The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy
I, Rigoberta Menchú at first seems like an autobiography, but that is not what it is meant to be. Menchú wrote the book as a testimony of her people's lives to be a voice for her people and show the world what is going on. There was a lot of controversy about whether Rigoberta deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, and if this book should be taught to students. There are allegations that she fabricated a lot of the story. People say that the book is not an accurate portrayal of her life. Considering that Menchú said, "I'd like to stress that it's not only my life, it's also the testimony of my people", the reader should know that this book was not meant to be an autobiography. Menchú powerfully explains the conflicts between Ladinos and Indians, landowners and peasants, the government and the resistance, men and women, and change and tradition.
Rigoberta 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. Rigoberta Menchú soon became involved in social reform activities through the Catholic Church, and became prominent in the women's rights movement when still only a teenager. Such reform work aroused considerable opposition in influential circles, especially after a guerilla organization established itself in the area. 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 recently founded Committee of the Peasant Union (CUC). In 1983, she told her life story to Elisabeth Burgos Debray. The book is called, I, Rigoberta Menchú, it is an interesting document which attracted a lot of attention.
In 1999 David Stoll claimed that Rigoberta Menchú, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, had inaccurate facts about herself in her 1983 testimony, the story that first brought her to world attention. Stoll also argued that liberal university professors who supported the Guatemalan resistance movement had embraced Menchú's story without question. When Stoll's book was published The New York Times ran a front page article questioning Menchú's reliability and the controversy entered the popular press. Although many editorial writers picked up the tone of Stoll's criticism, a collection of essays, by established experts on Guatemala and Menchú's testimony, titled Properties of Words: Rigoberta Menchú, David Stoll, and Identity Politics in Central America, was published before the year was over and seriously challenged Stoll's data, inferences, and conclusions.
In considering the public controversy it is important to carefully examine the charges David Stoll has actually made. A careful reading of Rigoberta Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans makes it clear that the initial press reports on Stoll's research were exaggerated. While The New York Times claimed that Rigoberta Menchú "fabricated," "seriously exaggerated," and told "one lie after another" in her testimonial, the surprising fact is that Stoll's research, on the contrary, actually serves to confirm the truth of Menchú's story in all of its major points, certainly those points that are most relevant to the vast majority of American teachers and students who have worked with Menchú's testimonial.
David Stoll is an anthropologist who, over the course of ten years, interviewed Guatemalans and undertook archival research focused on identifying errors, exaggerations, shortcomings, and bias in Menchú's testimony. In contrast, Menchú gave her testimony without notes in twenty-four hours of taped conversation over an eight-day period when she was...
Bibliography: Stoll, David. Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1999.
Sommer, Doris. "No Secrets: Rigoberta 's Guarded Truth." Women 's Studies 20 (1991): 51–72.
Arias, Arturo. Stoll, David. The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy. University of Minnesota Press, March 2001
Burgos-Debray, Elisabeth, ed. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. New York: Verso, 1984.
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