The Odyssey

Rigoberta Menchu Tum Chat Transcript
Rigoberta's Story
The Odyssey

Live Webcast, February 18, 1999!
Rigoberta Menchu

We have a question from San Diego. How does it affect you to be such a very famous person?

Well, by one hand it's very sad that there need to be people who are controversial in order to break the silence, in order to condemn the grave violations of humans rights, to represent a women's voice. I donít think that one should have to be controversial in order to do these things. My life has been a life that has been very controversial since I went into exile, since from 20 years ago I was the only woman who talked about the atrocities, who denounced genocide and who denounced the violation that occurred in Guatemala.

And I was lucky that I had survived, active and a fighter. So many people look at me just for what I am now but they do not see my journey, from where I have come, that my family was very poor and are still poor. Many of my brothers are still living the way we used to live before. So sometimes it happens that I am in a community, for example, I was in Acteal when the massacre happened there and to feel the pain of the mothers of Chiapas or to feel the pain young mothers like in Thailand and India or Africa. It has happened that I have been all over the world. It has always been a difficult road and it has its cost.

There is a cost to everything and that cost is my private life.

Everyone wants to know where I live, what I do, sometimes I don't feel that I have privacy.

I feel that a very young woman like myself when I won the Nobel Peace prize, it put me in a place where I had to limit myself, and limit my freedom. Especially as a young person because we like our liberty, we like to fly, express ourselves, and do whatever we wanted. But for me since I was a young person, I had difficulty being free first because I was a survivor; second because I had overcome much adversity; and third because I am a person of my time and received the Nobel Prize and many people want to look at me as though I am perfect, like a woman who canít commit any error, to be perfect. But this is very difficult for a person like me, because I am a woman with sentiments, heart, with goals and the most important is that I feel I have accomplished most of my goals. I have accomplished the majority, but some I will never accomplish, but I am a woman who also dreams, I am creative, I use the sewing machine, I know how to make a lot of things, because I am self-teaching.

I believe for young people the most important thing is to combine their professional lives, their technical lives with a self-teaching experience. Self-teaching means to leave university classes and schools for a while and to immerse yourself in the life of the community and accompany the people in their processes of change. This has been what Iíve been able to do.

For example, sometimes I'm with very powerful people but other times I'm with people with no water, no light, nothing to eat. In sum, I believe that I am a woman who does not disdain the poor. Some people disdain the poor and I think that this is what differentiates me from many people. Many times I live in the countryside with humble people. Humble people have wisdom, experience, rights and I respect these people.

But finally I would say that my life is the life of a pilgrim. I have walked much in the middle of many cultures. I value all cultures, Iíve wanted to know all cultures and I think to know them is a very precious thing at the end of this millenium. Hopefully, people will learn not to be racists, because racism limits our vision. Being open to universal cultures, one learns a lot of things, and that is also what has changed in my life.

I don't look at Guatemala as the big country in the world, it's a small country filled with so many values. And I look at the world as a huge garden also filled with values within which I can develop, not only to develop myself within Guatemala. But Iíd like to say that the work I do is also a collective work, the work of many people, many women, of many people who are very ambitious in finding a better future for humanity. People who are very creative, who aspire to make changes, not only in Guatemala, but also in the world. So I am part of a collective work, a collective dream that is born in Guatemala or from the highlands of Chiapas, Bolivia, Ecuador, and from whichever corner of the Americas. There are many women who are dreamers and struggle like myself, and Iím part of that.

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