tains the tense irregularities common to a speaker learning a new language. Rather than distracting the reader, the language is a reminder of what this woman has overcome to tell to the world the story of her people. Rigoberta tells, through her own experience, the story of the Mayas’ struggle to survive. Even before the army terror reached Rigoberta’s mountain village, life was brutal and short. The basis of life for the indigenous people of Guatemala is corn. Mayan heritage taught that the people were made from corn. Rigoberta’s people ate tortillas, salt, chile and, when they could, plants they grew or gathered in the mountains. Frequent and successful attempts by local wealthy landowners to take the people’s land reduced peasant holdings to small plots not sufficient to sustain their families. Rigoberta’s family neighboring families were forced to seek work on cotton or coffee plantations where they were paid pittance wages and treated “worse than animals.” They spoke no Spanish, could not read or write, and were constantly cheated by bosses, merchants, landowners, and judges. For months at a time, members of Rigoberta’s family and community left their homes in the mountains to work on the plantations, trading one impossible situation for another. Forced by circumstances to work as a maid in the city, Rigoberta suffered isolation and mistreatment in an alien culture. Her way of telling her story makes the reader constantly aware that her experiences were not unique to her or even to a particular period. She related the story of a people subjected to levels of repression that most of us cannot imagine. As the repression increased, Rigoberta and her brothers and sisters followed their parents into more organized resistance. After organizing the defense of their own village, each family member left to organize other communities so they could defend themselves against the army’s attacks. Leaving the village and separating the family were actions that violated the traditions of the people. But by deliberation among family and neighbors it was decided such desperate action was necessary if the people were to survive. As their political awareness and understanding deepened, so did their commitment. Traveling through her country, Rigoberta saw firsthand the many obstacles dividing her people. More than 20 Mayan languages divided the indigenous majority and frustrated attempts to solve common problems. Racism created a barrier between the Mayas and the poor and brutalized ladinos who counted their blessings because, at least, they were not “dirty Indians.” The Catholic Church was divided, essentially, into the church of the rich and the church of the poor, and the two struggled for ascendancy. Rigoberta grappled with her own decision of how best to participate in her people’s resistance to the army massacres. Her sisters joined the guerrillas. Rigoberta became ill and depressed, almost losing hope when her mother’s death by torture closely followed the losses of her father and brother. She then had an opportunity to talk with her little sister about her distress. “I even wished that I had some vices. I said; ‘If I had some vices, perhaps I could lose myself in depravity, so I didn’t have to think or bear life.’ Well, the meeting with my little sister was lovely. She was 12 years old. She said: `What has happened is a sign of victory. It gives us reason for fighting. We must behave like revolutionary women. A revolutionary isn’t born out of something good,’ said my sister, ‘he is born out of wretchedness and bitterness. This just gives us one more reason. We have to fight without measuring our suffering, or what we experience, or thinking about the monstrous things we must bear in life.’ And she made me renew mycommitment completely…” In the end, Rigoberta decided not to take up arms. She worked with the Vicente Menchu Revolutionary Christians, named for her father, organizing her people until she was forced into exile after the army began to hunt her. But she had no reservations about supporting the guerrilla movement in her country. “We have put our trust in the compalieros in the mountains … They go through what we go through, and they have adapted to the conditions we live in. We can only love a person who eats what we eat.” Because of experiences both bitter and inspiring, Rigoberta became one of those exceptional people who offer hope in the face of seemingly hopeless conditions. “The world I live in is so evil, so bloodthirsty, that it can take my life away from one moment to the next. So the only road open to me is our struggle, the just war. The Bible taught me that. … We have to defend ourselves against our enemy but, as Christians, we must also defend our faith. within the revolutionary process. At the same time, we have to think about the important work we have to do, after our victory, in the new society. I know that no one can take my Christian faith away from me. Not the government, for fear, not weapons. And this is what I have to teach my people: that together we can build the people’s Church, a true Church … a real change inside people. I chose to stay in the city among the people, instead of choosing to take up arms, as I said. We all contribute in different ways, but we are all working for the same objective.” In the decade since the book was published, the ranks of the guerrillas swelled with the survivors of the army’s genocidal counterinsurgency program that wiped out 400 villages. Within the last two years, the guerrilla united front, the URNG, has forced the government to begin peace negotiations. Two civilian presidents have been elected, allowing the disingenuous to proclaim Guatemala another triumph for democracy while, in fact, the army still acts with impunity. To be sure, the negotiations hold some amount of hope for a desperate people, but the talks are stalled by the government’s intransigence. Rigoberta, the child of a peaceful people forced to fight for survival, came to understand that there can be no peace without, at least, a measure of justice. Her book offers an inspiring example of commitment to justice and the human ability to use our own experiences to grow beyond them. With the newly-gained recognition that comes with the Nobel Prize for Peace, Rigoberta Menchu continues her efforts to focus the attention of an often-indifferent world on the reality of her beautiful, tortured land. Continued from page 24 black. With retirements, the number of black circuit judges has dropped from 11 to nine since Bush took office. ANOTHER WAY. Central Texas progressive organizations are mounting an alternative to the United Way campaign, starting Nov. 2. Another Way, a non-profit corporation, has been formed to raise funds through payroll deduction campaigns to benefit 19 community-based, non-profit organizations that share a commitment to social and economic justice. The organizations address issues such as health care, AIDS, women’s issues, homelessness, poverty, racial and economic equality, lowincome housing, peace, nuclear radiation and elderly and disabled people’s concerns. Another Way plans to work cooperatively with United Way and other federations, including the Environmental Fund of Texas and the Black United Fund. For information, contact Sue Johnson at the Texas Fund for Change, 611 S. Congress, Suite 505, Austin 78701. FOUND: GOP. Dick Mallory, a Republican challenger for the state House in central Austin, apparently has experienced a battlefield conversion. He recently appeared on the Donahue TV show with his opponent, state Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, the only openly gay legislator in the Texas Legislature, who noted that Mallory sought the endorsement of the Austin Lesbian and Gay political caucus before the Republican primary. “Since then he says he’s found Jesus,” Maxey said. “I think he’s found a Republican consultant.” GENTS AGREE. The Sierra Club has strongly criticized a proposal by the Texas Attorney General to weaken a 1991 enforcement settlement with DynaGen, an Odessa crumb rubber manufacturing plant with a long history of violations of Texas environmental protection law. The “gentlemen’s agreement” between the AG and DynaGen would waive all civil penalties for any of the company’s violations of the Clean Air Act during the last year following a $1.4 million fine against the company for serious air pollution problems. COMING AT YA. Pat Buchanan has been making the rounds on behalf of Republican candidates for Congress and the statehouse. Buchanan bashed Congress and Rep. Pete Geren in Fort Worth as he spoke on behalf of David Hobbs, Geren’s challenger in the 12th Congressional District. Hobbs also has received help from Barbara Bush and Dan Quayle. Buchanan referred to Geren ranking sixth among the 435-member House in costs incurred for running his office. Geren spent 99 percent of the amount allocated to him. He later cited Sen. Chet Brooks, the Pasadena Democrat whose 30 years in the Texas Senate demonstrate the need for term limits for public officials. “The last time Republicans controlled the state Senate, Santa Anna and the Mexicans ran Texas,” the Houston Chronicle quoted Buchanan saying at a rally in Clear Lake City for Jerry Patterson, the Republican challenger. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21
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