“I, Rigoberta Menchu, an Indian Woman in Guatemala” (1983), is the personal narrative of the life of a young Guatemalan Quiche Indian woman. Written in the genre of personal testimony, Menchu's powerful voice records the hardships of the Guatemalan people during the political terror of a 36-year Civil War that ended in 1996. Menchu's reality is harsh; life is a struggle to survive. Menchu as if creating an indigenous cloth with numerous threads, creates a tale of connection within her Quiche community. One of Menchu's main objectives is to maintain a cohesive Mayan culture and to bring cultural identity to her community.
Menchu records her culture's past through memory, detailing rituals, customs, and traditions. She presents the Mayan culture with a sense of wonder and mystery. She speaks of candles lit to welcome the newborn children, of celebratory fiestas at weddings, of the importance of maize, and of respect for the elders of the community. Menchú promotes cultural identity of her people and encourages it for those other indian an indigenous nations around the world.
The rituals she describes are alien and very different to the Western mind. Menchu dichotomizes the people of Guatemala into good and bad. The Indians are good; the ladinos (any Guatemalan who rejects Indian values) are bad. Her extreme polarity is the result of mistreatment by the ladinos she has worked for or encountered in her life. As an Indianist, she desires separation, but she has come to realize that unification is the only way to end repression. "In Guatemala," she says, "the division between Indians and ladinos has contributed to our situation" (167). Her father, Vincente, helped her see that "the justification for our struggle was to erase all the images imposed on us, all the cultural differences, and the ethnic barriers, so that we Indians might understand each other in spite of different ways of expressing our religion and beliefs" (169).
She comes to understand that the barrier that divides Indians and ladinos have kept both groups oppressed by the wealthy elite who run the country (165). For Rigoberta Menchú, learning Spanish serves a number of extremely powerful functions. It is a way of being able to express who she is and what she has experienced and learned in a society that is dominated by a Spanish-speaking minority. It is a way, therefore, of demanding recognition for her cultural identity, and of soliciting support for its value. Rigoberta Menchú must learn Spanish in order to help preserve her culture, her own identity and the identity of her community.
Furthermore, learning Spanish is a way of achieving solidarity with people who share a similar oppression, although they may not belong to the Maya-Quiché community or culture. In fact, we learn in this same chapter that there are language barriers even within the indigenous community as a whole (169). Spanish, therefore, serves as a medium for promoting cultural interpenetration, cultural identity as well as social solidarity..