In the footsteps of Che: Vale Nancy Violeta Herrera, 1942–2023

April 18, 2023
Nancy Herrera. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

When Nancy Herrera was a child in Argentina, her father was widely known in their community as a motorcycle fanatic. On a couple of occasions, a young university student would come around to their place for advice before he set off on a motorcycle tour of Latin America in 1952.

Later on, Nancy’s mother took her to a demonstration and she saw the same young man standing on a car urging people to greater militancy.

She recalled saying to her mother: “When I grow up I’m going to be just like that man”.

Nancy would familiarly refer to that man as “Ernesto”: He was better known as Che Guevara.

Later, as an adult, Nancy joined the Argentinian left movement. By then, Guevara was a minister in revolutionary Cuba. He wrote regularly to her organisation, which were circulated to the membership.

Nancy, whose ideology was influenced by Che’s politics, worked in poverty-stricken communities.

Nancy became a Montessori preschool teacher and a union militant. On one occasion she participated in a teachers’ strike and demonstration that was violently attacked by the police: she witnessed teachers being shot dead.

She had been trained to control her feelings so that she could react appropriately and lead in times of great danger. However, in later years, the trauma from those times came back to haunt her.

During the “dirty war”, when the military seized power and slaughtered leftists, Nancy worked as an underground intelligence operative.

Eventually, Nancy and her family migrated to Australia. In the late 1990s, following a divorce, Nancy became a member of the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) and was active in the Australia Cuba Friendship Society.

During the early 2000s when the DSP was debating dissolving into the Socialist Alliance, Nancy supported the move, saying a clear political break was necessary.

Nancy was tight-lipped, sharing very few stories about her early political experiences: she was a product of her political formation. Her son, Oliver Villar, urged her to write her memoirs, but she refused.

In later years, Nancy was wracked with arthritic pain and other ailments. She could no longer be so involved politically, and her daughter Giselle and her grandchildren, who, with Oliver, were her greatest affections.

Her fierce sense of independence remained, however, as she refused to follow her doctors’ advice!

Nancy died from a stroke on April 12.

She contributed a great deal to the sum total of human progress, and she was a living link between this generation and Che. Her grandson’s middle name is Ernesto.

A memorial celebration of Nancy’s life will be held at Leanne O’Dea, Albany Highway, Cannington, Perth on April 21 at 6pm. A live stream will be available.

Her daughter Giselle says all are welcome. “Mum would want everyone to wear the loudest, brightest colours, so no black allowed at the service, this is something Mum felt very strongly about.”

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