Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Early Life and Political Activism
Menchú was born on January 9, 1959 to a poor Indian peasant family and raised in the Quiche branch of the Mayan culture. In her early years she helped with the family farm work, either in the northern highlands where her family lived, or on the Pacific coast, where both adults and children went to pick coffee on the big plantations.
When still a teenager, Rigoberta Menchú became involved in social reform activities through the Catholic Church, and became prominent in the women's rights movement. The Menchú family was accused of taking part in guerrilla activities and Rigoberta's father, Vicente, was imprisoned and tortured for allegedly having participated in the execution of a local plantation owner. After his release, he joined the Committee of the Peasant Union (CUC). Her father, her brother and her mother were all tortured (and in the case of the mother, raped) before being assassinated. Menchú became more politically active in the CUC and participated in demonstrations.
Political Activism Abroad
In 1981, she was forced to flee to Mexico, where she became the organizer abroad of resistance to oppression in Guatemala and the struggle for Indian peasant peoples' rights. In 1982, she took part in the founding of the joint opposition body, The United Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition (RUOG). In 1983, she told her life story to Elisabeth Burgos Debray in a book, called in English, I, Rigoberta Menchú, iwhich attracted considerable international attention. In 1986, Rigoberta Menchú became a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the CUC, and the following year she performed as the narrator in a powerful film called When the Mountains Tremble, about the struggles and sufferings of the Maya people. On at least three occasions, Rigoberta Menchú has returned to Guatemala to plead the cause of the Indian peasants, but death threats forced her to return into exile.
She is one of the founders of the the Nobel Women's Initiative, with her sister Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Six women representing North America and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality. It is the goal of the Nobel Women's Initiative to help strengthen work being done in support of women's rights around the world.