The Motorcycle Diaries is a film created in 2004 about Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his buddy, Alberto, and their journey through South America. At the beginning of the film, it seems to be a light-hearted story about two young Argentina men going on a journey. As the film progresses, the feeling turns more dark because of the places and situations visited by the two young medical students. In an article by Ann Zulawski entitled “The National Revolution and Bolivia in the 1950s. What Did Che See?”, she states, “To read Che Guevara’s diaries of his Latin American trips in the early 1950s is to witness his transition from a middle-class student traveling on the cheap to a serious supporter of the revolutionary movements by the time he reaches Mexico in 1954.” Only a few short years of traveling changed Che’s life and his purpose.
Whenever reading the articles about Che’s adventure and watching The Motorcycle Diaries, one question remains at the center of attention, which was presented to us by Dr. Black before watching the film: Why would a young, intellectual almost graduate of medical school become a revolutionary leader in South America and around the world? His story is definitely a story of personal transformations; he went from asthmatic youth to medical student, and then wanderer, guerrillero, revolutionary leader, and finally, martyr (Eduardo Elena, ”Point of Departure. Travel and Nationalism is Ernesto Guevara’s Argentina,” 21). When reading the article by Elena, it is evident Che had a passion for traveling. “In fact, the one constant in Guevara’s short life was its unsettled nature: he never remained long in one place during his youth, and he moved from country to country as an adult, embarking on one voyage or mission after another” (Elena 21). Elena goes on to talk about how migration “was a way of life for Guevara and his family” (Elena 24). This is probably why traveling around South American was something embedded in his blood. But his love for traveling doesn’t answer the question of what led him to become the revolutionary leader he was. Maybe his love for books and reading was something that inspired him. “Guevara became a devoted reader and spent hours poring over books by Jules Verne, adventure fiction, and more esoteric works on scientific expeditions and missions” (Elena 25). Furthermore, writing while traveling, which is what the The Motorcycle Diaries is, was another passion of his that allows us to look deeper into his life voyages. “…close to his final days, while seeking to spark a guerrilla war in Bolivia and pursued by counterinsurgency forces, Guevara was pictured sitting in a tree reading a book. Even with the enemy closing in, suffering from exhaustion and wounds, he continued to carry books and diaries in folder strapped to his body” (Elena 25). All of the points stated above are some reasons why Ernesto developed into a revolutionary leader, but the main reason is a lot deeper: social injustice. By his travels, Che experienced what life was like in many different communities. ”Yet one can identify a sensibility in Guevara’s travel writings similar to the nationalist cultural expressions of the era. The Motorcycle Diaries echoes the language employed by Argentine nationalists in describing rural inhabitants. As seen in his encounters in Peru, Guevara often resorted to stock depictions of indigenous populations, replete with stereotypes about the innate, timeless characteristics of Indian psychology-even as he railed against the abuse of Indians as workers and against the racism they suffered” (Elena 42).
Because of his journey to many different countries and witnessing injustice of people by governments, Ernesto formed into ”Che”. He finally completed his medical school exams and then set forth on another adventure in July of 1953 (Elena 44). This journey took him “as far north as Mexico and would culminate in his decision to join Fidel Castro’s band of insurgents…As part of his transformation into El Che, his travels as a representative of Cuba’s government carried him elsewhere in the world” (Elena 44). Furthermore, Che wanted to return to Argentina, but not as a young wanderer but “as the head of an international revolutionary movement” (Elena 44).
Still, after reading and analyzing the story of the transformation of Ernesto to Che is complex and there are many questions that can examined along with the main question: Why would a medical student transform into a revolutionary leader? There was many experiences and characteristics of Che’s life that led to the leader and symbol he became. “Che continues to be a symbol of someone who gave his life for the peoples, when in Bolivia and in other countries around the world military dictatorships reigned. So that’s why it’s amazing to see that all over the world Che Guevara is still there, forty years later. But to value and recognize that thinking, that struggle… doesn’t mean to mechanically follow the steps that he took in terms of military uprising” (Zulawski 204).