The struggle that the indigenous peoples of Guatemala have faced to survive and preserve their native culture goes back to the time of early colonization. Pedro Alvarado, a Spanish conquistador also known as the "slave hunter" is said to have directed massive slayings of over 8,000 Indians at a time. Conquest did not simply include ending the hierarchical leadership structure of the indigenous people, instead it served as a method of civilian extermination to eliminate a people as a whole. To this day this inhumane way of achieving economic security for the upper 20% of the people is still practiced, however, without people like Rigoberta Menchu it is difficult to say that that world would ever have been made aware of these atrocities. .
In her autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchu, she recaps the horrors that her family and the other indigenous peoples around her went through. Her account describes in detail the ways in which the ladinos and whites of the Guatemalan military would attempt to control every aspect of the indigenous peoples lives. As cause of this, Guatemalan Indians chose to rise up against the military and go to war against them in the late 1970s and 80s. Rigoberta Menchu's autobiography illustrates the reasons behind these uprising and the horrific ways in which her people were tortured and killed for years.
Historically the Guatemalan Indians have been through horrors like no other group of people in Latin America. Rigoberta states that "where [she] lives is practically paradise, [and] the country is so beautiful." Despite the beauty of the land her family had always been poor and the conditions of life had always been very harsh. The ownership of the land was concentrated amongst a few families that used the crops produced for exports. The introduction of coffee cultivation in 19th century Guatemala laid the foundations for the semi-feudal oppression of the Mayan Indians.