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PATRICIA MOORE Rigoberta Mencha, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Winner From a Beautiful, Tortured Land BY EMILY JONES I … RIGOBERTA MENCHU: An Indian Woman In Guatemala By Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. 251 pages. London: Verso Press. 1983. $10.95. WHEN RIGOBERTA MENCHU’S BOOK appeared 10 years ago, I thought that the terrible plight of Guatemala’s mostly Indian population might finally get some attention from the American media, whose views of Central America seemed limited to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the war in El Salvador. I was wrong. Most of us know little about Guatemala, despite more than 30 years of war and terror unleashed on its people war that started with the U.S.sponsored overthrow of reformist President Arbenz in 1954. Though Amnesty International has named the government of Guatemala the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere, little information is available to those who might like to know more. I was reminded of that when Rigoberta Menchu won the Nobel Peace Prize. Reading the book again after all these years confirms that not much has changed in Guatemala in the last decade. The majority of the population still experiences suffering and brutality like that described in the nearly unbelievable tales that fill the pages of Rigoberta’s book: the public torture and murder of her mother and younger brother at the hands of the army; the death of her father and many other Indian peasants in the infamous burning of the Spanish Embassy; and the deaths of two of her brothers on a plantation due to the landowners’ brutal disregard for human life. The story of Rigoberta’s, family is just one among many. Such is life in Guatemala. And if these stories were all that Rigoberta shared of her life, the reading might be only sad and depressing. But her people survived the attempted genocide of the early 1980s and continued to resist the army’s terror as they have resisted ethnocide for centuries. Rigoberta’s book \(which according to the publisher is still available, though finding it might with the stories of a proud and absolutely determined people whose culture survived because they kept themselves apart from the ladinos, try and because they continued to keep the secrets and honor the practices of their ancestors. Many Indians refused to learn Spanish or attend ladino schools, recognizing the threat to their survival as Mayas. Freelance writer Emily Jones lives in Austin. 20 NOVEMBER 13, 1992 “This is why Indians are thought to be stupid. `They can’t think, they don’t know anything,’ they say. But we have hidden our identity because we needed to resist, we wanted to protect what governments have wanted to take away from us. They have tried to take our things away and impose others on us, be it through religion, through dividing up the land, through schools, through books, through radio, through all things modern.” For the descendants of the Mayan hero, Tecun Uman, there has been no conquest, only 500 years of invasion and occupation. Faced with the dual threats that all Mayas face, isolation and assimilation, Rigoberta ultimately decided to learn Spanish. She told her story to Burgos-Debray in Spanish only three years after learning to speak the language. BurgosDebray presented the book as a monologue, and to remain true to Rigoberta’s voice, it con