In November, Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Rigoberta Menchú Tum visited Ewha and gave a special lecture. When I entered the conference room where Menchu’s lecture was being held, I was astonished to see her wearing a traditional costume, I was also embarrassed when she started her speech with ‘Mucho Gusto’, meaning hello in Spanish.
Human rights seem too distant from us and it seems like only globally influential figure can accomplish something significant. As I was surprised to see Menchu not wearing a fancy suit nor speaking in world’s common language, I realized I was creating some kind of prejudice towards the human rights advocate. Ms. Menchu’s life, however, tells us so powerfully that the concept is wrong.
Born in a poor Indio family in Guatemala in 1959, bearing severe oppression by the Guatemalan government towards indigenous people, Menchu’s entire family devoted themselves to social movements.
Menchu did not receive formal education and has worked as an industry laborer since her childhood. She learned Spanish at the age of 20 while working as a nanny in a Spanish speaking family.
After working at the frontline as a leader in social movements, Menchu fled to Mexico to hide from the regime’s persecution. It was when she wrote her autobiography, “I Rigoberta Menchu”, that the wretched state that not only her own family but also other indigenous Indians were in was disclosed. She later jointed Committee of the Peasant Union and is serving as a member of the UN Aboriginal Affairs Committee.
The lecture made me realize in that just like Menchu, we all can be an advocate of human rights. During her speech, she said peace is not a mere dream or romance but is about will and carrying out those precepts into practice.
Besides the story of Menchu’s life, the definition of human rights in the Oxford English Dictionary hints us on what we can do to achieve human rights. The dictionary states that human rights are rights which are believed to belong justifiably to every person. “Believed to belong” can be interpreted as being socially accepted or agreed upon, but in my analysis, its definition can be extended to mean something as basic as respecting others.
So, how about starting from where you stand? Just answering back nicely when your mother wakes you up in the morning, clearing up your seat in the classroom, or offering to carry your friend’s water bottle when she has both hands full would be a good initial step towards paving the way for achieving human rights.