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Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu speaks in Kalamazoo

April 22, 2012

On Friday night several hundred people came out to hear the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Mench Tum. The Nobel Laureate and Guatemalan Mayan spoke on the campus of Western Michigan.

Rigoberta began by talking about the Mayan calendar and Mayan cosmology and its relation to our ability to see the present and the future.

The Nobel Laureate cautioned that we not just look into the future less we become utopic. If we are paying attention to the present we will be able to concentrate on the work we need to do. Rigoberta encouraged the audience to do both, so that we not lose sight of what we want while we do the work we need to do.

Rigoberta continued by talking about the importance of seeing ourselves as a continuation of our ancestors, those who came before us millions of years ago. We are their continuation. “In our ceremonies we celebrate this lineage by always going back seven generations. My name is the same as my grandmother and her grandmother, which in Mayan culture is a way of continually remembering those who came before us.

Rigoberta then talked about when she won the Nobel Peace Prize 20 years ago. She was living in exile at the time, working with refugees, while the country was in the midst of a war that no one knew when it would end. The country was suffering from a genocidal policy at the hands of the Guatemalan military. Looking back she sees how much has changed, but that so much work needs to continue.

She acknowledged that today the poverty is pervasive in Guatemala, effecting millions. When she goes into the villages she tries to encourage people to do something to change that reality. “We try to encourage each other to contribute something, no matter how small.”

“The solidarity amongst ourselves, and that which we develop with our youth, is a tremendous gift for the future. We have to enthusiastically support education for our youth, we cannot put our faith in the government to fulfill that goal.”

The first question asked of Rigoberta, during the Q&A, was if she would ever consider running for president in her native country of Guatemala. She said she has always fought in two systems, the Mayan system and the Western system, which is full of rules. “Our struggle is between these two systems, where the one does not recognize our traditions and our ancestral system. Another tradition is to not take our land, our water and the other natural resources that we rely on for sustenance.”

So, if I was President these two systems would still be fighting, so until there is no conflict between these systems, then real change will come. I consider myself as a political person and was part of the first Mayan political party, which did not come about until after the civil war ended. This party is not only Mayan, but it is made up of lots of women, Mayan women who are in leadership positions. It will be a process that will not come quickly to end racism and sexism, but I believe it will happen.”

The next person asked the question about the claim that the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will come to an end in 2012. Rigoberta responded by saying she began her talk by recognizing the Mayan calendar, but she never talked about an end to this world.

She said that this fear mongering is a product of Hollywood to make money. She also said that this hype around the Mayan calendar has political motives of some in order to control the actions of others. She did acknowledge that this is “a time of no time,” where humans live in spiritual, social and material decadence. Therefore,” we need to bring about equilibrium and balance. This is how we prevent the end of the world.”

While it was delightful to hear Rigoberta Menchu speak again, especially after doing human rights work with her in Guatemala, it was somewhat disappointing that there was little information about what is happening in that Central American country today, especially the recent genocide cases.

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