For millions of young people around the world, their introduction to Ernesto Che Guevara will be Gael Garia Bernal as Che and Rodrigo De la Serna as his friend Alberto, kicking back the stand of an overloaded motorcycle, hopping aboard, and lumbering north on an 8,000-mile journey through South America in the film version of Che's Motorcycle Diaries .
For those of us in Cuba old enough to take a similar trip, our journey with Che, the young man with the funny accent and starred beret, began with less romance. "Pioneros por el comunismo, seremos como el Che! (Pioneers for Communism, like Che we shall be!)," we repeated day after day before starting class.
The chant became so tedious that inevitably, the class clown would ask if the incantation would end up turning us all into asthmatics, as Che was. Che's life and deeds all became part of a modern bible for young Cubans. Even if we wanted to reject what was force-fed in chants or poems like "Che Comandante," it was hard to resist the charm and passion that came from his letters and diaries.
In his speeches, I discovered the brilliant Che, mercilessly railing against inefficiency, false politics, and double standards. "If we lack organization, the ideas, after the impetus of the first moment, lose their effectiveness, fall into the basic routines and conformity, and become simply a memory," he once said. I looked around our island and wondered: was anyone listening?