Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Testimonio: Notes Towards Day 8 (Thurs, Sept. 24)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Silence by Madison; Joie up for Tuesday
(reminder to Abby, Rosa, Madison, everyone: the week you
'shape the silence' i expect a short posting describing what you did,
or linking us to the quotes you used--I want to create an archive of these experiences)

II. coursekeeping: for Tuesday, read two essays about Rigoberta's text,
from a 1999 book by Doris Sommer called Proceed with Caution,
When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas
(recommended by Jen Harford-Vargas; why Rigoberta is on our syllabus--
though if I had any doubts, your rich reflections on the text allayed them!)

your second web event for me is due by Wednesday @ 5:
3 pp. extending your first essay, asking what there might be from our texts,
which could offer a helpful perspective on the issues you've raised in your story:
What are the broader implications and issues of your narrative?

III. We turn back to Rigoberta's memoir, with assistance from your postings, initial reactions/reflections.
I've put you in dialogue with one another--you'll find yourself grouped in pairs/triplets around the room.
Let's get up and continue this as a silent dialogue; and of course you are welcome to make connections across the room!

Han, Farida and Julia on the role of women:
Rigoberta Menchu personally refuse to get married… to lead her whole community fight with adversities…it is especially hard for women to pursue self-actualization in their careers without simultaneously sacrifice some happiness … and I am perplexed by this. 

Farida: Throughout Rigoberta Menchu’s story, a sense of hardship continues to occur….Every member of Rigoberta’ s community contributes…Women play an essential role …but are not fully recognized or considered….The struggle between man and woman is constantly represented …Roberta's mother …is not praised as much as Rigoberta’ s father….who is highly recognized …

Julia: One of the things I was most struck by in Rigoberta’s story was the conservation of youth. … her mother’s reluctance to allow Rigoberta to work. It also speaks to the kind of guilt that comes with not providing for oneself in a family or time when money is tight. … Rigoberta may well have been needed but was not allowed to make a difference. …There is also a seeming contrast to this kind of preservation of youth in Rigoberta’s awareness of her role as a woman among her people and her lack of options later in life….Preserving innocence was simply not possible…

Madison, Tong and Joie on cultural negotiation:
: whiteness has saturated tradition… morphed her native culture…” our race … blame the white man for coming and teaching us how to kill”…. The white man’s goods and materials also permeated through Rigoberta’s community…”We must not trust them, white men are all thieves.”

Tong: it seems to me that Menchú is struggling with her own background. I started the book with strong appreciation towards her sharing of her cultural identity…However, as I moved into the story, I started to sense doubt, and certainly a lot of anger … hopelessness …. disappointment …she was silenced by the … reality she was living….I certainly feel the fear she has in "criticizing" or "interrogating" her own culture … I also see a growing "self" in her that gradually breaks the silence and say what she actually feels…

Joie:  My upbringing imbued me with a sense of self-righteousness about my religion and culture, although it is a quality I have been trying to unlearn, for it has limited use .... when I read about injustices perpetuated on a ‘peoples’…I cannot help but tie it back to the Holocaust. …the lorries…the labor…the blind hatred…. What this book has brought to light for me is that the capacity for human evil is boundless .… There are small scale, and large scale holocausts occurring all over the world, every day….. And there is humanity in pain. Compassion and commiseration. So the only thing left to do is to try and learn from that pain for yourself, and then learn empathy for others

Sylvia and Rhett on the use of silence in the text:

Sylvia: "What happens is that, since we've never been given the opportunity to speak, express our opinions, or have our views considered, we haven't bothered to make ourselves heard just for the fun of it. . .This is why Indians are thought to be stupid. They can't think, they don't know anything, they say. But we have hidden our identity because we needed to resist, we wanted to protect what governments have wanted to take away from us.” This … packed quote, … encapsulates the multi-dimensional intersection between silence and the Indian identity…. silence is chosen by the Indians, because of a silence imposed on them. This silence is their way of reclaiming the power of silence …However, it feeds stereotypes about Indians… This might be why Rigoberta decided to share the story of her people…. However, I wonder what was lost when voice was given to it. What happens to the secrets that silence no longer protects?

Rhett: rankine says that, "[the images] were placed in the text where i thought silence was needed, but i wasn’t interested in making the silence feel empty or effortless the way a blank page would." so, as readers, we take these images as an almost palate cleanser … she uses these images to create a mental silence… with texts that have clearer headings and chapter breaks, there is still a similar effect … that space is a silencing… more of a “doorway effect” …it is a manipulation through silence (the break)….

Han, Meera and Sula on what it means to use Spanish:
Rigoberta and her other family members decided to learn Spanish. Obtainning the ability of speaking another language …aids you to be heard, understanded, and being significant to another group of people…

Meera:  I can’t help but think that because this book has been translated so many times, its original emotional power has been diluted…. so much is out of our reach because of the repeated translation….. the multiple translations have a silencing effect …. I was thinking a lot about the protagonist/writer’s constant ache to tell her story in the dominant language….Fanon said that you cannot learn the language of the colonizer without subconsciously imbibing racist cultural symbolism within the language. … Another narrative seeks to subvert the mainstream language by learning it… yet another narrative points to creating a hybrid language and culture is more inclusive of identities…. Language is both a means of liberation and a means of silencing a marginalized narrative.

: Menchú describes the experience of speaking a language she does not understand as a means of delivering a message to a higher power, of externalizing something that is deeply internal and meaningful to her … truly engaging in self-expression through speaking her beliefs, even though the language is not her own… she does not even understand the words she is saying, and yet still firmly believes in the message she is delivering. 

Menchú frequently views language … as a vessel, a means to an end…,Spanish is a way to access the world outside…and a means of resisting the forces that have oppressed them …even in the writing … of this book in Spanish, her second language. I wonder if this lack of emphasis on words themselves is connected to her culture’s relationship with silence….the silent relationship shared between mother and child for the first few days after birth… the deep connection between humans and nature …a truth deeper than language, allowing her to remain resilient when her freedom to speak is taken from her by her oppressors. 

Kieres and Abby on what it means to testify to trauma:
This book is a roller coaster of emotion. … The chapter in which she describes the horrific torture and murder of her brother…is a whole different level of unability to understand. …It is astonishing to think about how one woman carries the weight of such injustice and personal trauma.…this echoes Farida’s comments a few weeks ago…how can we ask someone to divulge these narratives that are so painful to tell….?

Abby: Learning about Rigoberta Menchú has made me think about…the obligations we may or may not have to speak on our experiences …In the words of translator Ann Wright, Menchú "has learned the language of the culture which oppresses her in order to fight it -- to fight for her people -- and to help us understand her own world" (vii). And further elucidated by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, Menchú “resolved to learn Spanish and break out of the linguistic isolation into which the Indians retreated in order to preserve their culture." Both of these accounts …heavily imply a sort of duty …to testify to …oppression.  the only reason that we know of these injustices against Indians in Guatemala is because one woman had the resilience, the courage, the strength and the opportunity to speak and share her story. Could we discuss these tensions in class if others have wondered the same?

Missing: Riley, Rosa, Shirah…

IV. Anne's quotes (re: keeping secrets)
"Learn to protect yourself, by keeping our secret" (p. 7).
"It is our duty as parents to keep our secrets safe generation after generation,
to prevent the ladinos learning anything of our ancestors' ways" (67-68).
"We must not trust them, white men are all thieves. We must keep our secrets from them" (69).
"In Guatemala..the Indian can't speak up for what he wants" (p. 102).
"The most distressing thing for us was not being able to speak. That was when I told myself: 'I must learn to speak Spanish, so that we don't need intermediaries'" (110).
"...the priests...taught us to accept many things, to be passive, to be a dormant people...they told us that God is up there and that God had a kingdom for the poor....It prevents us from seeing the real truth" (p. 121).
"The community decided: 'No one must discover our community's secret now, compañeros. It's secret what we are doing here. The enemy must not know, nor must our other neighboours.' Eveyrone agreed. We began teaching our children to be discreet" (p. 125).
"Nevertheless, I'm still keeping my Indian identity a secret. I'm still keeping secret what I think no-one should know. Not even anthropologists or intellectuals, no matter how many books they have, can find out all our secrets" (p. 247).