Rigoberta Menchu Tum: my 5 take-home messages
|With Prof Fethi Mansouri, Deakin's UNESCO Chair|
'If you took five ideas (from tonight) that stay with you and are useful for your life and your work, I would be very happy.' That was the concluding comment of Guatemala's Dr Rigoberta Menchu Tum at last night's UNESCO Chair Oration at Deakin University, where I attended with my Spanish class.
Five ideas! Usually if I take away one, or at most two, ideas that I can't wait to try out, I feel I've hit the jackpot. But Rigoberta was right. After the talk numerous ideas jostled my mind just like the numerous passengers jostled my body in the packed home-bound tram. But for this blog I'll be ruthless and restrict myself to my top 5 picks:
1. Rigoberta's presentation style was so different from the Western academic style we are used to. I have learned (from exposure to the Dalai Lama) that if I don't analyse what is being said too much, if I move out of my head, and try to listen with other parts of myself, as Rigoberta recommends, I am inevitably rewarded with a wonderful experience.
Although she is from Guatemala and he is from Tibet, there are many ways in which Rigoberta, whom I'd never heard speak before, reminds me of His Holiness. She and the Dalai Lama, whom she referenced, engage with the audience in a very similar way. Like him, what Rigoberta says is also deceptively simple. And despite their shared histories of tragic losses of loved ones and banishment from their homelands, both of them are full of smiles.
2. Rigoberta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism on behalf of poor Indian peasant families, like the one into which she was born. The Quiche branch of the Mayan culture in which she was raised is fundamental to who she is in the world and she delights in tracing her origins far, far back. Colin Hunter, a Wurundjeri Elder, who gave a welcome to country partly in the Wurundjeri language at the meeting, clearly also treasures his own ancient tradition and culture.
|Colin Hunter with his possum collar and gift of gum leaves for us|
3. Rigoberta reminded us that nobody can solve problems alone. She believes we need to build webs of reciprocity, to stand together to oppose discrimination and other injustices wherever we live. Recently I was witness to groups of her fellow South American Indians doing just that on the streets of Buenos Aires:
4. Rigoberta makes an active choice not to talk about torture, the 'disappeared', murders or other abuses, as she is more than qualified to do. This is because she is determined to help build a 'new perspective of hope for young people: 'The most important think is to inject a dose of positivity. That is what I practice.'
5. I mentioned earlier that I attended the talk with my Spanish class. We tend to grab every opportunity to hear Spanish speakers in full flow. And the final idea that thrilled me on the tram is that I can actually understand more Spanish than I realised.
|Rigoberta with her interpreter|
As long as I am always in the company of a Guatemalan, articulating beautifully clearly as they do. And that person speaks lecturer-slyle, slowly enough for listeners to take notes. And her brief statements are punctuated by an interpreter filling in every word missed, Spanish will be an open book for me. That's definitely something to smile about.