Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigoberta Menchu Encourages Activism

Photo by Nicole Williams

Every seat was filled in the H-wing auditorium yesterday, leaving many standing, as Rigoberta Menchu, a 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist for rights of indigenous peoples, spoke to the Ramapo community in an address entitled “Student Engagement: Towards a Promising Future.

Menchu is a member of the Maya K’iche’ ethnic group, a native people based in Guatemala. She is a leading advocate of Indian rights in Guatemala and throughout the entire Western Hemisphere.

“What matters to me is you try and make a difference,” Menchu said in her speech.

Ramapo College is an advocate for community activism and involvement and offers many service outreach programs. As such, Menchu’s mission and Ramapo’s mission match up. Menchu encouraged students to get out there and help those in need.

It relates because we are very diverse and we like to do a lot of change. So her work, talking about change and just working as a community, is what we do here,” senior Blanca Perdomo said.

Menchu explained that our generation needs to step up and be the change we want and need to see in the world.  

“You should continue pursuing whatever it is you want and keep in mind to help other people along the way,” Gisselle Arce, a Ramapo alumna said. 

Menchu talked about how in impoverished countries the conditions are indescribable. According to Menchu, poverty is chronic, and there are children of indigenous peoples and Maya children who will most likely not reach adulthood.

“That is why we need to reorient academically, socially, politically and economically. It is not enough to cite statistics. Statistics do not reflect real problems. The world economic order has failed. In the big translation, companies have won,” Menchu said.

Her speech highlighted how everything is packaged; the economic model teaches us monetary abundance needs to be extracted from the earth. Anywhere that a natural resource in available – like oil, gold and silver – there is a multinational company going after it.

“We see a big package, like New York, where they keep on building, and the human being feels smaller and smaller, and doesn’t know who the owner is,” Menchu said.

Menchu wants the Ramapo community to open their eyes and see the reality of the society we are living in; to not only look at economics as how much money is coming in or out, as that is not the real problem. According to Menchu, the real problem is political will of our leadership.

“So you young people who are preparing yourself for the future need to pay attention to these realities. We have done some things, but we haven't been able to find the answer,” Menchu said.

Menchu’s address was met with a warm reception and the Ramapo community seemed to take a lot away from it, in finding out what they could do to make a difference in the world.

“I thought it was very inspiring,” said Ramapo alumnus John Sapida. “You know, she’s such an inspiring woman and I found that I learned a lot. I thought I was just going to learn about her experiences but I learned a lot about what we could actually do to make a difference.”