Adult Reading Level

I, RIGOBERTA MENCHU, AN INDIAN WOMAN IN GUATEMALA, by Rigoberta Menchu Tum, edited and translated by Elizabeth Burgos-Debray, Routledge, Champan and Hall, 29 West 345th St. New York, NY 1009, 212-244-3336; 1983, 251 pp, reissued paperback $17.

This book, written when she was 23 and translated into more than 17 languages, probably is mainly what won Rigoberta Mnchu (Tum) the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, the World Year of Indigenous peoples. It's another one no NA Studies professorial type thought to include among the 10 essential books they would expose their college students to. Here's a short review written a few years before she received the Nobel and the brief world spotlight that came with that:

In first-person narratives, 23-year-old Rigoberta Menchu describes her relationship with nature, life, death and her community (Mayan people), and rveals the cultural descrimination and genocide waged against Guatemalan Indian tribes today. In large part this is the story of all the indigenous peoples of the Americas. But it's also deeply personal, a gift of a human voice that whispers sacross the immense gap between the nature-based society of the Quiche Indians and our modern capitalistic societies. If you think you have time to read only one book about central America, read this one, because it will demand of you to read (and do) more. -- Jeanne Carstensen, writing in Whole Earth Review in 1989.

Even if the NA Studies profs don't think so, I think it should be on your top 10 list of Native books. You can read a bit more about and by Rigoberta -- including a trendy web tout service that disses her -- on MayaPages here. In addition to my links to all the websites that cover long-dead Mayan ruins, there's a speech by Rigoberta (which Point Communications considered "shrill and huffy"), and a very few websites that deal with the wars being conducted against Mayan people today in Guatemala and Mexico. Though NA Studies profs don't consider it literature (unlike the Nobel Prize committee), and not many bookstores carry it, you can get it through the AISES, at least. It's not clear who added the dumb subtitle "An Indian Woman in Guatemala". That's where she grew up, and where her family was tortured and murdered, but she made a lot of contacts and explored values, cultures (and genocides) among tribal peoples of Central American, and with some AIM people she met when she was a refugee, at 17 (when it was no longer safe -- as it's never been since -- for her to be in Guatemala). Although there have been governmental assassination attempts on her in many lands, she's the genociders' top target. This book was used with 9th - 12th grade Indian young people at an Indian school recently. They found it easy to follow, and were interested in cultural and spiritual lives of the Mayan people, as Rigoberta describes it. Reviewed by Paula Giese

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 02, 1996 - 9:18:04 PM