Mench urges mutual respect

By Rochelle McConkie

For Nobel Peace Prize winner and indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchú Tum, the formula for change is simple: It requires respect, happiness and a willingness to act.

Menchú, who delivered the keynote address for this week’s Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, urged students to fight for humanity8212;and to fight for it now.

“Don’t wait until you become a victim8212;you have rights,” Menchú said. “Remember, you are always an element of change and transformation in society. If you have waited for someone else to change your situation, that change will never come.”

Menchú has become a symbol of strength and activism for students after growing up in an impoverished family in the Quiché branch of the Mayan culture and witnessing the murders and torture of family members during an Indian peasant struggle in Guatemala. Since witnessing those atrocities, Menchú has written a number of books and testaments to advocate human rights.

“She is very articulate for the past she has had,” said Allison Spehar, a junior in modern dance. “People should learn to be as articulate (as she is) so that they can do what she does and go out into the world.”

Drawing from her Mayan culture, Menchú said people need to remember their relationship with the world. She said people have abandoned their relationships with Mother Earth and scientists are only now beginning to recognize what the indigenous people have been saying for years about climate change and taking care of the planet.

“If Al Gore did not receive the Nobel Prize, we would not be talking about the harmony of the planet,” Menchú joked.

Chris Elton, a junior in mass communication, said Menchú had a quick wit, even with the translation from Spanish. Fernando Rubio, co-chairman of the languages and literature department, translated Menchú’s address into English.

Menchú denounced racism, calling it a disease that is emotional, social and spiritual. Menchú asked why anyone could be against someone else because they have a different skin color, saying that if she does not feel in harmony with someone, she has a “spiritual disease.”

“Prejudice has brought us apart,” Menchú said. “We, all humans, need to interact. We all need one another. We can all be together if we all have some kind of code, and that code is simple8212;it’s respect.”

Menchú said people cannot fight racism unless they are on the side of those who have suffered racism. She said she has been able to forgive the people who killed, raped and tortured her mother by asking for her mother’s forgiveness. The Mayans believe in keeping a connection with those who have died, she said.

Speaking directly to the students, Menchú said they should do something to fix the things of which they are critical, forgetting prejudice and being a light for others. She urged students to learn another language and promote new laws that advocate human rights.

Michael McKinlay, a sophomore in modern dance, said he appreciated Menchú’s emphasis on understanding and remembering heritage.

“I really enjoyed the points she made about helping others and the need to know where you stand and where you come from,” he said.

At the end of her address, Menchú said that she hoped the U could develop a partnership with a university she works with in Guatemala. She said the award she received from Associate Vice President for Diversity Octavio Villalpando will eventually be displayed in a museum for peace in Guatamala.

“It is very important to make a relationship between our peoples,” she said.

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Erik Daenitz

Kingsbury Hall filled up Thursday for a keynote address by Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Mench Tum. The address was scheduled as part of the U?s 25th Anniversary Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

Erik Daenitz

Rigoberta Mench Tum emphasizes the need to live a balanced life with equal rights for all. She encouraged students to take action when they see the need for change.