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What’s in a mural?

Update:  Since writing this post, we sat down with 4 of the owners of Bartertown to discuss the community debate.  They admitted that they need to be better at Facebook and promise to try to keep up with it, and not censor open discussion.  They also asked us to wait until the mural is 100% complete before passing judgment, and think that people will feel differently once they see it in it’s entirety – we agreed to do just that.

Like a lot of vegans, vegetarians, and just plain foodies in Grand Rapids, we’ve been  anxiously anticipating the opening of Bartertown Diner and Roc’s Cupcakes. Anytime a new  business opens in West Michigan, it’s cause for celebration, and we get especially  excited about a purely vegan joint.

Our excitement was short-lived when we were saddened this morning to see a good friend upset over a picture of the new mural on the wall of Bartertown. The mural has many images, but one is the often seen depiction of a young Che Guevara. It’s not anything we’d ever thought about honestly, but we’re not of Cuban descent. Our friend is.

To hear the stories of our friend’s parents encounters with Guevara gives us the chills. To know those stories, and after doing our own research, it puts Guevara in a new light It gives us pause as to the point of that particular mural in a vegan diner.

Our friend expressed his discontent on his Facebook page. A discussion followed, where many people’s eyes were opened just as ours were. The response was overwhelmingly in favor of pulling the mural down, and there’s little reason not to. Guevara is no one’s hero, and you’d assume that once the proprietors of Bartertown understood the sensitivity, there would be an acknowledgment of ignorance and the mural would come down soon after. Bartertown had a chance to rectify the situation.

But that’s not what happened. Some people posted on Bartertown’s Facebook wall, asking them to reconsider the mural and some posted links with websites regarding Guevara’s atrocities. The comments were quickly deleted.

If that wasn’t enough, adding even more fuel to the fire, a statement has been made through another Facebook account which links over to the original Bartertown Facebook page – presumably to make it harder for comments to be posted. The statement disregards any concerns about Guevara, warns that anyone who voices their displeasure will be banned from their Facebook page and comments will be deleted (as were the one’s posted earlier today), and promises that the final and completed mural will somehow make it all better.

We hope the Bartertown team comes to two realizations:

1. If you’re going to be in social media, you have to deal with the good and the bad. If you want to defend your right to have Guevara on your wall, so be it. But don’t silence the conversation. Bartertown had the opportunity to discuss the mural with others in their community, and they chose to shut the door before we even had a chance to walk in.

2. The mural is in poor taste…no matter your “pacifist anarchist” views. Take it down.


Kolene & Jon


  • Odyfabregas

    Thank you so much for doing this. It helps a little with the healing of the atrocities this man did to our family and with our country. He is no hero and those that see him as one are either useful idiots for the same ideology or they are ignorant fools.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for posting this. The more people speak out, the better. It is helping people to learn the truth.

  • I agree. Che is not a hero to me, but his image plastered all over dorm walls and such seemed relatively innocuous. I didn't realize before reading (and becoming briefly involved in) the Twitterstorm over it, that his image hits very close to home for many Cubans. A person I was talking to compared eating near a portrait of Che akin to a jew eating under a portrait of Hitler — quite a poignant analogy, and a connection I wouldn't have made without his message.

  • Lisa Rose Starner

    Interesting. Guevera was revered by the revolutionaries of Cuba. Detested by the elites. He was seen by many in Latin America (beyond just Cuba) as a freedom fighter against the tyrants in Cuba.

    In Latin America — one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. It's all a matter of perspective.

    If there was a poster of Batista on Bartertown's walls would there'd be the same outcry from this Cuban who takes such offense from the mural of Che???

    Check both sides of the story — that of the elites and that of the revolutionaries. Neither has a clean record.

  • Actually, Rose, I was that "elite" who started it and I would be more than happy to sit down with you and talk about REAL life as opposed to what you've supposedly read or seen in a movie. Name calling is ridiculous when it comes from someone who has no idea what they're talking about. I think it is YOU who should check both sides of the story, or better yet, live any ONE side of it before you spout that rhetoric. Did YOU ever come face to face with Che Guevara? How about Hitler? Maybe you should go talk to some Jews and tell them they should not be spouting off. Your "elite" language is offensive when you don't even know the people you are talking about. Who is the ELITE then?

  • Anonymous

    The point is what happened AFTER the revolution. If your answer to violence and tyranny because violence, murder and tyranny then anything that came before becomes discredited. The problem is that so little of the truth about Che Guevara is known so people don't realize that many rank him with Stalin, Mussolini, Chairman Mao and the like. When people glamorize what became a tyrannical movement in its own right, they tend to forget that people may be personally offended.

    We are fortunate to live in a free society where expressing these views will not have us jailed or killed. Political figures are very polarizing and many need a thicker skin, but in this case it is murders of thousands/millions being used as a "tongue in cheek" commentary on communism. Communism, in theory, was a lovely Utopia. In practice? Not so much.

  • Roberta F. King

    This is a thoughtful post by Kolene and Jon. This is an important issue and one worth taking a stand about.

  • Guest

    Don't like it? Don't eat there. If you truly support free speech, you support free speech for views you don't like.

  • Gustavo

    "doing research" by only checking out one side of the story on one website? interesting. I also find it interesting that you link pacifist anarchists with a news story about vandalism. bias much? what are you trying to get at? I was looking forward to this blog, unfortunately I will not be recommending it to my fellow vegans.

  • Spyralout

    So I guess all the Chinese people in GR should also be up in arms about the part of the mural with the retro cultural-revolution era propaganda on it?

  • Gustavo

    Let's hope that Kolene and Jon start to rally against other food establishments that have images of of US Presidents and Politicans who can be considered war mongers and murderous. Otherwise they're just hypocrites to me

  • Tsukae

    Guevara is a hero to anyone that isn't a Batista supporting dickbag. It was a fucking revolution, of course he killed people. Best of all he killed rich supporters of a military dictatorship. Cuba is much better off now than under Batista rule.

  • Antonio

    I also love how Che is called a mass murder for killing state officials during a time of revolution when the Cuban public strongly supported his actions, but George Washington who was called "town burner" by the natives and crushed anti-tax rebellions is some hero for patriotic idiots.

  • DeLeon

    Che Guevara assumed the responsibility of overseeing the executions of some several hundred Batista loyalists. Charges against these people were as follows: Raping, killing, torturing, putting hot irons into women's vaginas, mutilation.. All of these acts were done towards people who were not supportive of the U.S. backed Batista regime. Because Batista supported the use of market trade, was authoritarian, and did not represent the interests of Cuban citizenry at the time(who were vehemently anti-US)– he was optimal for U.S. instatement. Naturally, the people of Cuba hated the idea of imperialism and domination in South America because they had witnessed the throwing out of elected leaders and the instating of right-wing military leaders because it was politically convenient for the West to do so during the Cold War. So its ironic that people find Che a mass murderer, when he simply executed those who committed war crimes under the guise of U.S./Batista approval and against the will of the public.

  • tim p

    i would imagine Bartertown's thinking behind putting up the mural is the same as the thousands of punk/hardcore records with images of bombed out cities, mutilated bodies and tortured animals – images within that insular culture tend to not have any historical context beyond the one that is already understood within that culture – i'm not defending it, i'm just trying to understand their logic because i'm surprised by their response to all of this. they could have easily used images of Victor Jara, Joe Hill, or IWW stuff to illustrate their agenda, but then maybe no one would recognize it

  • the guy that painted

    im damn near positive that the mural itself was more commentary on youth culture appropriating revolutionary figures in attempts to appear fashionable than to give a thumbs up to political butchery. any political figure that has led any nation is in some way complicit in death. all leaders do horrible things. but that is not what the mural was done for. mostly it was just commentary on commercialization of revolutionary or political figures in an attempt to up the edgy cool of those that buy it. at least half of the college age population that have read chomsky probably have a che t-shirt rattling around their closets. the images are made to look silly. there are (were?) plans for other political figures in various resaurant work roles to be painted. within the confines of a commercial and capital based society the images of these figures are reduced to product. and that was all that was intended in the painting…using an edgy image-product and reducing it to foolishness.
    im sorry that people got angry. not my intent. i just wanted to mock young faux-revolutionary types.

  • Ryan

    Hey vegan GR, so whats the deal you only exist on the net? I sat down this after noon with the wonderful Denise Chang and had coffee. You know the same girl who is upset about the mural? Thats right we talked in person. Then I gave you my # I heard nothing! Then I gave Mario a time I would be home yes I got a call back that i have not returned yet. We have lives we have families we have jobs. Your post makes this site look really bad, and thats coming from someone who has been involved with the vegan community for many many many years in this area. So too bad a cool site has just become a reactionary debacle!
    All in all people like Denise Chang are going to make this world a better place through talking, and not playing these social media games. You got my # call it. Lets make veganGR a cool site for all to enjoy. Bartertown fucked up by bullshit censorship. One of the people from the collective made a mistake, but so did you. Telling us to take it down, what the hell is that?
    The mural is not done, and you have to come in and see what it look like when we open. We are not looking to cater to the entire world. Come if you like or don't, it's that simple. Bartertown went public on Mlive this morning and on our site http://www.bartertowngr.com that we made a mistake so it's time you do the same!