Rigoberta Menchu is probably the most famous Guatemalan of Mayan ancestry, having won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1992. While the wacky Scandinavians commended her as a representative voice of the native Indian people, just how "representative" Rigoberta Menchu is can be discerned from the results of Guatemala's presidential election. The results, released on Monday, show that Menchu came in sixth in a field of 14 with just 3 percent of the vote.
Who is Rigoberta Menchu? I first encountered her name in the Stanford multicultural curriculum while I was researching my first book Illiberal Education. Interestingly one Stanford professor described Rigoberta as a "quadruple victim" of oppression. That's right, a quadruple victim. She was a person of color and a victim of racism, a woman and a victim of sexism, a
South Central American (thank you, commenters) and a victim of North American colonialism, and a Mayan of Indian descent and hence oppressed by the light-skinned ruling class of Guatemala. Rigoberta's harrowing tale of victim hood is eloquently told in her autobiography I, Rigoberta Menchu.
The only problem is that many of the actual details in that book are made up. Rigoberta tells of how the military killed her brother, but the New York Times found her brother alive and well and living in a neighboring town. Rigoberta describes how the Guatemalan right-wing military seized her family's land, but the mayor of her town said that her parents were actually involved in a longstanding inheritance feud with relatives, and that this family dispute was the reason the title to the land was undetermined. If you want the full story pick up my book Letters to a Young Conservative, but only if you are prepared to laugh out loud.
What, then, explains Rigoberta's curricular appeal at Stanford and elsewhere? The answer is pretty simple: she doesn't represent the Guatemalans, but she does represent the politics of victimization that is championed by many American left-wing professors. And of course by posing as an indigenous victim, showing up at the United Nations festooned in native garb and singing stereotypical songs of woe, Rigoberta completely fooled the wacky Scandinavians. Remember that Rigoberta won her Nobel Prize in 1992. This was the 500-year anniversary of the Columbus landing. Get it? The wacky Scandinavians were determined to stick it to Columbus by awarding the Nobel prize to a native Indian. Chief Sitting Bull has long been dead, so the choice pretty much came down to Rigoberta, some big-time Indian casino operators, or the woman who played Pocahontas in the Disney movie. That's how Rigoberta got her prize.
But the Guatemalans know that Rigoberta is a scam artist, and also that she is not one of them. Even one of her fellow-Mayans is quoted in Tuesday's New York Times saying, "She's one of us, but she's not." Another man, Diego Ramirez, complains that "Menchu has gotten all this money from the outside, and we haven't seen it." The lesson I draw from this episode is that it's easy to fool Stanford leftists and wacky Scandinavians, but it's harder to pull the llama's wool over the eyes of your own people.