In 1983, she told her life story to Elisabeth Burgos Debray, which resulted in a book called in English, "I, Rigoberta Mench". Over the years, Rigoberta Mench has become a strong advocate of Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation, and has garnered many international awards for her work.
After more than a decade from the publication of "I, Rigoberta Menchu", a controversy sparked regarding the veracity of the details contained in the publication, largely initiated by anthropologist Dr. David Stoll. Soon after various academics and journalists published their own studies related to the issue, including essays and articles about the genre used in Rigoberta's book, the testimonio.
The controversy revolves around the overarching question of whether or not an autobiography should represent the exact details of a person's life; whether or not this is a uniquely Western expectation, and whether or not the expectation of "truth" is the same from a non-Western genre such as a testimonio or oral autobiography.
This essay takes a look at the issue of veracity or truth in "I, Rigoberta Menchu" and the various positions taken by different authors on the subject. It also discusses the concept of the testimonio genre and the position taken by various authors on why the understanding of this genre is central to the Menchu controversy. It concludes with the position taken by this essay's author on the extent to which the problems of truth in Menchu's book matter, as well as the author's position on the debate related to the testimonio genre.
The Issue of Truth
David Stoll (1999), in his book "Rigoberta Mench and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans" claims that Mench's book "is not the eyewitness account that it purports to be". He also poses the question, "If part of the laureate's story is not true, does it matter" Stoll's answer to his own question is that it matters. The contradictions between Rigoberta's version, that of neighbors, and the documentary record creates confusion on the reasons for why the killings took place. According to Rigoberta's version (Menchu, 1984), the killings were part of military oppression of the peasantry. According to Stoll's findings, from interviews he conducted, the killings were caused by both guerillas and the military. Stoll proposed that the reason of Rigoberta's particular version is actually propaganda to further the cause of the guerillas and solicit international sympathy. Stoll also argued that "truth" is important because it has international repercussions in the way human rights violations are reported, how people will react, and how events will be interpreted as to implications for the future world of human rights activism, journalism, and scholarship. Stoll seems to further argue that since Rigoberta Menchu has become a symbol for a cause, especially since she has become a Nobel laureate and has told a story that is largely true, the contradictions in her version with other accounts should be put to straight.
Dinesh D'Souza is a writer and public speaker who had written an article in The Weekly Standard in 1999 regarding his own views about the Menchu controversy. In his article he mentioned his book called "Illiberal Education" wherein he had criticized "I, Rigoberta Menchu" as a bogus