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Rigoberta Menchu Read by Rebeca Lane

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.

Get to Know Rebeca Lane

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.



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 landownersand 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 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.



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. 



While some of that suffering came from poverty and racism, another glaring problem caused great pain in Rigoberta’s country: civil war.

In the 1950s, the U.S. government had supported a military uprising that helped a dictator rise to power—one who ruled the country with an iron fist. 

Protests led by farmers, laborers, and the poor were met with the full might of the military. People who opposed the government were often kidnapped and killed. 

By the 1970s, the violence had spread to the rural regions of Guatemala, including Chimel.

It was a scary and dangerous time. But Rigoberta’s family cared about their village, and they also cared about justice. 

So they wouldn’t back down from defending what was right.

“Some have to give their blood,” Vincente once told Rigoberta, “and some have to give their strength. So while we can, we’ll give our strength.”

Soldiers often came through Chimel, harassing the people and stealing their crops. Sometimes they vandalized villagers’ houses or hurt their animals. Other times, they harmed the villagers themselves.

But somehow, this only made the villagers stronger. 

They created hideouts in the woods where they ran when there was danger. They created traps to slow down or stop the invading soldiers. And they made plans so they could defend themselves.

The threat from the army was serious. Everyone had a job, and everyone worked together to try to keep their village safe. They had to stick together, even though survival was not guaranteed.



The outspoken Vincente was arrested several times. Vincente’s enemies even threatened his family!


But Rigoberta’s family was very brave, and all of them worked to stand up against the unfair government.


Still, resistance was dangerous work. And by the time Rigoberta was 21, she had lost her mother, father, and brother to the brutal violence of the Guatemalan military.


Rigoberta was devastated. She felt lost without her father and mother. But she refused to give up fighting for her people.


So, Rigoberta turned her grief into action. She held protests. She organized workers. She facilitated strikes.


But with each act, Rigoberta put herself in greater danger.

Eventually, the danger became too great. Rigoberta left the mountains and went into hiding with friends.

She thought she was safe, but even there, the Guatemalan soldiers recognized her!


Her heart pounding, Rigoberta pulled her friend into a nearby church. Their footsteps were light on the cold floor. Rigoberta looked around for a place to hide. She darted to the front of the sanctuary and knelt at the altar.


Quickly, she untied the scarf around her head and let down her hair. She bowed her head in prayer, kneeling next to her friend.


The door to the church opened, and the soldiers came running in, searching for her. Their voices echoed off the sanctuary walls.


The soldiers looked in every pew, passing right behind Rigoberta. 


She held her breath. All Rigoberta could think about was how much she wanted to live. How much she still wanted to do with her life.


The soldiers called to one another, and soon, she heard their footsteps disappearing out the church’s back door.


Rigoberta breathed a sigh of relief. She had evaded capture yet again.


Rigoberta felt she was lucky. She also knew she was endangering the people who were helping her.

So she made a difficult decision: She had to leave Guatemala. And soon.

Using her network of contacts, she raised enough money for a plane ticket to Mexico City. Since she couldn’t travel under her own name, she assumed the identity of a ladino woman, cut her long hair, and bought new clothes.

In 1981, armed with a fake passport, Rigoberta boarded her plane. And as it swooped into the sky, tears fell from her eyes.

She was leaving her home—the land she loved. 

She hoped she would be safe.

And she promised herself—one day, she would return.


Safe in Mexico, Rigoberta slept for days, dragged down by her grief and fear and loss. Nightmares haunted her. She jumped at every sound.

Then, she slowly began to recover. And though it was hard, she shared her story with the priests and nuns who had helped her escape. 

Later, one of them invited Rigoberta to speak at a conference of Catholic bishops from Central and South America. 

Rigoberta didn’t think she spoke Spanish very well, but before this audience of religious leaders, she told her story slowly and carefully.

Those bishops were so moved, they asked her to speak in their own countries.

Soon, Rigoberta was traveling throughout the continent—and beyond—bravely describing what had happened to her, her family, and her people.

I, RIGOBERTAStill, Rigoberta longed to return to Guatemala. But it wasn’t safe. And the more she spoke out, the more dangerous it was.

So instead, Rigoberta packed all her belongings in one small suitcase and became a nomad. She traveled from country to country, meeting with fellow activists, learning about local problems, and sharing about her life.

In 1982, Rigoberta was encouraged to put her story down in print. So, when Rigoberta was in Paris, a Venezuelan anthropologist interviewed her and turned those interviews into a book. 

When Rigoberta’s autobiography came out, it opened many people’s eyes to the suffering of the Maya people. 

Millions of people read it, and soon, Rigoberta’s name became known throughout the world.


A decade later, in 1992, Rigoberta finally returned to Guatemala, flying in to its capital city nestled inside a mountain valley.


By then, she was known throughout the world for her important work. And at the Guatemala City Airport, thousands of people gathered to greet her! 


But now, she had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and that gave her—and her supporters—some protection.


It was impossible not to feel their pride and their joy.


Then, a few days later, Rigoberta received a very important phone call: She had won! 


She was the first Indigenous person—and the ninth woman—to win the Nobel Peace Prize.



In the years that followed, Rigoberta never stopped working toward that new future.


She organized to help bring peace to her nation. And in 1996, the Guatemalan government and rebel fighters finally signed a peace agreement. The 36-year civil war that tore apart Rigoberta’s country was finally over.


She filed lawsuits against the leaders and soldiers who had murdered and hurt so many Guatemalan citizens, which brought the people’s suffering to light.


Rigoberta even ran for president!


More than anything, though, she never gave up hope, and like her father, she never stopped fighting. And to this day, she continues working toward a better and brighter future.


As Rigoberta once said, “Not everything is lost. It is true that there is war and violence. The solution is energy, work, convictions, and giving of yourself with enthusiasm.”