One of the major events
in the Spring 2001 Text and Community Program on the text
I, Rigoberta Mench: An Indian Woman from Guatemala (IRM)
is a student essay contest. This competition is open to
registered GMU undergraduates in all majors or programs.
The essays will be reviewed by a group of faculty members
and the results will be announced on April 20. Those two
students whose papers are selected will receive an award
recognizing their contributions at the panel discussion
on the controversy over IRM on April 25 at 3:00 p.m. in
the SUB II Ballroom. One winner will be chosen for each
Students who wish to be
considered for this honor must submit 3-5 page papers
on one of the following questions by April 12 no later
than 12:00 p.m. to the English Department. All papers
must be typed, double-spaced and have no identifying marks.
The cover sheet should include name, phone number, and
1. How has I, Rigoberta Mench: An Indian Woman In
Guatemala affected you personally? In your essay you
might describe how her account exposed you to the reality
of historical and political events in Central America.
You might write on how the text opened your eyes to the
struggle of indigenous peoples in Central America or the
world. Or you might choose to comment on how MenchŐs
voice inspired your own sense of strength against adversity
in modern life. In your discussion, you must be sure to
make references to MenchŐs text.
2. The book I, Rigoberta Mench is an example of
testimonio, a fairly recent genre of literature
in Latin America that attempts to provide a voice in history
for people who have been marginalized in their societies,
like people of color or victims of state oppression. The
testimonio text involves both an editor and a subject.
Typically, the editor (in IRM Elisabeth Burgos-Debray)
interviews an individual (here, Rigoberta Mench) whose
story is then presented as a collective voice for his
or her community. Mench herself states at the beginning
of her book: "This is my testimony. I didnŐt learn it
from a book and I didnŐt learn it alone. IŐd like to stress
that itŐs not only my life, itŐs also the testimony of
my people. ItŐs hard to remember everything thatŐs happened
to me in my life since there have been many bad times
but, yes, moments of joy as well. The important thing
is that what has happened to me has happened to many other
people too: my story is the story of all poor Guatemalans.
My experience is the reality of a whole people."
In his book, Rigoberta
Mench and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans (1999),
the anthropologist David Stoll argues that MenchŐs claim
to be the representative of "all poor Guatemalans" is
undercut by several factual discrepancies in her book.
Stoll spent ten years interviewing members of MenchŐs
local community and other sources on her story, including
her editor and interviewer Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, and
claims to have uncovered key details that are false in
the text. Stoll writes that Mench "drastically revised
the prewar experience of her village to suit the needs
of the revolutionary organization she had joined" and
whose cause she was promoting in Europe when interviewed
by Burgos-Debray. According to Stoll, because MenchŐs
account was dictated by pressure from this group and members
of the academic left in Latin America, her story rings
false as the authentic representation of "all poor Guatemalans."
The publishing of StollŐs
book unleashed a major controversy about Rigoberta MenchŐs
book, which is frequently assigned in North American college
classrooms. In this essay, you are to respond to StollŐs
claim that the reader of IRM must "distinguish between
what can be corroborated and what cannot, what is probable
and what is highly improbable." In this essay, you are
to consider how Stoll's critique of IRM has affected your
reading of the text. Has his argument caused you to reconsider
your initial responses to IRM? If it has, in what ways?
If Stoll's claims have not affected your opinion of the
text, describe why this is so.