Rigoberta Menchú and the Responsibilities
of Testimonio Criticism
MARILYN MAY LOMBARDI
Some years ago the British film The Crying Game made quite an impact on moviegoers. A postmodern twist on classic film noir, it involved a love story between an I.R.A. terrorist (who cannot bring himself to terrorize) and a “woman” who turns out to be a man. The film's pivotal performance of “femininity” is so complete that viewers who manage to attend the film without foreknowledge that the role is indeed played by a man react with palpable shock at the point when the actor slowly removes his clothes and gradually slips out of his female “presentation of self” to reveal the “reality” hidden beneath.
There is, of course, a glaring dissimilarity between the historical context out of which a film like The Crying Game emerged and the political situation that produced I, Rigoberta Menchú. The latter, after all, is an often gruesome account of torture and political murder issued in 1983 as an “adjunct to armed liberation struggle” in Central America. And yet, despite this fact, The Crying Game does manage to make a cameo appearance in “The Real Thing, ” a recent (and ostensibly valedictory) essay by John Beverley, in which the prominent Latin American scholar takes up the subject of Rigoberta Menchú for the last time. As it turns out, the film's central drag performance is neither incidental to Beverley's argument nor insignificant when it comes to understanding the impression of Menchú that the literary critic intends to create.
Reprinted in 1996 as the coda to a collection of essays also entitled The Real Thing, Beverley's farewell to the testimonio form reminds us that our relationship with Menchú was born out of the “state of emergency” which overtook the Guatemalan Indians during the early 1980s—a time of