Rigoberta Menchu, a Quiche Indian, pushes herself and others past victimhood to empowerment. A survivor to the core, Rigoberta begins as a meek and obedient daughter, but she gradually gains a strong, militant sense of her individual rights and the rights of her people. Though Rigoberta’s alliance to elders and to her father in particular is fierce and unyielding, she nonetheless yearns to change the future for herself and others like her. Though she is repeatedly reminded during tribal ceremonies that all Indians must succumb to a life of hard work, misery, and suffering, she refuses to accept her lot. When her brother Nicholas dies of malnutrition at the finca, Rigoberta grows angry, not despondent. Over time, this anger motivates her. Later, as many other members of her family, including her mother and father, are murdered, Rigoberta grows increasingly militant. She sees the merits of violence as a means to an end, yet she stops short of joining the Guatemalan guerillas.

As a young girl working on Guatemalan plantations, Rigoberta works hard and recognizes the virtue of continuing to labor at certain tasks, even when it appears there is no end to what must be done. Later, Rigoberta applies her work ethic to political change, realizing that patience is a key component to any worthwhile effort. Though early attempts to learn Spanish are thwarted, for example, she doesn’t give up on her dream and eventually succeeds in learning the language. Highly adaptable, Rigoberta is able to blend teachings from Roman Catholic missionaries with Indian beliefs and rituals that have been passed down for ages. As she forges her political ideologies, which center on peasant rights and the inherent value of the poor, Rigoberta molds her Catholic beliefs to support her ideology, rejecting the Roman-Catholic hierarchy while embracing certain stories from the Bible and the figure of Christ as leader of the poor. Rigoberta is at once extremely traditional and radically modern. While she carefully preserves the ancient ways of her people by chronicling birth and death ceremonies in painstaking detail, for example, she also renounces motherhood and marriage so she can follow in her father’s footsteps, a radical move for a woman in any society but especially in one as traditional and old-fashioned as that of the Quiche Indians.