Friday, January 16, 2009

The Problems of Migrantes

Locally, we have probably as many as 30,000 migrant men and some women who come to this area from Mexico and places South for agricultural work. Below is the reaction to a local news story about a young man who *sold* his sister for some beer and meat. The local press is not often culturally competent; the national press that picked up the story is even less so.

Man Sells Daughter for 100 Cases of Corona and More [Headline from MSNBC]

From the site on Human Trafficking

Perhaps you've heard about this recent case in California, a member of the indiginous Mexican Trique community arranged a marriage with his 14-year-old daughter in exchange for the following:
  • $16,000 cash
  • 100 cases of Corona
  • 50 cases of Modelo
  • 50 cases of soft drinks
  • 50 cases of Gatorade
  • Six bottles of wine
  • Several cases of unspecified meat

Other than being ready to serve up some rather unappealing punch, the man broke California state law, which states that children must be at least 16 to marry with parental consent. He also may have attepmted to traffick his daughter into a servile marriage.

The police department investingating the case is trying to be "culturally sesitive" to the man's Trique culture. According to Jonathan Fox, a professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has worked extensively with indigenous immigrants,

"This is certainly not the first such case I've heard of," he said of the marriage involving an underage girl.

So is this human trafficking? Or is it a cultural issue? At what point to the rights of this young girl and California state law trump the cultural practices of the Trique tribe? I'll post my thoughts on this case, but would love to hear what you think first.


My remarks on in response to the above post:

To be a contrarian, I believe we need to consider several things here: first, the picture given above is designed to incite rather than inform; second, the data is not that given on the local TV show.

I live here near Salinas in a multicultural society full of people driven from their homes by corporate greed. Whole villages in Mexico have been deprived of their traditional ejido agricultural lands so strawberries can be grown for export. This has put tremendous pressure on family members to come here to work to support families back in Mexico. And they do come here.

Now to the facts: this young man did what until very recently was done by nearly all cultures of whites or people of color--he fulfilled the obligation of the dower by supplying goods to the family his daughter would be entering. I admit the goods here (cases of beer for example; the local Salinas TV said 10 not 100) were different than in the *old* days of linens, blankets, beads and other jewelry, and herbs and medicines. But the concept is the same and it is an ancient one.

The issue (aside from *selling* a 14-year-old girl) is an interesting one. If one cultural practice is not acceptable, how does the dominant culture deal with it? Usually in today's world, we legislate. Unless, of course, the people are very rich.

So, for example, when the Saud family visits the Bush family, the women wear shrouds and skitter around as if in fear of beheading, but this is acceptable to the highest person in the land--because the Sauds are very, very, very rich.

Now, as an educator, I am opposed to forcing women marry (no matter what age they are). I'm opposed to communities without support --and that includes members of the community who can tell newcomers what is and isn't done in the new country.

Immigrants need to know and need reliable resources. This area needs more help than some, but probably every community has newcomers who can use a helping hand.

Rather than the media circus I see developing here, I'd like to see some constructive ideas for how to help people in other countries whose livelihoods have been destroyed by American companies.

I'd like to see places where women can receive education to bridge the change from one culture to another, so they can feel empowered to say no to practices that might harm them.

And, I'd really like to see TV stations report responsibly and fully.


And a response to my post:

Cecile Mills, above makes straightforward sense. The 'multicultural' societies that have developed in various areas of the globe have only developed because of political & big business manipulations, as is the case in southern California. Forcing people off their traditional lands has always spelt catastrophe for those affected, and gain for those who instigated such moves. Human coercion, by another name, slavery, has been the rule of thumb for the rich over the poor since time began, but it is not a rich-over-poor thing; more 'power over the powerless'. This does not make it right or acceptable. There are higher principles, which the Race should learn from in early schooling. This sadly, is not the case.
Of course the media WILL sensationalise, WILL distort, and from the beginning to the end, HAVE an agenda to adhere to, so the truth never really gets out, except through posts by people like Mills, above. I did not know about the coercion at work here, forcing another set of people off their lands, although I do understand the 'traditional' principles of a dowery in exchange for whatever. Even so, the exchange of a human being for any goods, is strangely 'wrong' and I would say this into any tribal chief's face and attempt to find another solution. This does not make the socalled 'civilised' world right about all matters: Mills's statement... "Rather than the media circus I see developing here, I'd like to see some constructive ideas for how to help people in other countries whose livelihoods have been destroyed by American companies..." is so bang on, it is the first time on any online discussion I have come across, that someone has suggested such a constructive idea. This would apply to most parts of Africa, the Latin world, parts of Asia etc., etc.
America, Britain and Europe have a lot to answer for!
The displacement of peoples for monetary gain goes back centuries and was deliberate, as it is now by the multinationals, who mostly shirk their responsibilites. In fact, mostly they don't even see it! When you tread on an ant, why should you weep?
Look at Iraq, Gaza, Afghanistan... more ants. We, as voters, should completely re-think our attitudes towards our legislators and should in my opinion avoid voting for ANY mainstream organisation. Look to 4th and 5th party candidates to get anything resembling the truth. America missed out on Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, and a few others, who were marginalised by mainstream media, the same media running the story above, the same media owned by the same segment of people who have created the wars and economic downturn. There is another agenda afoot, which goes way beyond one man 'buying' a wife of 14 years of age. There is the devaluation of human life and the population control lobby... and believe me when I say they are linked.

posted by KAI JANSEN
Another post from
At what point do the rights of this young girl and California state law trump the cultural practices of the Trique tribe? That one is simple. The day this man chose of his own free will to become a citizen of California. We cannot excuse breaking the law because someone has a cultural tradition. If you live in the US, then your allegiance needs to be US first, and old country second. Citizenship isn't a commercial product like a cheeseburger, car or running shoe... you don't get to customize it for yourself and pick which color rules you want to follow.
And from my perspective, the trafficking distinction is simple as well; consent. A 14 year old girl is still a child in the eyes of the US, lacking the maturity to make informed decisions, and therefore we entrust their parents to make decisions for their welfare. If her parents are making bad decisions, then she is removed from that home. At age 16, if she chooses to marry, then okay. But that needs to be her choice, made of her own free will. Because that is her right as an American citizen.

I have some Indian friends I know who still follow the practice of arranged marriage -- the difference however is that the marriages are entirely based on both parties mutual consent.

posted by Holly Robinson

and my response to that post:

Even if the man and his daughter were citizens--which I don't believe they are--this seems to be an issue of religion or church versus state. Does the government have the right to dictate how people practice their religions? Not so much in this country.

The invasive part of all this is I do not support fathers making their daughters marry--for any reason and at any age.

But, do I want my government to have the right to arrest people for their personal religious and cultural practices, especially when they are visitors to the country, not citizens? I don't think so.

I've noticed when you give power to the government, they tend to take just a bit more than you've allotted. Like a puppy I once had who always wanted more than the treat and so nipped at your hands. Not a good practice to allow.

The difficulty is multiplied here because of the human possibilities of gender bias, child abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and civil rights. The girl certainly has some civil rights here that might outweigh her father's *right* to send her to a new family in exchange for goods.

I'd like to see thoughtful exploration of how often girls are mistreated in similar ways—and I do consider it domestic violence to force a girl to leave her home in this manner. What capacity does the Social Services Department have in Salinas. Well, that brings up another issue: cultural acceptance.

Salinas, you may remember, shut its libraries rather than reorder its financial priorities a few years back. As a city, it does not value education as much as it values commerce. It has few civic activities that support children. And it has had four murders in five days in the past week.

The Social Services just don't exist to help this girl and other girls who are subject to treatment by male relatives in ways that are not acceptable in our mainstream Anglo culture. Under the mask of religion, women are routinely beaten, and if they should complain to their priest, are told to go home and submit. No city or county government or non-profit agency has the resources to deal with the amount of domestic violence that occurs here.

As a result of internalized oppression, cultural machismo, and lack of oversight, young girls of many nationalities in this area often live a life of fear and brutality. These cultural clashes occur always with immigrant populations and frequently with the economically deprived.

It's not a new problem but it is difficult to say what exactly is OK and what isn't. This case allows for exposure and perhaps positive change for these civil rights issues if handled well.

Children aren't property and girls aren't valued less than boys in a more perfect world; however, in the Salinas area they still are.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My name is Cloud

I live in the land of Aztlan, the place of the white heron. I'm researching many things about Aztlan and in doing that, I'm learning some Nahuatl language.

Mixtla means cloud. I have a tiger-siamese named Mixtla (pronounced Meesht-la). She looks like the clouds around where I live on the Central Coast of California. We have a foggy marine layer that usually melts around noon for sunny days. It returns at dusk to keep us warm and to create fog drip for the trees around the valley.

I have several reasons for thinking this location might have been the mythical Aztlan of the Aztecs, or Mixtecas (pronounced Meesh-take us). I'll be recounting these in my explorations of this Mixtlatlan or Land of the Cloud.

At one time, this area was supplied by a great river. The surrounding marshland created habitat for thousands of species of birds. The fish and other marine life populations were massive and diverse also. Food was plentiful and First Nations people lived around here nearly all year. They were reported to travel as far as Lake Tahoe in the summer to participate in large gatherings to collect and process pine nuts as well as to trade. These skills at food sales and trading helped create an empire later in their history.

No known warfare was recollected by these natives. They lived at peace with neighbors, with whom they rarely spoke except for a trade language. Their tribal languages were from different roots--much like English is different from Hindi (and there's an interesting historical study to look up that hits home today as it deals with Muslims, invasions, and empires).

The difference in languages indicates to anthropologists that little interaction occured. This meant the locals didn't invade, fight, conquor, intermarry, or otherwise try to control their neighbors.

Because the river delta created such a large, wet area, these people developed amazing skills that utilized the marshes, lakes, and wetlands as agricultural tools. The area is still used primarily by agriculture but white conquorers do not use sustainable practices.

When these native people, excellent traders, moved away from Aztlan for reasons both mythical and historic, they eventually ended up in Tenochtitlan, the place of Tenoch (the leader). That became a huge endeavor to reclaim land from marsh and lake.

In the present, agriculture still shapes the politics of the area. Chances are your strawberries came from here. Monocrop strawberries have replaced diverse crops such as broccoli and apples (Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider also comes from here even though the apples are now imported from elsewhere).

At one time over 700 people were employed in Frozen Food plants, packing and shipping vegetables and fruits throughout the world. These now are gone to Mexico and other places, so your frozen broccoli and strawberries no longer enjoy the U.S. protection from pesticides they once had. More stories of this industry and the changes brought about by the need for profits will occur here later.

I welcome comments about my thoughts on Aztlan. My background is in publishing and education. I studied Anthropology at the University of Washington (B.A. 1964). I'm currently studying Horticulture at Cabrillo College. I'm working on learning more about aquaponics--another skill developed by the Mixtecas.

Because the Mixtecas perfected sustainable aquaponics centuries ago as an agricultural necessity, I believe we need to use their model now. I'm following in their footsteps every day. Travel with me on this mythic journey.