Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Rigoberta Menchú Tum was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples in her native Guatemala. At the age of 33, she became the youngest person and the first indigenous person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Tum was born in 1959 to a poor Indian family in the highlands of Guatemala. Like many other countries in South and Central America, Guatemala has experienced great tension between the descendants of European immigrants and the native Indian population. The Menchú family experienced extreme hardship as a result of their Mayan background.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the repressive military dictatorship of Guatemala began a large-scale repression of Indian peoples. Before she was 21, Tum's mother, father, and brother had been brutally tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan army. Tum confronted the oppression faced by her family and her peoples by actively protesting labor and human rights abuses. In 1981, she was forced to leave her country and seek exile in Mexico.
In exile, Tum became an eloquent defender of the rights and values of indigenous peoples and other victims of government oppression. On several occasions, she returned to Guatemala to plead the cause of the Indian peasants, but death threats forced her to return into exile.
In 1983, Tum's testimonial book, I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, helped bring to light the plight of the indigenous people in Guatemala. Now a global best-seller, the book reflects on the experiences common to many Indian communities in Latin America.
After winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Tum established the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation, which promotes the rights of indigenous people around the world. Over the years, she has become widely known as a leading advocate of Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation.
In 1998, she published Rigoberta: La Nieta de los Mayas, later translated into English and titled Crossing Borders.