Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I, Rigoberta Menchu

One of the most important books I read in graduate school was I, Rigoberta Menchú, the 1983 autobiography of an indigenous woman whose tireless work on behalf of her people helped to end the civil was in Guatemala and earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Even with that recognition by the international community, however, I find that her story is largely unknown.

The countries of Latin America vary widely in the proportion of European, African, and indigenous racial heritage. In Guatemala, mestizos have always formed the ruling and land-owning classes, but the vast majority of the population continues to be indigenous. In telling the story of her struggle against unbelievable violence -- 200,000 Guatemalans were killed in the war, including much of her family -- she also tells the story of her people, their beliefs, and their relationship to language.

Her story is also essential for understanding the current plight of coffee farmers in Guatemala, and in fact it was Dean Cycon's work with her and others who resisted the tyranny of the U.S.-allied elites that eventually led to his emergence as a leading purveyor of justly-traded coffee. The connection is explained in his book, Javatrekker, which is required reading in my coffee classes, and whose back cover includes endorsements from both Rigoberta Menchu and Susan Sarandon.

Learn more about Menchú and her legacy from the Western Michigan University Colonial & Post-Colonial Dialogues project, the Riboberta Menchú Tum Foundation, the Nobel Committee, and World Trek.

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