Nobel Peace Prize Winner Visits SF State
November 22, 2004 11:46 AM
More than 280 SF State students and faculty members filled seats in the Seven Hills Conference Center Nov. 18 to hear Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum talk about her experience as a human rights activist.
“I’ve read her book ‘Crossing Borders’ in my human rights class,” said Humarra Rashid, a junior at SF State. “This is a great opportunity to see her book come to life.”
Gianzi Perez, a BECCA junior, waited over 90 minutes in line for the chance to see the woman for which there is a hall named after on the third floor of the Cesar Chavez Student Center.
“It’s not everyday that you get to hear a Nobel Peace Prize Winner,” said Perez.
“Throughout her life she has exposed the social inequalities of the indigenous culture in Guatemala, so I’m sure she’ll have a lot of interesting and sad things to tell us.”
The late morning festivities began when director of Associated Students performing arts Muata Kenyatta introduced Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Native-American folk artist, who played guitar, sang a few folk songs and spoke passionately of the need for more women to take charge and make decisions that affect the world and civilization.
Then, Cindy Morales and Raul Alcaraz of La Raza made their way to the microphone and introduced Menchú Tum as the leader of Indian rights in Guatemala and the entire hemisphere.
“She has stood for peace, justice, dignity and balance,” said Alcaraz. “It is our great honor and blessing to introduce one of the most important leaders of our time.”
As Tum made her way to the podium, the entire audience stood, cheered and applauded for several minutes.
“I think young people have a responsibility to carry on the struggle,” said Tum, through an English-speaking interpreter. “I hope that you all will be our guide into the future.”
Tum continued by speaking poignantly of the abuse and exploitation of Guatemalan land and natural resources by Westerners.
“The problem is how we use the land,” said Tum. “The Western concept only sees land as an economic point of view.”
“When we talk about agrarian reform, (Westerners) have to see land as our mother – it covers us and our ancestors,” Tum said. “Our culture can flourish with spirit, not just seeing material values of our land.”
Menchú Tum also told her attentive audience that commensurate to the number of people on Earth, there are too few people in charge, which she characterized as a “domination problem.”
“We did not create the line we walk,” she said. “In Guatemala we still see that land is in the hands of a few. The sources of water are not in the hands of the peasants or the public collective hands. It’s in the hands of the very few who make all of the decisions.”
According to Menchú Tum, global warming has been particularly bad in Guatemala this year. Several years of drought, she said, have caused hundreds of thousands of acres of corn crops to dry up throughout large areas of Guatemala.
Before she was a teenager, Menchú Tum began fighting for social reforms that helped bolster the women’s rights movement in Guatemala. After witnessing first-hand the abuse of Guatemalan farm workers, Menchú Tum, along with her parents and brother joined the Committee of the Peasant Union which organized demonstrations for better work conditions for indigenous people.
Menchú Tum’s parents and brother were accused by Guatemalan security forces of taking part in anti-governmental activities and were subsequently arrested, tortured, and eventually murdered. Menchú Tum, determined to continue fighting for justice and equality of her people, joined a group called the 31stst of January Popular Front, which educated the Indian peasant population in resistance to massive military oppression.
Her unyielding activism forced Menchú Tum into hiding. In order to escape persecution, she left her beloved Guatemalan homeland for Mexico where she continued her fight against the indigenous plight of Guatemalans and Indian peasant peoples from abroad.
“There are over 2000 clandestine bodies spread out all over Guatemala that deserve a dignified burial,” she told the audience. “We have to arduously work to show the genocide that has happened to (the indigenous people).”
Menchú Tum ended her hour-long talk by asking that the young people in the audience to encourage the United Nations (UN) and international community not to withdraw peacekeeping troops from Guatemala.
“We all have to work together to strengthen the indigenous movement in order to have peace,” said Menchú Tum. “And make sure we have human rights in Guatemala.”
Many audience members then gave Menchú Tum another standing ovation and formed a long single-file line to get copies of her books autographed by the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Evelyn Derderian, sociology senior, said she was so moved and touched by Menchú Tum’s powerful words that she bought a copy of a book by Menchú Tum that she already owns just to get it autographed.
“I was really impressed,” said Tania Compos, psychology senior, whose family was forced to flee El Salvador due to their political activism. “It’s important to get the word out about the consequences of capitalism - World Bank, NAFTA – otherwise everything will remain the same – power in the hands of a few.”
POST A COMMENT
|BACK TO TOP|| |
Copyright © 2008 [X]press | Journalism Department - San Francisco State University