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Nobel Prize winner to speak at NIU

Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, an activist for indigenous Guatemalans whose personal story of triumph brought their plight to the world’s attention, will visit NIU this month for a public lecture.

Menchú was awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to protect the rights of indigenous peoples during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996). Only 12 women have received the Nobel Peace Prize in its more than 100-year history.

The Nobel Laureate will deliver an hour-long talk on her life experiences and field questions from the audience beginning at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 in the Carl Sandburg Auditorium of the Holmes Student Center.

Sponsored by NIU’s Latino Resource Center and Women’s Resource Center, Menchú’s visit coincides with the celebration of Latino Heritage Month on the NIU campus.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for NIU students, faculty and staff to hear from one of the most influential and dynamic Latina leaders of our time,” said Emily Prieto, Latino Resource Center director, in a recent news release. “Rigoberta has touched many with her words and has turned her struggles into an inspiration for others worldwide.”

Prieto, who has been working for a year to bring Menchú to campus, counts herself among the inspired.

“I saw her speak when I was a graduate student at the University of California-Davis, and it was a moving and unforgettable experience,” Prieto said. “I wanted the Latino youth I work with to have the opportunity to hear and meet a Latina Nobel Laureate. It is powerful for them to see a woman from an underrepresented group and humble beginnings who has accomplished so much in her life.”

Menchú, 50, was born to a peasant family in Guatemala and raised in the Quiche branch of the Mayan culture, according to her biography on the Nobel Prize Web site. She participated in social reform activities through the Catholic Church, became prominent in the women’s rights movement while still a teenager and joined the Committee of the Peasant Union.

In 1979, her brother was arrested, tortured and killed by the army. The following year, her father was killed when security forces in the capital stormed the Spanish Embassy. Later, her mother died after having been arrested, tortured and raped.

Menchú figured prominently in a strike the CUC organized for better conditions for farm workers on the Pacific coast, and she was active in large demonstrations in the capital. But she went into hiding during the early 1980s and fled to Mexico. She continued to work from abroad as an organizer of resistance to oppression in Guatemala. In 1983, she told her life story to Elisabeth Burgos Debray. The resulting book, “I, Rigoberta Menchú,” drew international attention to the Guatemalan Civil War.

In 2007, Menchú became the first female candidate for president of Guatemala. Though she was defeated, she remains a vocal advocate for the oppressed in her native country and worldwide. Just weeks ago, she joined 13 other Nobel Laureates in calling upon the United Nations Security Council to take action to support fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar.

Menchú also is a founding member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, established in 2006 with five other Nobel Peace Laureates working together on issues of peace with justice and equality.

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