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Latinas who changed the world – Rigoberta Menchú Nobel Peace Prize

Rigoberta Menchú in the March 2009 march commemorating the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Rigoberta Menchú in the March 2009 march commemorating the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Only nine women have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and one of them is a K’iche Indian of the Maya ethnic group: Rigoberta Menchú, from Guatemala.

Irwin Abrams, from Antioch University, wrote: “The Nobel Peace Prizes at their best [,] set before us an array of great human spirits. The nine women Prize-winners clearly belong in this list. They come from a variety of backgrounds and represent a variety of forms of peace making.”

Rigorberta Menchú is one of the nine women who hold the Nobel Peace Prize. The award was granted in 1992 based on her book Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú, así despertó mi conciencia (1984), I, Rigoberta Menchú, An Indian Woman in Guatemala, –which she dictated in Spanish to the anthropologist Elisabeth Burgos-Debray- “in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples”. (The Nobel Peace Prize 1992. Nobelprize.org.)

The Nobel Peace Prize was not without controversy, of course, and Rigoberta was accused of taking violent actions with the guerrillas against the government, and that two of her sisters had joined the guerrilla fighters, even though her father was killed in the Spanish Embassy -which was burned down by government soldiers- where he had taken refuge in order to make a peaceful protest.

Rigoberta Menchú Tan was born in Uspantán, El Quiché, Guatemala, in 1959, a Mayan Indian who suffered firsthand the violence, discrimination and injustice Native American Indians are subjected to even in this day and age, 200 years after shaking off the so-called Spanish yoke. Indians in North, South and Central America are discriminated, persecuted, and treated as second-class citizens. Their languages and cultures are suppressed. In the United States they live in reservations.

You might be interested: This is why great leaders practice moral humility (Tedx video)

Rigoberta Menchú has many strikes against her: She is a woman. She is an Indian. She belongs to the lowest rung in society. She is not highly educated, having only a minimal education she obtained in her church. “I never had a childhood” she said because she had to work since the age of eight. She managed to teach herself Spanish as the only means to communicate with the world and help her people, the plight of the Indian in Guatemala, and in the Americas as a whole. She was driven into exile in Mexico because she feared for her life due to her political activism in favor of the underdogs.

Ever since the white man landed in America, the native inhabitants of the continent have been suffering discrimination, genocide, slavery, ignorance, poverty, social isolation… and that plight did not improve with independence from European rule. It continues to this day. Indians have been holding the short end of the stick ever since 1492, over 500 years. Father Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566), officially named Protector of the Indians, was one of the first to denounce the atrocities, albeit exaggerating some, and spent his life trying to defend native Americans.

Rigoberta Menchu Nobel Peace Prize

Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum reaches out to say hello to Isela Torres, 9, and the other children attending the Holly Day of Action Project. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post. Getty Images)

Minorities suffer all over the world, and people like Rigoberta Menchú call attention to their predicament in order to bring dignity and freedom to peoples whom history and prejudice have dropped into the abyss of despair. Awards such as the Nobel and Prince of Asturias Prizes make known those who, otherwise, would be obscured and forgotten.

Rigoberta Menchú is also the holder of the award, premio, Príncipe de Asturias de cooperación internacional, 1998. She holds an Honorary Doctorate from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and another one from the Universidad de Zaragoza.

She has written: “This world’s not going to change unless we’re willing to change ourselves.”

 

Latina entrepreneur clean water Ix Styke Guatemalan designs

A Latina entrepreneur finds clean water in Guatemalan designs

Francesca Kennedy, one of eight finalists at AccessLatina accelerator, is a truly inspiring Latina entrepreneur, designer, environmentalist and advocate for the indigenous people of her country of origin, Guatemala,. She is the founder of Ix Style, a fashion brand based on Guatemalan designs .

Latina entrepreneur Francesca Kennedy

Latina entrepreneur Francesca Kennedy creates designs based on her Guatemalan culture of origin while helping create jobs and provide clean water for Guatemalan children (Photo Gap video)

One characteristic of Latino immigrants is that we seldom cut lose our roots from our cultures of origin. Unlike many European immigrants that never traveled back home after arriving to the USA, visiting family periodically builds a constant and deep bond into the beauty and  values of our people.

When Francesca Kennedy used to spend her summers at Panajachel, she not only enjoyed the greatness and calm of the Guatemalan highlands with impressive views to Lake Atitlan and its surrounding volcanoes, but also kept in touch with the indigenous villages around the lake, and their famous inhabitants, women weavers of magnificent Mayan designs.

Kennedy’s entrepreneurial blood and soul

Born in the United States, from an early age Francesca was an entrepreneurial aficionado. “I was always interested in making money one way or the other, either selling lemonade to neighbors, old books on Amazon or creating something to sell,” she told LIBizus.

After graduating from Lehigh University in 2005, Francesca worked in various roles in the financial industry in America. However, her life took a spin during a summer visit to her grandfather, when she heard of TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie and his Start Something That Matters initiative.

“I was still working at Goldman Sachs when I felt my true calling,” she remembers.”A Mark Twain quote kept pounding my mind, ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why’,” she said. And Ix Style was born.

Inspiration in Guatemalan designs

Latina entrepreneur Francesca Kennedy

Guatemalan long tradition of women weavers and leather artisans inspired Latina entrepreneur Francesca Kennedy

Guatemala is a country with a rich history and culture, yet it’s challenged with extreme poverty. After she saw the once beautiful Lake Atitlan, in which she swam in as a child, overrun with blue green algae and a new generation of children drinking its toxic water, Francesca was inspired to start Ix Style. ”I thought that if alpargatas had worked for TOMS, huaraches would work for us,” she said.

Tapping into her cultural heritage  and beautiful Guatemalan designs, Francesca launched a fashion design company called Ix Style with a purpose in March 2013. Ix (pronounced “eye ex”) is the Mayan word for water. For every purchase they receive, Ix Style donates to provide clean drinking water to Guatemalan children, where Francesca Kennedy’s family is originally from. The products are handmade by local artisans, creating jobs for the community near the lake that inspired Francesca to start Ix Style.

Creating success while creating life

Guatemalan women weavers help Latina entrepreneur Francesca Kennedy with her designs

Guatemalan women weavers help Latina entrepreneur Francesca Kennedy with her designs

Empowered by her culture, Francesca recognizes she is eager to achieve success for many reasons, including helping her country and the people of Guatemala, sharing the beauty of her Guatemalan designs, and leaving the world a little better than she found it. “I realized my purpose was to create life, create jobs and create clean water,” she said.

“As a Latina business owner, I feel my strength is definitely my Latina passion. I don’t take no for an answer! I’m definitely not afraid to ask for something and go after what I want!”

Achieving her Latina entrepreneur dream

When was the moment Francesca realized she was achieving her dream?

“I launched the company while still working a full-time job –I never recommend to jump ship until you are sure of your results. Once our website was live, I pitched several design and clothing magazines,” she recalls.

Then, she received the first email of interest; the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. “It was a very empowering moment, when I saw the review. We had a marketable product and a great business model to pay it forward,” she affirms.

Since launching, Ix Style has garnered international press from high-profile publishers including Financial Times, LA Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Marie Claire, and Glamour magazines. Ix Style’s retailers include J.Crew, Anthropologie, Gap, ShopBop.com, Holt Renfrew, United Arrow, select Four Seasons and The Viceroy resorts.

International recognition of a successful Latina venture

Latina entrepreneur Francesca Kennedy, founder of Ix Style

Latina entrepreneur Francesca Kennedy, founder of Ix Style

Among celebrities that were attracted to the sustainable and philanthropic initiative, Richard Branson was one of Ix Style’s first clients. Francesca also collaborated with actress Gwyneth Paltrow on an exclusive style for Goop.com.

The Gap filmed and interviewed Francesca to highlight Ix Style’s water mission, work with artisans and focus on empowering women in Guatemala for their One Stitch Closer campaign that launched on Women’s International Day in March of 2015.

The film shares Ix Style’s challenges, mission and accomplishments with Guatemalan designs’ artisans.

Ix Style mission statement

This is Ix mission statement:

How do we help?

  • By supporting and working with our non-profit partners.
  • By empowering our artisans through commerce and production.
  • By paying a premium on each pair to make sure each purchase is ethical.
  • And while our focus and heart is in Guatemala, we coordinate with our partners that do work internationally as well.
  • Because, ultimately, no one child is more important than another.

How do you help?

  • By buying a pair, you help provide clean drinking water to children through water filtration systems, rain collection units and wells.   Each purchase makes a difference in freeing up time for kids.
  • Children who normally would walk miles a day to collect water for their families can instead spend that time in school.
  • Education is the single most effective way to break the cycle of poverty.