Gender & Identity, Life

3 truths you need to know before talking to Cubans about Che

I only knew him as someone whose name was almost always followed by the word asesino.

Growing up as a Cuban in Miami, slash Cuba 2.0, I lived in a little bubble. I never knew that there was a whole other narrative to the ‘icon’ that is Che Guevara. I only knew him as someone whose name was always followed by the word asesino. Not until I was in high school did I meet my first Argentinian wearing a Che shirt, and the wordvomit came spilling out.

I asked him, super offended, why on earth he was wearing that shirt. The kid clearly knowing as little about my people’s cultural baggage re: Che as I knew about his was equally offended by me, and replied with something like they were both Argentinian.

A few years later my younger cousin, product of my two most liberal relatives, half-Italian but raised in Miami, went off to Brown University. My mother often refers to that branch of the family as practically communist. So when he told me about how he literally ripped a Che poster off the wall at school I was shocked, but also proud.

One time in college, a couple of friends and I were going to do a group costume for Halloween. It was like a Lara Croft thing I think. One girl in the group, who I had known since freshman year of high school and who knew my family (and had spoken extensively to my dad about the Cuban revolution), gave me the heads up that she was going to be Che. I told her I would not appreciate that. She did it anyway. That was the end of our friendship.

I tell you these stories in hopes that you, dear reader, can have a little context for the very visceral reaction a group of people have when the subject of Che comes up. Because, you see, he’s become something of a pop culture icon, again, in the last 10-15 years. And while I know that most of the world will never know about the atrocities he committed in Cuba to Cubans, I can ask you, very politely, to please not ever speak of the subject in my presence.

So in order to both help you and I avoid an uncomfortable situation, here are three things you should consider before you start talking about Che:

1. Who am I talking to?

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Do I know this person’s nationality? More importantly, do I know if they are specifically Argentinian or Cuban? Now if they’re Cuban, are they Cuban in exile or not? Because if they, or their ancestors, consider themselves to be refugees in exile, it’s better if you just don’t talk about him at all. There are many other things you can talk about. Just move on to the next thing.

Even if they’re the most liberal person you know, if they identify as part of the Cuban exile, even if they identify a pro-democratic socialism and a Bernie or Bust, better to leave it alone.

Talk about something else.

2. What do they already know about Che?

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Again, if they’re not Cuban they probably have a very specific, media-taught narrative about who Che was and what kinds of things he did. And even if they are Cuban, you can usually tell pretty easily if they’re pro-Revolution or not. There are pretty obvious signs, like where they live.

If they don’t live in Cuba, and haven’t for a long time, chances are they’re anti-Revolution. If they’re anti-Revolution they’re definitely anti-Che. If you’re still not sure if the Cuban in front of you is pro or anti-Revolution, try asking them when they left Cuba. Anything before 1990 is almost definitely anti, if they’re doctors sent abroad to work by the government more likely to be pro.

3. Do I care about this person and their feelings?

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Like everything in life, people are going to have different facts, experiences, and opinions. I know that most people think differently about Che than this small (but mighty!) group of people that are the Cuban exile. What I would like for you to consider before you broach this subject, and all others really, is whether or not you care about how the other person you’re speaking to is going to feel about what you’re saying. When people talk about Che in my presence, most of the time I don’t engage.

I’m not going to waste my energy on battling a myth. We live in a post-factual society and I have better things to do with my time. If you can’t be bothered to read facts, that’s on you. But I would appreciate it if you didn’t speak about subjects that literally will fill me with a blinding rage in my presence. I don’t think that’s asking for too much.

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