Experts: Triqui dad in Greenfield followed culture’s marriage tradition

January 23, 2009 at

Fourteen-year-old girl offered to man, 18, in exchange for dowry

January 20, 2009

Experts who have lived among and studied the Triqui people of Oaxaca, Mexico believe that what happened to a Greenfield family, who authorities say allowed their 14-year-old daughter to live with a man as husband and wife, is a tragic misunderstanding of an honored tradition.

The Monterey County District Attorney has charged the father with child abuse, including procurement for lewd purposes, and the girl’s would-be mate faces statutory rape charges.

Today, Marcelino de Jesus Martinez, 36, the father of the girl, is scheduled to be arraigned at 1:30 pm in Department 1 of Monterey County Superior Court on child abuse charges, including procuring a child for lewd and lascivious acts and aiding and abetting statutory rape.

Police initially claimed that Martinez “sold” his daughter for $16,000 and hundreds of cases of booze, soda and meat. But that claim has since been retracted because such exchanges are customary in Triqui unions and were misunderstood, police said.

And while one expert said Triquis in the United States must learn to live by U.S. law, another said the U.S. legal system should respect the Triqui culture and the decision of the couple involved as long as young women are not abused or forced into relationships.

Indeed, in a case in Washington state several years ago, a Triqui man was acquitted of statutory rape in a similar case involving a 13-year-old girl, according to Dr. Seth Holmes.

Holmes, a Pennsylvania anthropologist and physician who used to work at Natividad Medical Center and with Salinas Valley Triquis, said the Triqui in Mexico are considered a “self-governing” indigenous people, much like Native Americans are self-governing.

Holmes said such unions in Oaxaca are the norm among the Triqui and that in his experience girls are never forced into these unions but, like the male, are willing and eager participants in a traditional union of two people that is formally, carefully and very seriously overseen by both families and a trusted “ambassador” who acts as a go-between.

Who are Americans to say that their approach to the union of a man and woman is better than the Triqui custom, particularly when 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce, Holmes asked.

What resolved the Washington case, he said, was that the girl told the trial court that she was not abused or forced and entered into the union willingly and happily.

Also, the couple had lived together as husband and wife in Mexico and the girl was pregnant.

Closer to home, Andres Garcia, a leader in the Triqui community in Greenfield, said he has lived with two Triqui women, each time forming the unions in the traditional Triqui way. In the first union, he was in his 20s and the girl was 15, he said.

After all the arrangements were made, including cases of beer and a live goat for the reception party, they lived together for many years, he said.

Adam Sanders of San Benito County has helped Triqui there and in Monterey County deal with legal problems, some caused by language difficulties and misunderstandings.

He has shared housing with Triquis, knows some of the language and helps when he can, he said. He is similarly involved with immigrants from Laos, he said.

In this region, he said, the Triqui traditional ways are evolving, and that the age girls marry is getting older – more like 16 and older instead of 13 and 14.

And according to Sanders, a juvenile probation officer, it is legal in California for 16-year-old girls to marry – even to adult men – if they go through a civil procedure outlined in the state’s family law codes.

Beyond that, Sanders said it’s “hypocritical to look at these indigenous groups and get all self-righteous and say they are involved in some barbaric practices” when so many Americans girls are impregnated by adults and statutory rape is never charged.

Sanders estimated that half the underage girls who become pregnant in local jurisdictions have children fathered by adult men.

Christian DiCanio, a linguist in Berkeley who has lived among the Triqui in Mexico, said “There is no official marriage in the Triqui culture; there is the dowry agreement and then you live together.”

The money and food that is part of the agreement is meant to be used in the ceremony, much like a wedding reception, DiCanio and others said.

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