Capitalist T-Shirts Put Him Back in the Eye of the Storm.
When the trouble started, Moses DeVeaux was sitting with some friends wearing a Che Guevara hat backwards.
Someone said he was “supporting a communist and murderer.”
“I said, ‘dude, it’s nothing like that,’ ” said DeVeaux, 17, a Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High senior of Bahamian descent. “ He didn’t want to listen to what I said and he pushed me, and I got up and punched him.”
For some, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a rebel, revolutionary and hero who tried to bring about social, economic and political change in many countries throughout Latin America.
To others, the Argentine doctor, was a monster in Fidel Castro’s years-long battle to oust dictator Fulgencio Batista. When the revolutionaaries took power in 1959, Guevara was commandante in charge of La Cabaña, a fortress in the Havana harbor where hundreds of executions took place.
Che T-shirts have been made popular by celebrities like Madonna, Johnny Depp, Gisele Bündchen, and Jay-Z, and the release of movies like “The Motorcycle Diaries,” starring Gael García Bernal, and another titled “Che,” starring Benecio Del Toro.
The popularity of the shirts is increasingly adding to the conflict between Cuban-American teens and older Cuban exiles in Miami.
According to the Havana Journal news site, the exclusive rights of the 1960-era, black-and-white line image of Guevara’s face were purchased by David Williams, corporate executive officer of Fashion Victim, a screen printing company. A substantial portion of Fashion Victim’s $4 million to $5 million annual sales come from Che merchandise, the Journal reported.
But even Guevara’s daughter objected.
“We can in no way accept that my father should appear on women’s underwear or men’s underwear or that it should be on the back pocket of a pair of jeans or that they use it as a commercial image for a pair of glasses,” Aleida Guevara told a British newspaper in 2003. “We think that is lacking in respect and we won’t accept that.”
“The media and Hollywood, as well as many popular music bands, promote Che Guevara,” said Pablo Antonio Suarez, 20, a sophomore at Miami Dade College and the son of Cuban exiles.
“I think most teens that wear Che shirts are greatly misinformed,” Suarez said.
“As a Cuban-American who knows the ‘true’ Che, it is in my opinion that Che was a coward, and despite being claimed by many as a visionary guerilla leader, he died as a coward hiding out in the mountains of Bolivia,” he said.
Guevara died in the Bolivian mountains in 1967, where he had gone to help lead another revolution.
David Muñoz, 16, a Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High junior of European-Colombian descent, said he had to burn his Che T-shirt after a fight erupted at church when he wore it.
“My mom wanted me to dispose of it,” he said
The fad has inspired other kinds of shirts that satirize the novelty of Guevara as a T-shirt icon.
This includes T-shirts that depict Guevara himself wearing a Che T-shirt and others that have the phrase “cliché” printed underneath his picture.
Other teenagers wear Che T-shirt because they admire Guevara and the romanticism of revolution.
“I know that Che gets a lot of flak regarding his ties to communism and such, but I think that his values, and the ideas he fought for, are admirable,” said Joseph Coto, 16, a junior at Miami Beach Senior High School, and the grandson of a Cuban exile.
Those teens are at odds with another group of teens who oppose Guevara, his actions and principles.
Anti-Che teens wear T-shirts that show Guevara in a different light, some portraying his image, reading “Murders Aren’t Martyrs” and “Assassin.”
Suarez owns several anti-Che shirts.
“These shirts are very controversial, but it is my firm belief that when I wear them, I am making the right statement against this man. I get many compliments when I wear these,” Suarez said.
Anti-Che teens are the Cuban-American children and grandchildren of older Cuban exiles.
“My parents fled their homeland because of the oppressive actions that Fidel Castro and Che implemented in their revolution,” Suarez said.
“Generally, older people, especially Cubans, look upon the symbol of Che negatively,” Coto said. “I know my grandfather, a Cuban native, would attack me for wearing the shirt, which is why I have never worn it near him.”
Miriam Perez, 69, a Cuban exile, said she would not like it if her grandson was wearing a Che T-shirt; she would ask him to take it off.
“The ones who don’t know anything about (Che) are the young people,” said Perez, in an interview conducted in Spanish. “They’re the ones who are wearing the shirts and propagandizing communism.”
DeVeaux says he feels that people should stick to their beliefs.
“I’ve had people actually scream at me, saying ‘Why are you wearing that murderer?’ ” he said. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘Do you even know what that means?’ and then I’ve had (people in) cars honk at me and say, ‘Yeah, keep the revolution strong,’ ”