Who Was Che Guevara?
In December 1951, Ernesto Guevara, who later became known simply as “Che,” and his friend Alberto Granado set off on a motorcycle adventure from Córdoba, Argentina. They planned to ride all the way to the top of South America. Twenty-three-year-old Che was studying to become a doctor, but he was taking a break from medical school. He wanted to explore the world.
On their journey, Che and Alberto met a husband and wife high in the Andes Mountains of Chile. The couple was dirty and very thin. The day was cold, but they wore only flimsy clothes and didn’t even have a blanket to share between them. They were heading to work in a sulfur mine. Digging for sulfur is dangerous—the sulfur burns workers’ lungs and eyes. It is like working with poison all day long. The couple would labor twelve to fifteen hours a day and not get paid much money. It was the only work they could find. They needed to feed and take care of their children, who they had left back home with a neighbor.
Che and Alberto shared their tea, cheese, bread, and blankets with the couple. Che was heartbroken. He didn’t think it was fair for these people to work hard in such terrible conditions and still be nearly starving.
The next morning, everybody went their separate ways, but Che never forgot the husband and wife he had met in the mountains of Chile. He realized he wanted to help the poor people who were sometimes taken advantage of by wealthy business owners.
Che Guevara didn’t live a very long life. After his nine-month motorcycle trip with Alberto, he became a revolutionary leader who fought for the poor. He tried to make big changes—like overthrowing leaders of countries—in order to bring about his ideas of justice and equality. He was willing to die for his beliefs—and kill for them, as well. Because of this, some people think Che is a villain. Others think he is a hero. But almost everyone understands the impact he made on the world. Chapter 1: A Brave Boy
Ernesto Guevara was born on June 14, 1928, in the port city of Rosario, Argentina, in the lower half of South America. His parents, Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna, owned a five-hundred-acre plantation. They grew a type of evergreen tree—called yerba mate (say: YER-bah mah-tay)—that is used to make strong tea. The plantation was on the banks of a river in a rain forest, where yerba mate grows best. Ernesto was the oldest child in the Guevara family. But the family grew, and he eventually had two brothers and two sisters.
When Ernesto was two years old, his mother took him swimming in the local river. Soon after their swim, Ernesto started coughing and couldn’t stop. He also began to have trouble breathing. His parents took him to the doctor. The doctor said Ernesto had asthma—a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe and causes coughing and wheezing.
Ernesto was often sick. He had coughing fits and periods when it was hard to breathe. His parents took him to see many doctors to try to help him. One doctor told them the air in the rain forest was too damp and humid for Ernesto’s little lungs. The doctor suggested that they move to a place with drier air, where it would be easier for Ernesto to breathe. In 1932, the family moved to Alta Gracia, a resort town near a mountain range.
The crisp mountain air helped Ernesto, but it didn’t cure him. He still suffered asthma attacks. As a result, Ernesto barely went to school until he was nine years old. Instead, his mother taught him at home. While he was sick, he spent long hours reading in bed. He loved the adventure stories written by Jules Verne.
Ernesto’s mom and dad let their children run free. When Ernesto was healthy enough to play outside, he climbed tall trees, ran on railroad tracks, and explored abandoned mine tunnels with his brothers and sisters. He wanted to prove he wasn’t sick or weak. He wanted to be brave.
Ernesto’s family was friendly with everyone in Alta Gracia—wealthy families and poorer ones, too. Ernesto played with children of maids and cleaning ladies as easily as he played with the richest kids in town. His mother and father showed Ernesto how to be generous. They always made sure they had enough food at home for any guest to share a meal with them.
Because of his family’s openness to bending the rules, Ernesto’s house usually had plenty of children running around. The kids were all allowed to ride bikes through the front door, around the living room, and then outside into the backyard.
In 1942, Ernesto began high school. Because Alta Gracia didn’t have one, fourteen-year-old Ernesto took a bus to a school in Córdoba, over twenty miles away. He rode the bus back and forth for one year until his family decided to move there.
Copyright © 2019 by Ellen Labrecque. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.