I met Herminia at the heart of Oaxaca city, just off the main plaza, in the street Flores Magón. In my photo on the left you can see her at the bottom, in the middle, in her distinctive red huipil, worn by all the women from her tribe. Herminia is not her real name but I call her that for safety reasons.
This is where Herminia sits every day, by her stall of textiles that she makes and sells, alongside a few other people from her tribe. Not only that, in reality she has camped in the main plaza in a tent for a few years, alongside her tribesmen. In fact, when I raised my eyes, I could see their posters all over the street and on the building of the Palacio Municipal. The posters demanded to meet the Governor Alejandro Murat Hinojosa or that he resigned as he had not sorted their displacement. When I approached Herminia’s stall (during my visit to Oaxaca in February 2019), her folks told me all about their plight.
The Triqui people are one of 16 indigenous groups in Oaxaca. They were displaced from their native Sierra Mixteca mountain range some years years ago. Their mountain village of San Juan Copal, Herminia’s former home, is known for its opium poppy production. The village has become a major base for organised crime (drug cartel related). Armed and masked gunmen guard the entrance to the town. The inhabitants declared themselves autonomous of the Mexican state in 2006. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the conflict for control of the narcotics trade so far.
Today there are only about 150 people living in the village (out of 2,000) while the language Triqui de Copala is spoken by 15,000 people in the municipality. This tribe also has the custom of arranged marriages and permits polygamy. Interestingly, Mexican officials have long tolerated arranged marriages and Oaxaca state law permits marriage of women at 14 and men at 16.