Menchú in 1998
Rigoberta Menchú Tum
9 January 1959
|Spouse(s)||Ángel Canil (m. 1995)|
|Children||2 (1 deceased)|
|Parent(s)||Juana Tum Kótoja|
Vicente Menchú Pérez
|Awards||Nobel Peace Prize in 1992|
Prince of Asturias Awards in 1998
Order of the Aztec Eagle in 2010.
|Website||Rigoberta Menchú Tum profile|
Rigoberta Menchú Tum (Spanish: [riɣoˈβeɾta menˈtʃu]; born 9 January 1959) is a K'iche' Guatemalan human rights activist, feminist, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the rights of Guatemala's Indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting Indigenous rights internationally.
She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and the Prince of Asturias Award in 1998, in addition to other prestigious awards. She is the subject of the testimonial biography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and the author of the autobiographical work, Crossing Borders (1998), among other works. Menchú is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She ran for president of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011, having founded the country's first Indigenous political party, Winaq.
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Rigoberta Menchú was born to a poor Indigenous family of Q'iche' Maya descent in Laj Chimel, a rural area in the north-central Guatemalan province of El Quiché. Her family was one of many Indigenous families who could not sustain themselves on the small pieces of land they were left with after the Spanish conquest of Guatemala. Menchú's mother began her career as a midwife at age sixteen, and continued to practice using traditional medicinal plants until she was murdered at age 43. Her father was a prominent activist for the rights of Indigenous farmers in Guatemala. Both of her parents regularly attended Catholic church, and her mother remained very connected to her Maya spirituality and identity. Menchú considers herself to be the perfect mix of both her parents. She believes in many teachings of the Catholic Church, but her mother's Maya influence also taught Menchú the importance of living in harmony with nature and retaining her Maya culture.
In 1979-80 her brother, Patrocinio, and her mother, Juana Tum Kótoja, were kidnapped, brutally tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan army. Her father, Vicente Menchú Perez, died in the 1980 Burning of the Spanish Embassy, which occurred after urban guerrillas took hostages and were attacked by government security forces. In January 2015, Pedro García Arredondo, a former police commander of the Guatemalan army, was convicted of attempted murder and crimes against humanity for his role in the embassy attack.
In 1984, Menchú's other brother, Victor, was shot to death after he surrendered to the Guatemalan army, was threatened by soldiers, and tried to escape.
In 1995, Menchú married Ángel Canil, a Guatemalan, in a Mayan ceremony. They had a Catholic wedding in January 1998; at that time they also buried their son Tz'unun ("hummingbird" in Mayan), who had died after being born prematurely in December. They adopted a son, Mash Nahual J’a ("Spirit of Water").
From a young age, Menchú was active alongside her father, advocating for the rights of Indigenous farmers through the Committee for Peasant Unity. Menchú often faced discrimination for wanting to join her male family members in the fight for justice, but she was inspired by her mother to continue making space for herself. She believes that the roots of Indigenous oppression in Guatemala stem from issues of exploitation and colonial land ownership. Her early activism focused on defending her people from colonial exploitation.
After leaving school, Menchú worked as an activist campaigning against human rights violations committed by the Guatemalan armed forces during the country's civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996. Many of the human rights violations that occurred during the war targeted Indigenous peoples. Women were targets of physical and sexual violence at the hands of the military.
In 1981, Menchú was exiled and escaped to Mexico where she found refuge in the home of a Catholic bishop in Chiapas. Menchú continued to organize resistance to oppression in Guatemala and organize the struggle for Indigenous rights by co-founding the United Republic of Guatemalan Opposition. Tens of thousands of people, mostly Mayan Indians, fled to Mexico from 1982 to 1984 at the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
A year later, in 1982, she narrated a book about her life, titled Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia (My Name is Rigoberta Menchú, and this is how my Awareness was Born), to Venezuelan author and anthropologist Elizabeth Burgos, which was translated into five other languages including English and French. Menchú narrated the book in Spanish, although she had only learned to speak it three years prior. Spanish was a language that had been forced upon Indigenous peoples by colonizers, but Menchú sought to master the language and turn it against her oppressors. The book made her an international icon at the time of the ongoing conflict in Guatemala and brought attention to the suffering of Indigenous peoples under an oppressive government regime.
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After the Guatemalan Civil War ended, Menchú campaigned to have Guatemalan political and military establishment members tried in Spanish courts. In 1999, she filed a complaint before a court in Spain because prosecutions of civil-war era crimes in Guatemala was practically impossible. These attempts stalled as the Spanish courts determined that the plaintiffs had not yet exhausted all possibilities of seeking justice through the legal system of Guatemala. On 23 December 2006, Spain called for the extradition from Guatemala of seven former members of Guatemala's government, including Efraín Ríos Montt and Óscar Mejía, on charges of genocide and torture. Spain's highest court ruled that cases of genocide committed abroad could be judged in Spain, even if no Spanish citizens were involved. In addition to the deaths of Spanish citizens, the most serious charges include genocide against the Maya people of Guatemala.
On 12 February 2007, Menchú announced that she would form an Indigenous political party called Encuentro por Guatemala and that she would stand in the 2007 presidential election. She was the first Maya, Indigenous woman to ever run in a Guatemalan election. Had she been elected, she would have become Latin America's fourth Indigenous president after Mexico's Benito Juárez, Peru's Alejandro Toledo and Bolivia's Evo Morales. In the 2007 election, Menchú was defeated in the first round, receiving three percent of the vote.
In 2009, Menchú became involved in the newly founded party Winaq. Menchú was a candidate for the 2011 presidential election, but lost in the first round, winning three percent of the vote again. Although Menchú was not elected, Winaq succeeded in becoming the first Indigenous political party of Guatemala.
In 1996, Menchú was appointed as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in recognition of her activism for the rights of Indigenous people. In this capacity, she acted as a spokesperson for the first International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995–2004), where she worked to improve international collaboration on issues such as environment, education, health care, and human rights for Indigenous peoples. In 2015, Menchú met with the general director of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, in order to solidify relations between Guatemala and the organization.
Since 2003, Menchú has become involved in the Indigenous pharmaceutical industry as president of "Salud para Todos" ("Health for All") and the company "Farmacias Similares," with the goal of offering low-cost generic medicines. As president of this organization, Menchú has received pushback from large pharmaceutical companies due to her desire to shorten the patent life of certain AIDS and cancer drugs to increase their availability and affordability.
In 2006, Menchú was one of the founders of the Nobel Women's Initiative along with sister Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. These six women, representing North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace, justice and equality. It is the goal of the Nobel Women's Initiative to help strengthen women's rights around the world.
Menchú is a member of PeaceJam, an organization whose mission is to use Nobel Peace Laureates as mentors and models for young people and provide a way for these Laureates to share their knowledge, passions, and experience. She travels around the world speaking to youth through PeaceJam conferences. She has also been a member of the Foundation Chirac's honor committee since the foundation was launched in 2008 by former French president Jacques Chirac in order to promote world peace.
Menchú has continued her activism in recent years, according to the Prensa Latina, by continuing to raise awareness for issues including political and economic inequality and climate change. She continues to be a spokesperson for human rights, including the current violations occurring in Venezuela.
Awards and honors
- 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy and social justice work for the indigenous peoples of Latin America
- 1992 UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador position for her advocacy for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala
- Menchú became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at the time, and its first Indigenous recipient.
- 1996 Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for her authorship and advocacy for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala
- 1998 Prince of Asturias Prize for improving the condition of women and the communities they serve. (Jointly with 6 other women.)
- 1999 asteroid 9481 Menchú was named in her honor (M.P.C. 34354)
- 2010 Order of the Aztec Eagle for services provided for Mexico
- 2018 Spendlove Prize for her advocacy for minority groups
- I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983)
- This book, also titled My Name is Rigoberta Menchú and that's how my Conscience was Born, was dictated by Menchú and transcribed by Elizabeth Burgos
- Crossing Borders (1998)
- Daughter of the Maya (1999)
- The Girl from Chimel (2005) with Dante Liano, illustrated by Domi 
- The Honey Jar (2006) with Dante Liano, illustrated by Domi
- The Secret Legacy (2008) with Dante Liano, illustrated by Domi 
- K'aslemalil-Vivir. El caminar de Rigoberta Menchú Tum en el Tiempo (2012)
Controversies about her testimony
More than a decade after the publication of I, Rigoberta Menchú, anthropologist David Stoll investigated Menchú's story and claimed that Menchú changed some elements about her life, family, and village to meet the publicity needs of the guerrilla movement. The controversy caused by Stoll's book received widespread coverage in the US press of the time. The New York Times highlighted a few claims in her book contradicted by other sources:
A younger brother whom Ms. Menchu says she saw die of starvation never existed, while a second, whose suffering she says she and her parents were forced to watch as he was being burned alive by army troops, was killed in entirely different circumstances when the family was not present. Contrary to Ms. Menchu's assertion in the first page of her book that I never went to school and could not speak Spanish or read or write until shortly before she dictated the text of I, Rigoberta Menchu, she in fact received the equivalent of a middle-school education as a scholarship student at two prestigious private boarding schools operated by Roman Catholic nuns.
Many authors have defended Menchú, and attributed the controversy to different interpretations of the testimonio genre. Menchú herself states, "I'd like to stress that it's not only my life, it's also the testimony of my people." Despite accusations of factual and historical discrepancies, Menchú's testimony remains relevant for the ways in which it depicts the life of an Indigenous Guatemalan during the civil war.
The Nobel Committee dismissed calls to revoke Menchú's Nobel Prize, rejecting the claims of falsification by Stoll. Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the committee, said Menchú's prize was awarded because of her advocacy and social justice work, not because of her testimony.
According to Mark Horowitz, William Yaworsky, and Kenneth Kickham, the controversy about Stoll's account of Menchu is one of the three most divisive episodes in recent American anthropological history, along with controversies about the truthfulness of Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa and Napoleon Chagnon's representation of violence among the Yanomami.
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… Guatemalan activist/Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu in 1959 (age 61)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rigoberta Menchú.|
- Rigoberta Menchú Tum on Nobelprize.org
- Salon.com: Rigoberta Menchú meets the press
- "Peace Prize Winner Admits Discrepancies", AP story in New York Times, 12 February 1999 (Subscription only.)
- "Spain may judge Guatemala abuses", BBC News, 5 October 2005
- "Liar, Rigoberta Menchu" by Dinesh D'Souza, Boundless webzine, 1999.
- "Anthropologist Challenges Veracity of Multicultural Icon" – The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Subscription only.)
- on YouTube
- Sound recording of Elizabeth Burgos-Debray interviewing Rigoberta Menchu.
- Appearances on C-SPAN