Motorcycle Diaries is the reount of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s travels through South America in the 1950′s. The film is based on Che’s personal travel journal of this trip he undertook with his good friend Alberto Granado. The two friends embarked on this trip with hopes of seeing more of their continent. They didn’t set out with the specific intent of discovering the poverty and injustice taking place thoughout many of the countries in South America. It was during the trip as they met migrant workers and indeigenous people that the revolutionary spark was set in Che. Before this trip, however, Che was no stranger to travel. He often hitchhiked many miles across Argentina to visit family and friends while he was in school.
Che was only 24 years old and one semester away from graduating from college with a degree in medicine and was not in possesion of much money. Despite this and against the advice of his family, Che decided to begin his 4,000 kilometer adventure. As Elena states in his article this shows Ernesto’s departure from the norms of his society at the time. He came from a middle class family with a good name that had connections to upper class aristocratic families and figures. Also at the time, it must be noted, that travel was not uncommon among Argentines. The difference though was that most upper and working class Argentines were engaging in the type of travels most Americans are familiar with. They traveled to resorts and national parks and avoided the poorer countryside. Ernesto was obciously intrigued by this unknown segement of his society and culture and sought remote villages where he could interact with the locals and learn about their lives, so foreign from his own urban upbringing. He also made many stops at clinics and hospitals along the way, offering to help and learning as much as he could. His most famous stop was at the leper colony of San Pablo in Peru. Here he stayed for a time working with the people isolated in the colony. He also shows his defiance of conventional rules when he refuses to wear the gloves the nuns of the colony require. Through this action he puts himself on the same level as the sick and earns the repsect and love for it.
Elena also talks about Ernesto’s lack of political conviction at the time he began his travels. Argentina was going through the Peronist period in the 1950s and though Ernesto’s family were not supporters of Juan Peron, he rmained rather ambivelant. He himself did not support Peron fully either, but was known to have suggested that his maid vote for him because Peron’s reforms for the working class would be beneficial to her. It is interesting that he expressed no strong feelings for or against Peron considering his political impact and involvement in his later years when he became the revolutionary Che. Paulo Drinot adresses this same issue in his article Awaiting the Blood of a Truly Emancipating Revolution. Drinot says that during his time in Peru, Guevara was surprisingly ignorant of the political parties and movements of the country. Apparently Guevara met several aprista (APR party) leaders during this time, but he makes no mention of it in his journals.
Ernesto Guevara is a fascinating figure and the most famous revolutionary of Latin America. I think that he is largely misunderstood by Americans today, and sadly I know many people who have never even heard of him.