La Prensa Libre

‘Human beings cannot be illegal’: Menchú in Arkansas

October 15
16:30 2015
Fotos de José López Bribiesca/La Prensa Libre Rigoberta Menchú da su Cátedra Distinguida de la Fundación Winthrop Rockefeller.

Photos by Jose Lopez/La Prensa Libre
Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú gives the 2015 Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecture at the University of Arkansas Tuesday, Oct. 13.

José López Bribiesca

Versión en español aquí.

FAYETTEVILLE — On the 23rd anniversary of her winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Rigoberta Menchú was in Fayetteville helping proclaim Oct. 12 as Indigenous Peoples Day.

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Menchú gave the 2015 Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecture at the University of Arkansas, starting off admitting that she did not go to school and did not prepare academically to become a Nobel laureate.

Menchú, 56, is internationally renowned as a defender of human rights and a guardian of her K’iche’ Maya culture in Guatemala, and she spoke about how she has witnessed the atrocious genocide endured by her people.

Menchú signs one of her books for Christina Mere, Fayetteville resident, after her presentation.

Menchú signs one of her books for Fayetteville resident Christina Meré after the lecture.

Specifically, she seeks justice for her father Vicente, who was burned alive at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala on Jan. 31, 1980 along with 36 others.

Hundreds of people were in attendance at the UA’s Union Ballroom to hear Menchú’s lecture. Many wrote questions for the Nobel laureate.

Someone asked her what advice she has for young immigrants whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally.

Menchú advocated for more humane immigration policies in the U.S. and in the world.

Because of a blackout at the UA, Menchú started her lecture outside, at the Union Mall.

Because of a blackout at the UA, Menchú started her lecture outside, at the Union Mall.

“All humankind, and all throughout the history of humankind, we have been migrants,” Menchú said. “Migrating is a sacred right of all humans and migration is not always about going to look for a job, but it’s also about pursuing a goal.”

Menchú condemned contemporary immigration rules, saying they are used to suppress and not to give opportunities, a remnant of the colonial legacy of those who hoarded Mesoamerican lands.

“Who turns migration into a problem? Transnational corporations, the rich, because they do not want to share what they have amassed,” she said. “We have to fight strongly to stress that human beings cannot be illegal, they are not a product.”

Menchú also said she is a healer who uses her Maya spirituality to improve people’s health, adding that problems such as depression cannot be treated with modern medicines as they treat only the symptoms, not the root causes of suffering.


Menchú: polyglot and advocate for the disappeared

Menchú speaks at a private dinner Monday, Oct. 12, at the UA Alumni House.

Menchú speaks at a private dinner Monday, Oct. 12, at the UA Alumni House.

A night before, Menchú attended a private dinner at the UA Alumni House, where she spoke about issues such as the need to speak multiple languages ​​in the intercultural environment of today’s world.

She encouraged multilingual parents to speak their languages to their children in a stubbornly monolingual environment, such as the U.S. (English) and Guatemala (Spanish).

“Language is not just a means of speaking, but also a source of information, the DNA of memory,” said Menchú, who speaks K’iche’ Mayan and learned Spanish after she was 19 years old.

Each person has 260 personalities, according to the sacred Mayan Calendar, “so nullifying a language is nullifying various personalities representing a people, a brain, a human being,” she said.

An audience member also asked Menchú about her advocacy for finding disappeared people and, in particular, how she views the controversy of the 43 teacher’s college students who were disappeared by government officials colluded with organized crime in September 2014 in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.

A few months ago, Menchú ​​was in Mexico and made some remarks she said were manipulated by the international media.

“I said that the most important thing is to get to the truth. If we get to the truth, we know whom to condemn. If we do not find the truth, it is an incomplete wound,” she said. “Today I still believe that if we do not get to the truth, there will be no justice.

“Fair justice dignifies the victims, it honors the victims, and makes it possible for future generations to pay homage to the victims forever,” she said.

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