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Rigoberta Menchú Tum is an Indigenous Mayan human rights activist from Guatemala who grew up in the depths of poverty and in a country ravaged by a decades-long civil war. Despite the many challenges she faced, including the tragic loss of her parents to government-sponsored violence, Rigoberta never gave up on her ideals and always fought for freedom and justice. Her bravery and outspoken activism for the rights of Indigenous, poor, and marginalized peoples led to her receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992—the first Indigenous person and ninth woman to do so.
Rebeca Lane was born in 1984 in Guatemala, a country that like many others in Latin America has experienced dictatorships and forced disappearances. The history that runs through her veins, from the hands of her poignant verses, has made her way into the latin rap scene as a thoughtful and fun voice with feminist messages.
She has published four studio albums and made multiple tours of Latin America, the United States and Europe. Rebeca Lane founded the project Somos Guerreras with which she has traveled the continent doing talks, workshops and presentations making visible the work of women in Hip Hop.
At the beginning of 2021 she released her new EP “Llorando diamantes“ and is currently working on her next album.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who used her courageous voice to tell the story of her people and to fight for justice. Her name is Rigoberta.
Rigoberta grew up in a paradise! Deep in the mountains of Guatemala. This was in the 1960s, but in Rigoberta’s village there were no cars and no roads. Just the lush rainforest that grew all around her small house.
Each morning, the songs of toucans and parrots filled the air. Colorful flowers opened their blossoms to the sky. In the afternoons, the sun sparkled through the whispering leaves of palm trees. And at night, wild animals roamed through the forests, their calls echoing down the mountainside.
But Rigoberta’s life wasn’t paradise.
Her family was very poor. Each year, they walked many miles to the Guatemalan coast to work on fincas, or plantations. Even Rigoberta had to work—and she was only 8 years old!
Once, one of her bosses told her, “Your life is not worth a bag of beans.”
“My name is Rigoberta Menchú,” Rigoberta answered boldly, “and my life is worth just as much as yours.”
I’m Rebeca Lane. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the rebel women who inspire us.
On this episode, Rigoberta Menchú Tum. Maya activist, outspoken storyteller, brave community organizer, and the first Indigenous person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
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|FAMILY AND CULTURE
It was Rigoberta’s family that taught her to be so bold—and to care so much.
Her father Vincente was a community activist and a leader in their village of Chimel. Her mother Juana was a healer who walked miles across the countryside to serve those in need.
And her village lived by the Mayan culture and values passed down through generation after generation.
Rigoberta learned that her first duty was to her community and that she needed to care for the land. She was also taught not to harm other living creatures—especially humans.
By the time Rigoberta was born in 1959, the majority of Guatemalan people were Maya. But like Rigoberta, they lived in poor villages and didn’t have much political power.
Every day, rich landowners—and the Guatemalan government—tried to take away what little they had.
Vincente tried to help his fellow villagers—especially to defend their right to live on their land.
He filed papers with government officials. He gathered community members for protests.
But Vincente met roadblocks at every turn.
Still, no matter what, he kept fighting.
THE MAYA PEOPLES
The Maya peoples had once been a flourishing civilization in Central America. Ancient Maya excelled at mathematics and astronomy, created an amazingly precise calendar, and built huge temples.
But when the Spaniards conquered Central America in the 1500s, they killed many Mayas, and destroyed their homes and cities. Those who survived were forced into slavery, and much of Mayan culture was decimated.
As time went on, Mayas, like Rigoberta and her family, were pushed farther and farther into the margins—and into poverty.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER
One day, Rigoberta was bouncing along in a truck as it bumped down the dirt roads that cut through the forest. Her father Vincente smiled over at her from behind the wheel.
Rigoberta and Vincente were driving to the country’s capital—Guatemala City.
As their car got nearer, Rigoberta saw shacks and shanties on the city’s outskirts. And soon, big buildings loomed large over Rigoberta’s head.
There was so much colorless cement. The windows glared at her. And all around her was a cacophony of voices—almost all of them speaking Spanish, a language Rigoberta didn’t understand.
In Chimel, everyone spoke Quiché—the language of the Maya people in Rigoberta’s region.
After trips like this, Rigoberta realized that—both in the city and in the countryside—there was so much suffering.
And like her father, she wanted to do something about it.