The Rigoberta Menchu Award for an Oustanding Guatemalan Woman
Rigoberta Menchú Tum (born 9 January 1959) is an indigenous Guatemalan woman, of the K'iche' ethnic group. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala's indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting indigenous rights in the country. She has also been a prominent figure in the women's rights movement .
During the Guatemalan Civil War, Menchu's entire family was killed. Prompted by injustices commited against indigenous peasant farmers, Menchu became a prominent member of the Committee of the Peasant Union (CUC).
n 1980, she figured prominently in a strike the CUC organized for better conditions for farm workers on the Pacific coast, and on May 1, 1981, she was active in large demonstrations in the capital. She joined the radical 31st of January Popular Front, in which her contribution chiefly consisted of educating the Indian peasant population in resistance to massive military oppression.
In 1981, Rigoberta Menchú had to go into hiding in Guatemala, and then flee to Mexico. That marked the beginning of a new phase in her life: as the organizer abroad of resistance to oppression in Guatemala and the struggle for Indian peasant peoples' rights. In 1982, she took part in the founding of the joint opposition body, The United Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition (RUOG).
She told her story in the book, I, Rigoberta Menchú, a gripping human document which attracted considerable international attention. In 1986, Rigoberta Menchú became a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the CUC, and the following year she performed as the narrator in a powerful film called When the Mountains Tremble, about the struggles and sufferings of the Maya people. On at least three occasions, Rigoberta Menchú has returned to Guatemala to plead the cause of the Indian peasants, but death threats have forced her to return into exile.
Over the years, Rigoberta Menchú has become widely known as a leading advocate of Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation, not only in Guatemala but in the Western Hemisphere generally, and her work has earned her several international awards.
In 1992 she received the Nobel Peace Prize and the Prince of Asturias Award in 1998. She is the subject of the testimonial biography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and the author of the autobiographical work, Crossing Borders.
Menchú is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She has also become a figure in indigenous political parties and ran for President of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011.
2014 Award Winner: Jenn De Leon
Jennifer De Leon is a Jamaica Plain-born and Framingham-raised, Guatemalan author. Her book, “Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education,” has been selected by the Huffington Post as one of “The Ten Books That Could Change Your Graduating Senior (And Their World!).”
She is the winner of the 2011 Fourth Genre Michael Steinberg Essay Prize. Her stories and essays have appeared in Ploughshares, Brevity, Ms., Briar Cliff Review, Poets &Writers, Guernica, Best Women’s Travel Writing, and elsewhere.
She has published author interviews in Granta and Agni, and she has been awarded scholarships and residencies from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Hedgebrook, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Blue Mountain Center, and the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. She was born in the Boston area to Guatemalan parents.
After graduating from Connecticut College, she moved to San Jose, California, where she taught elementary school as part of the Teach for America program and earned a master’s in teaching from the University of San Francisco’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Social Justice.
After moving back to Boston, she designed college access programs and mentored first-generation college students and then earned an MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts–Boston. Currently she teaches at Grub Street and at the Boston Teachers Union School in Jamaica Plain. She is working on a memoir and a novel.
For her excellence in writing and support of women's rights, Casa Guatemala is proud to honor Jenn De Leon with the Rigoberta Menchu Award for an Outstanding Guatemalan Woman.