Rigoberta Menchú was born January 9, 1959, in the small village of Chimel in the northern highlands of Guatemala. A Quiché Maya, one of the twenty-two ethnic Indian groups in Guatemala, Menchú grew up during a time of right-wing military dictatorship and guerrilla resistance in her country. Her large peasant family often worked long hours on the fincas—coastal coffee, sugar, and cotton plantations—to support themselves while trying to maintain their own small farm. As a young girl, Menchú rebelled against such injustice by entering the struggle against the oppressive landowners and soldiers of Guatemala. Her father, Vincente, a catechist and community leader, became a political figure when he opposed the military government through the Committee for United Campesinos; he was repeatedly imprisoned and beaten, and was eventually killed in 1980 at the burning of the Spanish Embassy of Guatemala while protesting human rights abuses. The military kidnapped, raped, tortured, and eventually murdered Menchú’s mother, Juana Tum—a midwife, healer, and revolutionary. At least two of Menchú’s brothers also were killed by government security forces during the barbaric violence, destruction of villages and crops, and forced relocation and military service that took place in Guatemala’s Indian communities in the 1960s–1980s. During this time, as many as one hundred fifty thousand people are estimated to have been murdered by death squads or the army in Guatemala, and another fifty thousand disappeared.
In 1982, Menchú traveled to Paris to flee persecution and continue her work toward Guatemalan peasant solidarity. It was there that she met and told her story in Spanish to Venezuelan ethnographer Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, who recorded, organized, and edited Menchú’s narrative into I, Rigoberta Menchú, An Indian Woman in Guatemala. First published in 1983 as Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y asi me nació la concienca, the memoir was translated into English the following year. Because of her writing and continued work to-