Rigoberta was born into a Mayan peasant family. During her childhood and youth she suffered through poverty, racial discrimination and the violence that the Guatemalan indigenous population has suffered for decades. For this reason, with only five years of age she began to work with her parents on the large estates of the rich and traditional families of the country; later, in her teens, she worked for two years in the Guatemalan capital as a domestic servant.
The Guatemalan activist grew up in a country affected by an armed conflict between the government and a guerilla demanding social justice and better living conditions. In order to fight against this popular organization, the government opted for violence in order to repress it. They also implemented a policy of extermination against the indigenous Mayan population. Due to this situation, a large part of Rigoberta's family fell victim: her mother and older brother were tortured and killed by the military, and her father was burned alive during a protest. For this and other reasons, from a young age Rigoberta was involved in various social causes and was a participant in international forums to denounce economic, social, cultural and political inequalities within her country.
From 1977 she began to serve as a member of the Campesino Unity Committee, formally joining in 1979; During this period, the national army carried out a campaign against the population suspected of belonging to an armed group, it was at that moment when she was forced into exile in Mexico, where Rigoberta arrived in 1981 supported by Catholic militant groups. From Mexico, she dedicated herself to denounce at the international level the serious situation of the Guatemalan Indians. Although Rigoberta suffered political persecution and later during her exile, she did not stop her struggle; on the contrary, Menchú continued and contributed to the elaboration of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the UN.
As an example of the forums and events in which she participated, from the thirty-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly, Rigoberta was part of the Sub-Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities since 1982. Likewise, since March 1983 she has appeared in the sessions of the General Assembly to denounce government arbitrariness against indigenous people and to claim their human rights.
On December 10, 1992, Rigoberta Menchú was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, thus becoming the first indigenous person, and the youngest, to receive it. With the money, she established the Vicente Menchú Foundation, whose mission is to contribute to recovering and enriching human values for the construction of a world peace ethic, based on the ethnic, political and cultural diversity of the peoples of the world. Thus, through the foundation, the great Guatemalan activist developed various initiatives and strategies to respond to the demands of the native peoples of Mesoamerica in education. Among these initiatives is the Diagnosis of the Educational Reality of the Indigenous Peoples of the Mesoamerican Region, where 174 communities in the region were consulted regarding their educational reality and demands. As a great result of the initiative, the development of professionalization programs for indigenous teachers in rural areas was achieved.
Today, Rigoberta Menchú continues to fight to promote dialogue and social justice in Guatemala and persists in the search for alternatives to reinforce the active participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making regarding their needs and rights. She is currently an active member of the Nobel Peace Prize Women's Initiative (of which she is a co-founder) and the Peace Jam Foundation, as well as a founding member of the Political Association of Mayan Women.