Riding My Father's Motorcycle
Uncut version of article published in the New York Times October 9, 2004
When I read "The Motorcycle Diaries" for the first time, it was just a sheaf of typewritten pages. I identified immediately with this man who narrated his adventures in such a spontaneous way. As I continued reading, I began to realize that the writer was my father.
There were moments when I [felt like I] literally took over Granado's place on the motorbike and clung to my dad's back, journeying with him over the mountains and around the lakes. I admit there were some occasions when I stopped reading, especially when he describes so graphically things I would never talk about myself. When he does, however, he reveals yet again just how honest and unconventional he could be.
To tell you the truth, the more I read, the more in love I was with the boy my father had been.
While I was reading, I got to know the young Ernesto better: the Ernesto who left Argentina with his yearning for adventure and his dreams of the great deeds he would perform, and the young man who, as he discovered the reality of our continent, continued to mature as a human being and to develop as a social being. Slowly we see how his dreams and ambitions changed. He grows increasingly aware of the pain of many others and he allows it to become a part of himself.
The young man, who makes us smile at the beginning with his absurdities and craziness, becomes before our eyes increasingly sensitive as he tells us about the complex indigenous world of Latin America, the poverty of its people and the exploitation to which they are submitted. In spite of it all, he never loses his sense of humor, which instead becomes finer and more subtle.
My father, "ése, el que fue" ("myself, the man I used to be"), as he identifies himself, shows us a Latin America that few of us know about, describing its landscapes with words that color each image and reach into our senses, so that we too can see the things his eyes took in.
His prose is fresh. His words allow us to hear sounds we have never heard before, infusing us with the surroundings that struck this romantic being with their beauty and their crudity, yet he never loses his tenderness even as he becomes firmer in his revolutionary longing.
His awareness grows that what poor people need is not so much his scientific knowledge as a physician, but rather his strength and persistence in trying to bring about the social change that would enable them to live with the dignity that had been taken from them and trampled on for centuries. With his thirst for knowledge and his great capacity to love, he shows us how reality, if properly interpreted, can permeate a human being to the point of changing his or her way of thinking.
I was only six when my father died so I have few memories. I only got to know my father as I grew up. My mother loved him very deeply, and she shared his ideals, which she passed on to her children. What I remember most is my father's great capacity for love.
I often describe myself as a genetic accident; I had the honor and privilege of being the daughter of a man and woman who are both very special people. And I am also a product of the Cuban revolution.
I am a pediatrician, specializing in allergies, and live in Havana. When I was young, my father's image did influence me, but I later chose a career in medicine as a way to be closer to my people. I have also worked as a doctor in Nicaragua, Angola and Ecuador.
My family is happy when my father's image inspires people to learn more about him and his thinking, but often the commercialization seems to us like a lack of respect for who he was and what he stood for.
[The following section did not appear in the Times:
It was with great surprise that I read the article in the New York Times on May 26, 2004, which claimed that Cuba had prevented publication of "The Motorcycle Diaries." It alleged that Cuba was embarrassed by the book's contents, written by the 24-year-old Ernesto Guevara.
I believe that journalists and intellectuals, or anyone who is able to express their opinion to a wider audience, should be more careful. They are aware that such opinions cannot easily be contradicted and that we, as readers, rarely have the opportunity to investigate the facts on which they have based their conclusions. It is unacceptable for anyone to voice so brazenly opinions that lack any substance whatsoever.
Since the 1980's, we - Che's family and others - have been working on his unpublished manuscripts. These were maintained as part of his personal archive and in large part were and continue to be guarded jealously by my mother, Aleida March. To publish anything written by him that he himself did not intend for publication — as is the case with the notes that became "The Motorcycle Diaries" — serious editing work is required. We can't omit text, but at the same time we can't be completely sure he would have given his permission for the text to be published as it was originally written. That is why we have a commitment to edit what he wrote without changing what he meant - a very difficult task.
A Cuban publishing house published "The Motorcycle Diaries" for the first time in 1993. Of the many books that my father wrote, it is one of my favorites, because this book brings the young Ernesto closer to other young people in the world today — which is the most important thing — showing how someone can be changed if they are sensitive to their surroundings.
The Che Guevara Studies Center – previously known as Che Guevara's Personal Archive – has already made possible the publication of a number of previously unpublished works of Che Guevara. We are yet to publish some very important books. From the beginning of this new century, we began an extensive publishing program with Cuban publishing houses and with the Australian-based Ocean Press. Ocean Press has published a new edition of "The Motorcycle Diaries" in English and Spanish. In July 2004 we launched Self-Portrait (also published with Ocean Press), which I strongly recommend – as an excellent and unique compilation of Che's testimonial writings spanning his entire life. It is a book we have especially dedicated to young people.
This year the Che Guevara Studies Center will inaugurate its new building in Havana and everyone is invited. We will be here for many years to come, and hope that one day you will have the opportunity to meet and get to know the Cuban people as we are: happy and profound, valiant and tender and very hospitable.
end of section not published by the Times.]
Although there is only one copy of Walter Salles' film version of "The Motorcycle Diaries" on the island, those Cubans who have seen it have great things to say. It is entertaining, tender and profound.
If you ever have the opportunity to follow his footsteps in reality, you will discover with sadness that many things remain unchanged or are even worse, and this is a challenge for those of us like the young man who years later would become Che.
Though we no longer live in the 1950's and 1960's, unfortunately the conditions in Latin America that provoked a profound change in the young Che Guevara still continue in many parts of our continent and the world, and with an increasingly brutal impact.
Have the film and the book become so popular because his strength and tenderness are a model of the sort of people we need in these times? I believe this is the case and I am proud to live among a people who not only love him, but who put into practice his commitment to create a world that is far more just.
[Aleida Guevara is a pediatrician and the author of the preface to the new Ocean Press edition of "The Motorcycle Diaries" (newly translated and with new and unpublished photographs). Aleida is also the author of the forthcoming Ocean Press book "Chávez, Venezuela and the new Latin America," which consists of recent exclusive interviews by Aleida Guevara with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.]
Copyright © Ocean Press, 2004 Copyright © Aleida Guevara, 2004