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The Americas 63.4 (2007) 615-648

Disobedient Daughters and the Liberal State:
Generational Conflicts over Marriage Choice in Working Class Families in Nineteenth-Century Oaxaca, Mexico
Kathryn A. Sloan
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Two years in a row (1885 and 1886) Señora Teresa, a native and resident of Oaxaca de Juárez, pleaded with the court to prosecute her daughter's suitors. The first time, after seeing Primitiva chatting with Juan in the street and finding his love letter in her home, she grew apprehensive. She hurried to court when Primitiva disappeared that evening to accuse the young man of seducing and abducting her 13 year old daughter. Police officers apprehended the young couple and the judge listened to their testimonies. Primitiva swore that she was 16 years old and had run away to her aunt's home because she feared her mother's wrath at discovering the love missive. She further stated that she had in fact broken up with Juan some weeks earlier and that they had never engaged in sexual relations.1 The following year, Primitiva eloped with a different suitor and her mother surfaced in the historical record once more. This time she indicated that she saw her daughter conversing with Francisco in her home's doorway and after he spirited her naïve daughter away, he returned the next day to taunt her husband, [End Page 615] boasting that "he took Primitiva because he was a man."2 In both cases, Primitiva's mother demanded swift justice. She asked the judge to prosecute her daughter's seducers to the full extent of the law, arguing that Primitiva lacked the maturity to choose her mate wisely. Assenting to the indignant mother's wishes, judges ordered police officers to pick up both young men to face charges of rapto (abduction by seduction) in municipal court. In the first case, the judge dropped the suit for lack of merit. In the latter case, the judge sided with Señora Teresa's minor daughter, in effect emancipating her from parental authority by allowing her to begin family life with her second suitor, Francisco.

Rapto, elopement, abduction, bride-stealing—all are practices that in many minds signify male dominance and female victimization.3 At the very least, these concepts conjure images of an archaic past, a tenacious relic of disappearing and traditional customs that managed to survive in the ostensibly modern era of late nineteenth-century Mexico. Who is not familiar with the seduction genre of literature that centers on the spectacle of a young maiden stolen from her father's home in order to forcibly "arrange" a marriage or satisfy the lustful intentions of the seducer? These narratives usually end in the undoing of the young woman—her spiral downward into prostitution or lunacy, her untimely and tragic death, or her forced marriage to her despicable rapist.4 In reality, many women were neither stolen nor unwillingly ravished by their "seducers." In fact, many scholars agree that youngsters acted out the script of seduction or eloped to force their parents' consent.5 Why? [End Page 616] Many Mexicans across historical eras connected rapto with marriage. Sonya Lipsett-Rivera has shown that españoles, Indians, and persons of color associated rape (including rapto, deflowering, and violation) with marriage, although she stresses that this link did not exist in pre-Columbian indigenous cultures.6 While most of Lipsett-Rivera's cases center on forced sexual intercourse as a prelude to marriage, the link between sexual ravishment and marriage continued well into the nineteenth century. Indeed, marriage or a dowry paid by the perpetrator acted to repair the young girl's and her family's honor and nullify criminal charges against the defendant. In nineteenth-century Oaxaca, young men and women planned their escape together in order to form a union based on love and affection, and to liberate themselves from parental authority. For these working-class pairs, rapto was just another...


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