Her backing helped him bring a team of Triqui kids in July to an international youth tournament in Orlando, where they beat a few U.S. teams and stunned organizers by asking to play barefoot.
The kids had never been on an airplane before, let alone to another country.
“Disney World,” said Daysi Martinez, 12, when asked what she liked about the United States. “I saw a princess.”
‘Brought up to be afraid’
This month, Zuñiga took a team to another international competition, in Argentina, with trips to the Dominican Republic and Houston up next. Getting passports for the kids has been a struggle, since many of their parents left for the United States years ago and their grandparents in Rio Venado speak little or no Spanish — only a tonal dialect of Triqui used by about 10,000 people.
Parents who have worked illegally in the United States have become some of Zuñiga’s best allies. A few have even defied Triqui taboos to allow their daughters to play on Zuñiga’s teams, attend school in Oaxaca city (an eight-hour bus ride from the village) and travel abroad — all of which are said to diminish a girl’s value in a culture in which polygamy is still practiced.
“Triqui women are raised to be shy and silent,” said Daysi’s mother, Feliciana Martinez de Jesus, whose parents took her out of school in third grade. “They are brought up to be afraid.”
Feliciana was sold for $1,500 as a young girl. Her parents disapprove of their granddaughters playing basketball and going to school so far from the village.
“They think the girl should stay at home and never leave,” said Daysi’s father, Marcelino, one of the few Triquis who does not avert his gaze when speaking to an outsider. “All they’re thinking about is the money.”
Marcelino, 35, left Rio Venado at age 16 with his father to pick raspberries on farms in Washington state. He returned a few years later with enough money to give Feliciana’s parents.
Despite the objections from his wife’s family and his parents, Marcelino has insisted that the girls stay in school — even forcing them to return to the city when they get weepy with homesickness for the village. “This is an opportunity that won’t come along again,” he said. “I don’t want them to forget their culture and where they’ve come from, but I want them to see that there’s a bigger world out there, with other ways of thinking and seeing things.”
It is a lot for a kid from Rio Venado to handle.
The town is walled in by steep, misty green mountains on three sides, and outsiders — including police and government officials — can drive up only with the permission of village authorities. The result is a kind of Triqui Brigadoon, where kids spend their days running along the basketball courts or playing in the river and no one seems too worried about the crime or drug violence that has upended rural life in other parts of southern Mexico.