On Friday, November 13, Rigoberta Menchú came to the Med Sci Building at the University of Toronto. Crowds packed the auditorium. It was like a summer Sunday afternoon in Kensington market. After introductions by Native Canadian groups, the Catholic Church and others, Rigoberta spoke.
She talked about the brutality of life for her people in Guatemala, the Campesinos. The Campesinos are fighting for land, most of which has been acquired by a small number of landowner backed by the military. Since the 1950s demands for change have brought the poor in conflict with the military and the elite. More than a million rural Guatemalans have been forced to flee their lands and live as refugees in their own country. Thousands of others have fled to Mexico. Over twenty years, the military has killed more than 100,000 and another 50,000 have disappeared and are presumed dead. The indigenous people are the targets of this genocide.
That is the important thing to remember about Rigoberta Menchu; she is a Campesino, a peasant. She grew up fighting poverty and injustice. She did not read about it in the comfort of some warm Canadian library. As a result, her words are filled with compassion and conviction.
When I left the concrete auditorium that Friday evening, I was disappointed. Where was the political analysis of the situation? Where was the economic understanding of the role of multinationals? Where was the cynicism for international politics? Where was the contempt for the future?
There was none of this. Her words were filled with quiet hope and determination. With or without help she would continue to fight. Rigoberta is not a professor. She doesn't need the theories; she has reality. She is a woman of action. She saw the problem and immediately, without hesitation began the struggle. And we must do the same. There is no time for another word.
Vikash Jain works with Peace Magazine and Oxfam.