Che Guevara - early years

Ernesto Guevara was born on 14 June 1928 in Rosario, Argentina, the eldest of five children in a family of Basque and Irish descent. Growing up in a family with leftist leanings, Guevara was introduced to a wide spectrum of political perspectives even as a boy. Though suffering from the crippling bouts of asthma that were to afflict him throughout his life, he excelled as an athlete. He was an avid rugby union player and earned himself the nickname "Fuser"—a contraction of "El Furibundo" (raging) and his mother's surname "de la Serna"—for his aggressive style of play. Ernesto was also nicknamed "Chancho" (pig) by his schoolmates, because he rarely bathed, and proudly wore a "weekly shirt".

Guevara learned chess from his father and began participating in local tournaments by the age of 12. During his adolescence and throughout his life he was passionate about poetry, especially that of Neruda, Keats, Machado, Lorca, Mistral, Vallejo, and Whitman. He could also recite Kipling's "If" and Hernández's "Martín Fierro" from memory. The Guevara home contained more than 3,000 books, which allowed Guevara to be an enthusiastic and eclectic reader, with interests including Marx, Faulkner, Gide, and Verne. He also enjoyed reading Nehru, Kafka, Camus, Lenin, and Sartre; as well as France, Engels, Wells, and Frost.

As he got older he developed an interest in the Latin American writers Quiroga, Alegria, Icaza, Dario, and Asturias. Many of these author's ideas he would catalog in his own handwritten notebooks of concepts, definitions, and philosophies of influential intellectuals. These included composing analytical sketches of Buddha and Aristotle, along with examining Bertrand Russell on love and patriotism, Jack London on society, and Nietzsche on the idea of death. Sigmund Freud's ideas also fascinated him as he quoted him on a variety of topics from dreams and libido, to narcissism and the oedipus complex.

In 1948, Guevara entered the University of Buenos Aires to study medicine. While still a student in 1951, Guevara took a year off from his medical studies to embark on a trip traversing South America by motorcycle with his friend Alberto Granado, with the final goal of spending a few weeks volunteering at the San Pablo Leper colony in Peru, on the banks of the Amazon River. Guevara used notes taken during this trip to write an account entitled The Motorcycle Diaries, which later became a New York Times best-seller, and was adapted into a 2004 award-winning film of the same name.

Witnessing the widespread poverty, oppression and disenfranchisement throughout Latin America, and influenced by his readings of Marxist literature, Guevara began to view armed revolution as the solution to social inequality. By trip's end, he also viewed Latin America not as separate nations, but as a single entity requiring a continent-wide liberation strategy. His conception of a borderless, united Hispanic America sharing a common 'mestizo' Hispanic America was a theme that prominently recurred during his later revolutionary activities. Upon returning to Argentina, he completed his studies and received his medical diploma in June of 1953.