Gauchito Gil and the Lifespan of Change

How are your attempts at change remembered?

Bleeding Crimson

Robin Hood never had another name—as far as we’re told. In our childhoods, there was only one acceptable version of his story, and it was channeled through a whitewashed vessel, where pallid tongues and bleached palms cradled the tale from one set of wide young eyes to the next. Robin Hood was the tragic hero, the delinquent iconoclast, the arrow of hope arching from the poor to the rich and boomeranging back with hope to thread their clothes into something more than just rags. His story is powerful and touching and sows seeds of resistance against “the system” in the next generation. But whom is this story for? Who receives the privileged notion that if you steal from the rich and give to the poor you will be remembered for the charitable life you lived?

There’s another version of this story.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Guachito Gil—the Argentinian “Robin Hood,” if you will (although in that appositive lies the same problem). A war hero weary of war, Gil left the battlefield and turned to a life of crime in an attempt to provide for those in la pobreza—poverty—taking from the rich and giving to the poor. A familiar narrative, perhaps. Gil also was purported to have magical healing powers, amplifying the sentiment behind his curing of the poor. However, Gauchito Gil was caught by the police and his throat slit, despite being pardoned and promising to heal the son of the sergeant. After he had passed, the sergeant found his son cured and made it his life goal to honor this miracle by preserving Gil’s memory.

Unlike Robin Hood, Gil is venerated for the significance of his death, the importance of his character relying more on his mysterious powers to heal rather than the healing itself. Unlike Robin Hood, Gil and those in poverty aren’t the winners of the legend.

At Harvard, our methods of fighting against hierarchies of power vary. We rally in front of Harvard Hall and the John Harvard statue, participate in strikes and sit-ins—our arrows and bows being petitions for change and sanctions against exclusivity. An unfortunate majority of the time these opinions are heard but are not acted upon. In the recent past, students have rallied in support of being named a sanctuary campus, divesting from fossil fuels, paying fair wages during the HUDS strike, establishing bridge programs, and other causes. The list extends for a hapless length of time. Rarely have these efforts garnered the intended results.

In this sense, the Robin Hood of our childhoods incites us to continue the struggle against “the system” in hopes that our rallies, our protests, and our words make a difference. The seeds that were sown in our respective youths flourish under this light, with the idea that fighting against the richness in power that is the administration while enriching poorly constructed spaces—academic spheres with the bridge program and comfort for undocumented students—will lead to not only change, but admirable change.

Yet, perhaps we are more like Gauchito Gil in the sense that although we try to rectify what we see as faultlines in the system, the system still quakes with our finger extended outward, gesturing furiously at it. In spite of our attempts to try and change what we believe could be bettered in our university, what is memorialized and what is remembered is simply the death of them—a tombstone heading consisting of a Crimson news headline and a photo of the protest. It’s rarely the change itself.

Some argue that the best of stories have happy endings. The underdog wins the challenge, the guy gets the girl, the good wins over bad. I like that idea—that good stories have good endings—but when I look down my feet are touching the ground, not the clouds.

The other day we went as a group to visit La Casa Rosada, the office of the Argentinian president. Outside the gates of the impressive building, a group was stirring, shouting, rallying—comparing President Macri to el naranjito Trump, calling for change. Some took photos, others stood by and watched. The security guards paid them little to no mind, and hardly anyone of political importance could even hear their thoughts. Some might argue that their presence was useless, their cries falling on deaf ears.

Yet, they continued to speak—and I listened. I wrote about it. And I think that means something.

Jessenia N. Class ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Quincy House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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