The iconic photograph of Argentinean revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara continues to be everywhere. In Chicago neighborhoods his face peeks from windows of both older homes and the new gentrified lofts, pinned to backpacks of high school kids, and at many a rock en español and punk concerts. But slowly the face of another increasingly popular—and increasingly commercialized—Latin-American icon has appeared on T-shirts, posters and 'ethnic' Michigan Ave. handbags: that of Mexican queer painter Frida Kahlo.
Both were Latin Americans who defied the social and situation of the world through their activism and politics, as well as their philosophy, writing and, of course, art in the case of Kahlo. They have inspired generations of revolutionaries of all kinds, have been muses for many an oppressed population, and fought to create an alternative ( through somewhat different strategies ) to the consumerist ideology of the United States.
But as all of us, they have also been affected by the ironies and contradictions of this capitalist country. For example they now have their own alcoholic beverages: Frida Kahlo Tequila ( Mexico/ U.S ) and 'Che' Guevara Beer ( England ) . The Argentinean also has his lighters, a comparable handbag to that of Frida's, a German-made perfume, pipe filters ( too obvious for my taste ) , guitars, and a navel ring. From Kahlo I've seen mass-produced refrigerator magnets, pill containers, cigarette holders, ties, poker cards, and Volvo adds.
Also, let us not forget that the first time many Che and Frida T-shirt-wearing folk heard about either of them was when they saw the movies The Motorcycle Diaries' ( 2004 ) and Frida ( 2002 ) . However, the problem is not only that their ideologies are being corrupted in order to sell things to the masses who are looking for their roots, like many Latinos in the U.S. Many of my generation ( the twentysomethings ) have forgotten or never learned much of this subversive history, and the only way that we are getting to know these icons is during commercials or while window shopping. I fear that the younger generations will only know Frida because they
want the doll as a Christmas present. And, yes, there already are several dolls, the most absurd being the collectible 'Frida, passion for life' doll prized between $200-240. How revolutionary of them, no?
At the same time I must admit that there is something delightful and empowering about having a Latina woman who openly had relationships with other women; who was intelligent, determinate and radical; and whose efforts and contributions are recognized by the general Latino population—because we don't have many. I also must confess that I do own a couple of 'Che' posters and T-shirts, as well as some Kahlo postcards,
and that I paid particular attention to the tango scene in Frida. But my point is not that we should boycott every product that there is out there, because many times we derive our strength from these figures. I do think that we have the responsibility to learn the stories, philosophies and legacies of those who inspire us, and definitely of those whose faces we
wear on our T-shirts.
Tania is the managing producer of Homofrecuencia, a radio show in Spanish for TBLG Latino youth. It broadcasts every Monday at 8 p.m. on Radio Arte 90.5 FM. For questions or comments she can be reached at Tania@radioarte.org .