Trique marriage, bride sold for beer, Trique culture
Monterey County Sheriff's Department, HO/AP
de Jesus Martinez

Cultural Clash Comes to Fore in “Teen Bride Sold for Beer” Case in California

January 14, 2009 01:58 PM
by Anne Szustek
The story of an immigrant from rural Mexico selling his teenage daughter into marriage for cash, beer and meat has brought to light the travails in assimilation into American culture.

Recent Immigrant Sells Daughter as Bride

Marcelino de Jesus Martinez, a 36-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant living in the central California farming town of Greenfield, was arrested Sunday in connection with allegedly selling his 14-year-old daughter to an 18-year-old neighbor.

Local authorities were tipped off to the deal by Martinez himself, who came to officials complaining that the would-be groom, Margarito DeJesus Galindo, had not yet paid the agreed-on price of $16,000 in cash; 150 cases each of beer, soda and Gatorade; and several more cases of wine and meat.

According to a Monterey County Superior Court prosecutor, Martinez faces felony charges of “procuring a child under age 16 for lewd and lascivious acts, statutory rape and cruelty to a child by endangering health,” as the Associated Press wrote. He is also subject to a misdemeanor conviction for allowing or causing cruelty to a child.

But in Martinez’s indigenous Triqui culture, such practices are commonplace and the girl must agree to the deal before it can go through. According to local police, the 14-year-old voluntarily accompanied her betrothed to Mexico for a weeklong trip.

Greenfield Police Chief Joe Grebmeier told the San Jose Mercury News, “The real picture is the cultural clash … everything they were doing would be legal in Mexico,” explaining that the cash would be used for the bride’s dowry and the beverages and food for the reception.

Grebmeier is arranging meetings with the town’s Trique population to explain differences between Trique traditions and California law. “They had no realization that it’s against the law—an arranged marriage for money with a minor,” he told the AP.

Americans need not look past their nation’s borders to find laws permitting teenage marriage, however. Marriageable age in the United States made national headlines with the site release of Its homepage features profiles of teenage girls being auctioned off by their parents to an appropriate suitor, complete with asking price. The testimonials page includes a statement from Mrs. James P, a proud mother-of-the-bride who gushes about how selling off her unpopular 15-year-old earned the family enough money for a new Jacuzzi and swimming pool.

The site’s founder, science-fiction editor John Ordover, posed as MarryOurDaughter publicity director “Roger Mandervan” and spoke on radio shows across the country. When asked by The New York Times, he came clean: it turns out the site was a farce meant to draw attention to inconsistencies among states’ marriageable age laws.

“As far as I can tell, in every state but Oregon, parents can marry off their children,” Ordover told The Times in 2007, pointing out that in Texas, for example, parental consent is required to get married as young as age 14, except in instances where the children have been married before.

Background: Human trafficking, bridal sale in the West

In 2004, British officials estimated that there were approximately 80,000 women working as prostitutes in the UK. According to a Home Office spokeswoman, “It is widely recognized that those involved in street prostitution are at increased risk of being the victims of crime, particularly violent and sexual crime.”

Evidence suggests that the majority of these women could also be the victims of sex trafficking. According to a 2004 report by the POPPY Project, a research organization that has focused on sexual trafficking, “Only 19% of women working as prostitutes in flats, parlours and saunas are originally from the UK.”

Women forced into sex trafficking are frequently treated as criminals, not victims. Because many of these women have not entered the country legally, they are often “subject to detention and face prosecution for criminal offences such as illegal entry using forged documents. Women may then be deported without notice,” says a 2008 POPPY report.

Under a law promulgated in 2008, Britain’s Home Office is criminalizing paying for sex with a woman “controlled for another person’s gain.” Offenders could be charged with rape, and pleading ignorance about a prostitute’s circumstances would not be accepted as a viable defense.

Legal measures to protect sex workers who have been victims of human trafficking have also been instituted in the United States this decade.

Some women who have immigrated to the United States and been forced to work in abusive situations and have been granted special “T” visas—designed specifically for women facing such circumstances—will have access to permanent American citizenship, thanks to a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Plan approved in late 2008.

The program is part of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, finalized in 2001. Under the act, Congress approved granting up to 5,000 T visas and the federal government has spent tens of millions of dollars rescuing and aiding foreign women exploited as slaves. Despite the law, fewer than 2,000 women have come forward and applied.

Fear of authorities and intimidation by sex traffickers may prevent women from coming forward for help. Additionally, many women are not aware of the availability of T visas and thus do not come forward to seek them.

Related Topic: Saudi Judge Says Girl Must Wait Until Puberty to Get Divorced

An eight-year-old girl in Saudi Arabia was essentially sold off by her father to a 58-year-old man for a dowry of 30,000 riyals (about $8,000).
The girl's father, who is divorced from her mother, apparently was having financial trouble. But the child’s mother had a different perspective on the situation and filed divorce proceedings on her daughter’s behalf in a court in Unayzah, a town some 135 miles north of Saudi capital Riyadh.

The judge in the case dismissed the plea Dec. 20, ruling preliminarily that the mother does not have the right to petition for her daughter’s divorce, and that the child will not be old enough to file for her own divorce until she reaches puberty.

Reference: The Trique

The Trique, also known as the Triqui and Diqui, are an indigenous people of the western part of Mexico’s Oaxaca state. They speak a language belonging to the Mixtec family which, according to linguist Barbara E. Hollenbach, accords low social status in the region. “Local speakers of Spanish tend to look down on all speakers of Indian languages, but especially on the Trique and the local Mixtec also look down on them,” Hollenbach writes, “leaving them at the very bottom of the social pecking order. Because of their subordinate status, the Copala Trique have traditionally had a deep sense of inferiority about their language and culture.”

Subsistence farming is the Trique’s primary occupation, with women weaving handicrafts, much of which is sold to tourists. They often get married in their teens after a bridal price is negotiated over four visits. According to Hollenbach, the success of the marriage is often directly related to the bride price. Some couples elope; however, those relationships often have little familial backing. Polygynous marriages are common. The Trique’s societal norms remain entrenched by way of pressure and derision from the community.

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