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Quest for Respect

November 10, 2000|ROSEMARY CLANDOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rigoberta Menchu rose from a poor Mayan family in Guatemala, and through her struggle for the rights of indigenous people became a Nobel Peace Prize winner. On Thursday, she will address students, faculty and the general public at Cal State Northridge.

Campus officials had been trying to bring Menchu to the San Fernando Valley for a long time, said Alberto Garcia, assistant professor of political science at CSUN. Menchu's visit is timely because the global economy is having an impact on Central America, Garcia said.

"This is a time when cheap labor is needed for manufacturing abroad," Garcia said. "Many American corporations and other corporations all over the world are moving to Central America for manufacturing and cheap labor. She has fresh [knowledge] about how the indigenous people are being affected, especially women--because they are being used most often on the assembly lines. What a woman makes from those corporations is sometimes as low as $2 to $4 a day."

Menchu was born in 1959, one year before the start of Guatemala's 36-year civil war. As a teenager, Menchu worked with the Catholic Church and for the rights of Mayan women, which made her a prominent figure in her country.

During the 1970s, her family was accused of taking part in guerrilla activities and her father was imprisoned and tortured. After her father's release from prison, Menchu joined him in his work with the Committee of the Peasant Union. Later, her parents and brother were tortured and killed.

Through it all, Menchu continued her efforts to improve conditions for farm workers, organize demonstrations and educate the Indian population on ways to oppose military persecution.

In 1981, death threats forced Menchu to leave Guatemala and go into hiding in Mexico. From her exile, she continues to coordinate resistance to persecution of Indians in Guatemala.

"The danger of her speaking out for the poor is very great," said Tod Tamberg, media relations director for the Archdioceses of Los Angeles. "There is still oppression [in Guatemala] and danger. That is why she is still outspoken."

Her life story, recorded by Elisabeth Burgos Debray in the book, "I, Rigoberta Menchu," brought her peace efforts further recognition. "I am inspired that she uses her energy and her time on earth to advocate peace," said Yvette Gonzalez, 20, who helped organize the visit. "Through her motivation, she motivates me. She's a simple person and she uses her identity to make a difference in the world."

BE THERE

Rigoberta Menchu presents a lecture and discussion at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Cal State Northridge Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St. Free. (818) 677-2488.

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