|Centrum Voor Mundiaal Onderwijs
1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú thinks of herself, first and foremost, as an indigenous woman, even though her Mayan heritage puts her in disadvantage in Guatemala, her home country.
The indigenous people, with their multi-colored Huipils, are the native dwellers of the Americas for thousands of years. European explorers, or conquistadors, came to America in the 15th century, bringing with them diseases and guns. They also exploited the gold found in America to build majestic buildings in Europe. Because of the European explorers, the cultural artifacts of the indigenous people were ruined; their people died of European diseases. The Europeans also married the indigenous people, producing children who were culturally orphaned. Thus, the Europeans almost completely wiped out the indigenous civilization. In Guatemala, the government is made up of Ladinos, one of the various ethnic groups. Indigenous people bore most of the brunt from both the Ladino government and the guerrillas.
|photo courtesy of the United Nations Cyber School Bus - Indigenous Peoples
Rigoberta Menchú, as so many other indigenous people did, lost members of her family from murders orchestrated by the Ladinos government. Her father, Vincente Menchú, was involved in a protest against the government before the government kidnapped and murdered him. Following the murder of her father, Rigoberta’s mother was raped, tortured and killed. The army also assassinated Rigoberta's brother, Petrocinio.
Rigoberta's family is only another sad example of the Ladinos government's oppression towards indigenous people. Since they are not acknowledged as citizens, they receive no protection from the government, and have to constantly bribe the corrupt government to stay out of jail. The government also intentionally looks for the people’s faults to create lawsuits against them in order to receive bribes. Further, the poor Guatemalans are not entitled to their lands; once they die, the land reverts to the government and not their children.
|photo courtesy of RigobertaMenchu.org
Menchú became involved with various groups in their struggle for the indigenous people out of personal conviction and sense of justice. Because of her fight against the government, Menchú was labeled an enemy, and had to flee Guatemala for her life. During her time abroad, she met many people who were sympathetic to the indigenous people's plight. Her friends persuaded her to write a book about her life.
For a week she was interviewed by a French anthropologist who then produced the book I, Rigoberta Menchú. The book won much acclaim from the international society and brought focus to Guatemala. It lifted Menchú's status from an indigenous peasant to a living legend.
When Menchú wrote her book, I, Rigoberta Menchú, the guerrilla movement was at its peak. By the following decade, however, the movement had lost much support becaus the indigenous people did not benefit from the movement and only wanted the fighting to end. The guerrillas and the government soldiers occupied tyrannical positions, and the indigenous people felt caught in the battle between the two hostile groups.
A decade later, Menchú received a surprise call from a friend congratulating her for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. An hour later word came out that she had indeed won the prize, provoking mixed reactions from many sources. Some were glad, since the prize means more exposure for the struggle of indigenous people. Others griped that they never appointed Menchú as their leader and spokesman. She was both the first indigenous person and the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. People all over Guatemala lit firecrackers, and toasted Menchú, who held a celebration for all her supporters.
Page created on 8/11/2014 4:38:38 PM
Last edited 1/6/2017 10:34:51 PM
* Menchu, Rigoberta. Crossing Borders. Verso, 1998.
* Stoll, David. Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans.
Westview Press, 1999.
David Stoll's book, Menchú and the Story of
All Poor Guatemalans maintains that Menchú dramatized much of her life in her book. However,
most of the people whom Stoll interviewed are sympathetic towards Rigoberta and do not care that Menchú dramatized her story. In their
minds, she had suffered as many Guatemalans did. In that way, Menchú
had become a living icon of all the indigenous people's sufferings.
However, the few who had read Menchú's book were enraged by her book.
Even though some people branded Menchú as a liar, the Nobel
committee did not cancel her Nobel Prize, and Menchú still has a huge group of
supporters. Because of the popularity of her books, people are drawn to
plight of the indigenous people. In the end, though the stories
depicted in I, Rigoberta Menchú is not her own true story, it is an epitome of the story of all poor Guatemalans.
Rigoberta Menchú's statement in response to the September 11 attacks.
A Call for Wise Judgement
After careful consideration of today's events, I would like to share the
1. I firmly condemn the horrible terrorist attacks that have taken
thousands of innocent civilian lives and have provoked an
unpredictable spiral of violent consequences. Terrorism, wherever it
may come from, is a politically unjustified and morally unacceptable
2. I express my profound condolences and solidarity with the victims,
their families and the American people.
3. I call upon serenity and wise judgment to avoid a rushed and
insensate response that could only result in an offensive revenge that
only would feed an escalation of violence, that although knowing
how and where it begins, nobody could predict when it is going to
4. I call upon the use of all available resources leading to a dialogue in
order to build a world based on a common understanding, a fair
acknowledgement of the problems that the international community
faces, the existence of international law and an institutional
framework, and the way the existing -selective and unilateral-
hegemonic system affects a peaceful cohabitation.
5. I exhort the international community not to fall in a logic of war,
seeking retribution for old and new controversies among nations and
justifying actions against groups and sectors that have not found a
pluralist disposition for the recognition and respect of their individual
expressions in the existing institutional frameworks.
6. I call upon the media to avoid alarmist sensationalism based on
interpretations of strong ideological bias that only increases the
confusion and feeds the ghosts of intolerance.
7. Finally, I call upon the world's civil society, Nobel Prize
Laureates, and all world leaders, not to rush to conclusions on
today's events conforming instead a wide FRONT FOR WISE
JUDGMENT in order to stop the cowardly use of violence and avoid
further suffering to humanity.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Goodwill Ambassador of the Culture for Peace
Mexico City, September 11, 2001
Un voto por la cordura
Luego de conocer los sucesos que han conmovido al mundo desde las
primeras horas de hoy, deseo hacer pública mi posición en los
1. Condeno firmemente los repudiables actos terroristas que han
costado miles de vidas civiles inocentes y han desatado una espiral de
violencia de consecuencias imprevisibles. El terrorismo, venga de
donde venga, es una conducta políticamente injustificable y
2. Expreso mi más profundo sentimiento de condolencia y solidaridad
con las víctimas, sus familias y el pueblo estadounidense.
3. Hago un llamado a la serenidad y la cordura para evitar responder a
la provocación y la insensatez con lo que podría resultar en una
ofensiva revanchista que únicamente alimentaría una escalada de
violencia que sabiendo cómo y dónde empieza, nadie podría prever
cómo ni cuándo terminaría.
4. Invoco a extremar los recursos que hagan posible el diálogo entre
un sistema mundial hegemónico, que incluye y excluye selectiva y
unilateralmente, y la radicalidad desesperada de las respuestas que ha
5. Alerto a la comunidad internacional sobre el peligro de que las
acciones de estos grupos terroristas contribuyan a desatar una lógica
de guerra, buscando dirimir viejas y nuevas controversias entre
naciones y justificando acciones contra grupos y sectores que no han
encontrado una disposición pluralista para el reconocimiento y respeto
a sus expresiones identitarias en los marcos institucionales actuales.
6. Hago un llamado a los medios de comunicación a evitar el
alarmismo fundado en interpretaciones de fuerte filiación ideológica,
que sólo acrecienta la confusión y alimenta los fantasmas de la
7. Finalmente, convoco a la sociedad civil del planeta, a los Premios
Nobeles y a quienes ostentan la responsabilidad de gobernar todos los
países del mundo, a no precipitar conclusiones sobre los
acontecimientos de hoy y comprometernos en un gran FRENTE DE
LA CORDURA, que detenga la cobarde insensatez de la violencia y
evite mayores sufrimientos a la humanidad.
Ciudad de México, 11 de septiembre de 2001
Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Premio Nobel de la Paz
Embajadora de Buena Voluntad de la Cultura de Paz