1. My Name is Rigoberta Menchu. I am 23 years old. This is my testimony. I didn’t learn it from a book and I didn’t learn it alone. I’d like to stress that it’s not only my life, it’s also the testimony of my people. . . . My story is the story of all poor Guatemalans. My personal experience is the reality of a whole people.
These passages open I, Rigoberta Menchu and are the first words we hear from Rigoberta as she begins her story. Rigoberta makes it clear from the outset that she is a representative of her community, speaking not only for herself but also for her people. This attitude reflects the Latin American tradition of testimonio, in which events that have happened to a person’s community can be adopted and retold as though they have happened to an individual. This device allows Rigoberta to communicate both events that happened to her and experiences of other Guatemalans in a way that is cohesive and compelling. By using such a technique, however, Rigoberta opened herself to criticism regarding the accuracy of her account, particularly by the anthropologist David Stoll, who spent a number of years working to discredit Rigoberta, based on the notion that what she presented in her book was fact. Though I, Rigoberta Menchu has been widely referred to as an autobiography, this label is somewhat misleading. In actuality, as Rigoberta says here, the work is a testimony, defined as a story that serves as evidence of some wrong that has been committed.
By stating that she “learned” her testimony, Rigoberta reminds readers that its telling has been influenced by others and that the experience she presents in the following pages has been minted consciously, not only by her but by the collective entity of her people. Rigoberta illustrates the closely knit quality of her community here, and throughout the work she develops her own attitudes about the world as she reflects on the values passed down to her from ancestors and elders. For Rigoberta, there is no such thing as an identity completely separate from the Indian community. This stance informs her approach to telling the story and allows her to plug images and details into events she did not actually witness but only heard about from other community members. Aside from enriching the work, such descriptive elements help Rigoberta build her case because she was, indeed, working to gain support for her human rights efforts at the United Nations when I, Rigoberta Menchu was published.