Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, Rigoberta Menchú Tum is a Guatemalan indigenous k'iche' woman who has fought passionately for justice and defended victims of discrimination and racism both in her home country and around the world.
By the age of 10, she had an active role in her religion, serving as a catequista in the pastoral activities in her community. Menchú also became a leader in her community through organizing and defense, and encountered the injustice, discrimination, racism and exploitation that had kept the Maya people in extreme poverty. Exposure to such destitution led her to look for a different livelihood in the country's capital, Guatemala City, to help her parents and brothers. During the country's armed internal conflict, Menchú lost her father in the burning of the Spanish Embassy, followed by her mother, Juana Tum who was sequestrated and who became one of the "disappeared," (kidnapped). Her brother was assassinated by the Army of Guatemala.
From a very young age, Menchú was involved in the struggle to defend and reclaim the rights of indigenous peoples and countrymen who were politically persecuted and exiled. In 1979, she became a founding member of the Committee of United Peasants (CUC Comite de Unidad Campesina) and the United Representation of Opposing Guatemalans (Representacion Unitaria de la Oposicion Guatemalteca RUOG), which informed her direction until 1992. In 1988, she returned to Guatemala and was detained. The platform of the Nobel Peace Prize continued to foster important initiatives, national and international, thus the creation of the Indigenous Initiative for Peace. She was named a UN Ambassador of Good Will for the International Year of Indigenous Peoples at the World Conference of Human Rights in Vienna, Austria, in June of 1993, and in 1996 was named Ambassador of Good Will by UNESCO.
Together, Menchú and her supporters established the "Vicente Menchú Foundation" which subsequently took the name of "The Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation." As president, she has helped provide support to Guatemalan populations in need of education and infrastructure. The Foundation serves many diverse cases ranging from those seeking justice for the victims of genocide committed in Guatemala to coming to the defense of victims who have suffered discrimination and racism. Dr. Menchú Tum has emerged as a leader for her steadfast commitment to social justice.
Menchú has received national and international recognition for her work, including the UNESCO Education for Peace prize in 1990. She earned the decoration of "Legion of the Highest Honor of Command" which she had the honor of receiving from the hands of the French president, Jacques Chirac, in 1996, and she won the Principe de Asturias de Cooperacion Internacional in 1998. She has been awarded more than thirty honorary degrees from various distinguished international universities, including the Universidad de San Carlos of Guatemala in 1996.
Menchú has published many works, including, "Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y asi me nacio la conciencia" ("I, Rigoberta Menchú"), a testimony published in 1983 that has been translated into more than a dozen languages and won international acclaim; "La Nieta de los Mayas," ("The Grandchild of the Mayas"), published in 1998; and more recently "Li Mi'n, Una Nina de Chimel" ("Li mi'n, a child in Chimel") and "El Vaso de Miel" ("Glass of Honey").
Her commitment to her country brought forth active participation in the signing of the Peace Agreements in Guatemala between the Unity Revolutionary National Guatemala (URNG - Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca) and the Government of Guatemala. Subsequently, in 2007, Menchú accepted the invitation to be honored as an Ambassador of Good Will.
Menchú continues to fight for indigenous rights all over the world and still encounters resistance, especially in Guatemala, based on her race and ethnicity.
Sponsored by the Associated Students of Whitman College, the Politics Department, the Spanish Department, the Sociology Department, the Anthropology Department, the Intercultural Center, the Beyond Borders Club, the O'Donnell Endowment in Global Studies, the Groseclose Lectureship Endowment, the Whitman Events Board, and the Office of the President.