Mexico from 1969-1980 where she co-edited El Corno Emplumado. She lived in Nicaragua in the early 1980s and also Spain and Cuba. She also visited Vietnam in the last days of US involvement. Randall lost her citizenship while married to a Mexican citizen. Upon returning to the US in 1984 she was ordered to be deported under the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952. The INS called her writings “against the good order and happiness of the United States.” and that “her writings go beyond mere dissent.” I can see where those ideas may come into play after reading Che on My Mind, but I disagree that that is a valid cause and so did the courts and her citizenship was restored. She says of the book is a poets reminiscence of an era. I would say Che is to her as nature is to a Romance poet.
Che never marketed a product, starred in a movie or TV show, or lead a country, but his image is almost as recognizable as the Coca-Cola logo. Conservative Americans hated him and called him a thug at best. Hipsters wear his face on their t-shirts without any real world idea of who he is. That in itself is something that would have hurt Che; to be remembered as an icon without meaning. “Go a head and shoot, coward, you are only killing a man.” are the supposed last words of Che. Cultural today does something worse than kill the man, it allows Capitalists to make money off of his image selling it to the unknowing masses. Che was a man of meaning. He saw what economic colonization did to Latin America and wanted to stand up for the poor and more importantly justice. He did not lead the privilege socialist life like party favorites, in fact he despised it. Love him or hate him, he was a man of his convictions.
Margret Randall is a defender of Che. She she covers revolution and religion in a chapter, but she seems to have made Che the patron saint of positive change. Acts of brutality by Che are equaled out by acts of charity, such as lecturing prisoners of war on his goals and letting them go. Che was neither a drinker nor a womanizer. He was critical of soldiers who went to prostitutes, but at the same time not critical, but understanding, of women were selling their bodies for food. The women were victims of the corrupt society. She presents Che, accurately as a man of his convictions. Revolution first, before family, before anything.
Margret Randall presents her views on violence and change in the book also. She admits she sees violence differently today then she saw it before. There are a few success stories in nonviolence, Gandhi success in freeing India, and Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez social movements in the Untied States . There more examples where electoral change isn’t possible, like Palestine or where it was ruined by US involvement, like Allende in Chile. Even in countries where dictatorships were overthrown, those that held power still hold on behind the scenes or simply relabel themselves. There is a special place for revolutionary violence because it is done to help people and to serve justice, rather exploit them or gain imperial or territorial power. Violence was necessary for Che.
There is no mistaking the political tone of this book and the author. Which is all the more reason to read it. Che will be polarized by the right and the left and most of what is available on his life seems to be from the right. Che on My Mind is not from the right or even the moderate left. Although factually, I find the information about Che to be correct or at least adequately documented. Her work is well written and reads well as a memorial to someone who lost his life fighting for what he believed in. It is a fitting tribute to the man and his cause.