This young man wore his Che T-shirt in Damascus, Syria last year.
Forty years ago today in the Bolivian highlands, a Cuban-born CIA agent, gave the order to a Bolivian soldier to shoot their captive, Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Yet somehow the guerilla leader, the Argentine doctor who sought to lead an uprising of the poor, lives on as an international icon. Of what he is an icon is not so clear, but that that somehow he lives in popular imagination is undeniable.
The villagers in the town where he died venerate him as a saint to be invoked in time of trouble.
Certainly much of Che's enduring magic arises from responses to Alberto Korda's iconic photo of the bearded, long-haired revolutionary in the beret. It is a source for all those T-shirts and posters. Wikipedia reports: "the Maryland Institute College of Art called Korda's picture, 'the most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century.'"
Somehow the image and the man's history have merged in imagination to call up a deep archetype of the heroic leader who brings justice to the poor.
I only know that when I was around the Catholic Worker movement in the 1970s -- that is, in the heart of in what was Roman Catholicism's U.S. alternative to godless communism -- Che's famous dicta from a letter on Socialism and the new man [sic] hung in the crowded office:
The dream endures.