[Five Rigoberta Menchús, oh my!]
One of my students wrote an honors thesis on the controversy which surrounded Rigoberta Menchú after David Stoll alleged that there were false statements in her testimonio. This student read virtually every book and article then in print about the issue. She said to me, “This is the academic Jerry Springer show! It started out with a disagreement between two people, and now the entire audience is slugging it out on the floor!”
I will not attempt to summarize the entire debate here, but it was somewhat unnerving to those who had an interest in the literal truth of Menchú’s narrative – the first paragraph of which contains this sentence: “I’d like to stress that it’s not only my life, it’s also the testimony of my people.” I never thought veracity in a ploddingly literal sense was testimonio’s cornerstone. Stoll’s interest in discovering Menchú’s “untruths” is primarily political. He disagrees with her politics, and wishes to discredit her so as to discredit these.
In Nebaj, Guatemala, I had a conversation with a man who put it slightly differently. “Stoll is just envious. He is a man, a Euro-American, a Ph.D., and a professor. She is a woman, a Native American, and a Guatemalan, with very little formal education. But her book has been very well received academically in the metropolitan countries. She achieved First World academic success without preauthorization. This he cannot forgive.”