Rigoberta Menchu

The Problem of Racism on the Threshold of the 21st Century - May 21, 1996

Rigoberta Menchu
May 21, 1996— Guatemala
Letter to the Organizers and Participants of the Sixth Lascasianas Symposium
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Dear Friends:

Animated by the spirit of Spring, spirit of hope for peace in my native Guatemala, I send my best wishes for the success of the Sixth Lascasianas Symposium called by the Institute of Juridical Investigations of the National Autonoma University of Mexico. The central theme of this Sixth Symposium, "The Problem of Racism on the Threshold of the 21st Century," approaches an aspect of human coexistence that in my opinion, has historically manifested itself as a symptom of what humanity has left behind. If a phantom has at some time traveled this earth, it is racism.

I understand this as a phenomenon that is supported by the belief of superiority in the face of difference, in the belief that ones own culture possesses values superior to those of other cultures. It has not been stated often enough that racism has historically been a banner to justify the enterprises of expansion, conquest, colonization and domination and has walked hand in hand with intolerance, injustice and violence.

Without a doubt, we live in times in which overbearing, intolerant racist attitudes have been aggravated, but what can we propose to contribute to overcoming this evil? I believe that the organizations of the United Nations system, governments, national and international organizations and institutions, means of communication, schools, universities, etc., committed to world peace, should generate programs on a grand scale to redefine education, and the influence that they project toward society.

Programs whose essence is mutual respect, harmonious human coexistence and respect between people, towns and Nations.

We can sow the plant with an enormous wealth, a wealth that invites cultural diversity. We can dream of the construction of multicultural and plurilingual societies: if we are capable of recognizing and respecting differences. This theme revisits a theme of special importance for Indigenous Communities, who up until the present, with the same patience with which the women of our communities weave truly multicolored mosaics, have been weaving the bases of a new order of relationships with governments, institutions and non-indigenous societies.

Fortunately, there have been very important advances. Ample sectors of society have become conscience that far from converting itself into a barrier, differences constitute a fountain of cultural richness. New standards of relating between communities and cultures, between Indians and non-Indians, are being established. If they deepen, we will be constructing strong foundations for peace. This is an objective to which we should all commit ourselves. Because of that, I am convinced that we should make the necessary efforts so that the United Nations approve the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Communities as soon as possible and that it is also ratified by the member States.

Likewise, we should take advantage of the International Decade of Indigenous People as a time for reflection and an impetus for actions at a national and international level, that seek permanent recognition and respect for the rights of Indigenous Communities. We should seek the approval of instruments and legislation of an international and national character, but we should also struggle to eradicate racist practices by modifying cultural patrons that give sustenance to discrimination and segregation.

This is to say, that while it is important to adopt adequate legislation and instruments, it is also important that the forms of thinking and acting, the vision of cultures different from our own, change.

On the threshold of the 21st Century, communities and cultures should adopt new forms of living together based on cooperation, the acceptance that cultural diversity is not an obstacle for development, but on the contrary, constitutes the foundation on which a more just, humane world with full liberty and democracy, social justice, in which the harmonious relationship between man and nature is the fundamental pillar of human existence, can be constructed. Friends, I repeat my desires of success in these work sessions and discussions that await you. Without doubt, your contributions will be invaluable for the construction of this new space in which to build relationships and learn to live together in cultural diversity.

Speech from http://gos.sbc.edu/m/lascasianas.html.