More than 40 years after the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, students at Cal State Long Beach protest the placement of his image next to other historical figures in a campus mural an Associated Students Inc. senator calls “propaganda that promotes a murderer.”
The Negative Propaganda Act 9 to be presented by ASI Senator at Large Mark Rizk and student Jason Aula asks that the image of Guevara be removed from a mural in the McIntosh building.
Aula opposes the placement of Guevara’s image next to Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. He said that as an Asian Indian, he was “disgusted” by the comparison of Guevara to “two men of peace.”
“Che was known for being a murderer; he was known for his lack of respect for human rights,” Aula said. “Many Cubans view Che as comparable to Adolf Hitler.”
The mural in the lobby of the McIntosh building depicts figures carrying signs — including one with the word “dream” superimposed over faces of historical figures — marching with robots up the staircase.
“The mural sends the message that through time, mankind has overcome struggles that seemed impossible to defeat by working to achieve their dreams no matter how large they may be. … The mural reminds us that we still have much to overcome,” said James Suazo, a CSULB student and the program and publicity coordinator of the College of the Liberal Arts Student Council.
Since the mural’s completion in 2008, it has received both appreciation and criticism, “as art should,” said COLA Dean Gerry Riposa. The image of Guevara occupies approximately 1 square foot of the 480-square-foot mural.
“This mural speaks to courage and building a dream, as well as stressing personal development. In no way does it encourage a particular type of ideology other than developing a social consciousness,” Riposa said via e-mail.
The act was named “Negative Propaganda” because placing images of political leaders around areas where students are subjected to those messages is inappropriate and harmful, Aula said. Aspects of the mural, such as the portrayal of robots marching in line, is “clearly representing communism,” he added.
The resolution for the act cites the COLA mission statement which promises to provide students with “foundations that enable them … to lead productive and creative lives” and “resources that they identify as necessary for their social, intellectual and physical development.”
However, what would lead to a more nurturing learning environment for some students would simultaneously raise a First Amendment issue for others.
“To some, Che was a leader, and to the U.S., he was a terrorist for 20 years. And that’s the point of art,” Suazo said. “It’s your interpretation, and to censor that is to censor freedom. That is not the welcoming environment the university should be standing for.”
Opponents of the act do not believe that different interpretations of history should be the cause of the removal of Guevara’s image from the McIntosh building.
“The question of Ernesto Guevara can be debated forever. Millions of oppressed people around the world see him as a hero. … But let me point out that one person’s terrorist is another’s hero,” said Judith Stevenson, an assistant professor in the human development department, via e-mail.
Aula said he and those who support the Negative Propaganda Act are not asking for the entire mural to be removed, but for the image of Guevara be covered or replaced by a less controversial figure, such as Cesar Chavez.
The mural was painted to reflect two themes of COLA: “Our world is our college” and “education as a transformative experience,” but they had not intended to represent the political or ideological ideals of everyone in the college, Riposa said.
“The mural is intended to evoke thinking,” Riposa said. “Hopefully, the mural will convey the values of an outward-looking education that emphasizes a global perspective and an educational transformative experience, and the values that drive that transformation.”
At Wednesday’s ASI meeting, Aula intends to question the legality of the mural. When the mural was created, it was done without consulting the entire college or offering the contact for work to other artists, Aula said.
“I have not seen any university rules saying that the mural cannot be there and they are not addressing the First Amendment issue,” Suazo said in response to a question regarding the legality of the mural.
The ASI meeting will be on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. in the Senate Chambers, USU 217. Anyone may voice their opinion during the public comments session.