Motorcycle Diaries was one of my favorite movies yet! At times, however, I could not tell if I was enjoying the movie’s humor, modernity, and the personalities more so than the actual historical content. The truth-based story of Ernesto/Che Guevara and Alberto Grenado depicts two young men traveling Latin America for a change in scenery and some funny stories, but find a passion for the displaced people and messy political/social problems that are hidden behind beautiful landscapes.
Bolivia in the 1950s, along with many countries in Latin America, was seeking agrarian reform. The majority of the population–mestizos–were not accounted for in the political arena and were pushed around by the wealthy elites. Indigenous people that came from those lands originally were being forced to leave and find meager jobs in mining if they were lucky. Ernesto and Alberto come upon some of these indigenous that ask them why they are traveling, if it is to find work as well. It was both sad and humiliating to admit that they were just traveling to be traveling. This experience opened up their eyes to the immeasurable amount of people facing these same trials of desolation and abandonment the indigenous felt in their own lands. On one hand, the liberal political realm was seeking opportunities for indigenous peasants. “On the other hand, complaints and fears about the new importance of Indians and mestizos was widespread” (Zulawski 2).
Drinot points out that although Guevara’s initial reactions to the indigenous’ conditions were genuinely sympathetic his “observations also point to his limited capacity to understand the society he encountered in Andean Peru” (98). He is just as much a foreigner there as someone from Mexico would be. Just because language can be interpreted more readily and they live on the same continent does not mean that he possessed the same ideals for reform that they did. That would be like me thinking I understood the most important hardships that Canadians face. Drinot continues to critique Guevara’s diary writings by saying, “he clearly feels empathy with the indigenous… nevertheless reproduces highly racist views, comparing some of their behavioral characteristics to those of animals” (102). In Motorcycle Diaries none of these elements of Che are mentioned because that would reduce the Latin American hero to a normal college kid with dreams of equality. I think we fell in love with the movie-version of Ernesto Guevara whose only flaw is his asthma. Many times I, along with others (if they’re brave enough to admit this), glorify an ideal. Perhaps it be of reform, equality, or acceptance, but when it comes down to the true grit of the matter we are hesitant and our learned stigmas or prejudices kick in. Like sympathizing for the indigenous, we are stigmatizing them as a helpless people that need the “white-man” influence and protection to overcome. The cycle continues just as it did in the Inquisition: foreigners taking over a political situation in another country.