The Odyssey

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Rigoberta's Story
The Odyssey

Live Webcast, February 18, 1999!
Rigoberta Menchu
I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala
pages 25-27

So the overseer told us, 'The owner is coming today to thank you for your work and wants to spend some time talking to you, so nobody leave because we have to wait for him.' So we stayed in our camp, in the workers' barracks where we lived and they divided us into groups. Then, when the great landowner arrived, we saw he was accompanied by about fifteen soldiers. This seemed really stupid to me, because I thought they were pointing their rifles at the landowner, so I asked my mother: 'Why are they forcing the landowner to come and see us?' But it was really to protect him. There were about fifteen soldiers and they found a suitable place for the owner to sit. The overseer said, 'Some of you have to dance for the owner.' My mother said no, and hid us. They wanted the children to prepare a sort of welcome for the owner. But none of us dared even go near him because he had so many bodyguards with guns. When the owner began to speak, he spoke in Spanish. My mother understood a little Spanish and afterwards she told us he was talking about the elections. But we didn't even understand what our parents told us — that the ladinos had a government. That is, the President who had been in power all this time, was, for my parents, for all of us, President of the ladinos' government. It wasn't the government of our country. That's what we always thought. So my mother said that he was talking about the government of the ladinos. What was it he was saying? The landowner was speaking, and the overseer started translating what he was saying. They told us he said we all had to go and make a mark on a piece of paper. That would be a vote, I imagine that it was a vote. We all went to make our mark on the paper. They gave my father one and my mother and showed them the place to put their mark. I remember that the paper had some squares with three or four drawings on it. So my parents and my older brothers and sisters marked the paper in the place the owner told them. He warned us that anyone who didn't mark the paper wou ld be thrown out of work at the end of the month. Anyone who was thrown out would not be paid...

Then the land-owner came to congratulate us. We saw him a second time. He came with his wife and one of his sons. They were nearly as fat as he was. They came to the finca and told us that our President had won, the one we had voted for. We didn't even know that they were votes they'd taken away. My parents laughed when they heard them say, 'Our President', because for us he was the President of the ladinos, not ours at all.

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