Cattle Ranchers of the Huasteca - Marriage and Family



Marriage and Domestic Unit. The level of formality of marriage ceremonies reflects the political and economic importance of the respective partners. Poorer rancheros often practice common-law marriage. Moreover, it is not unusual or considered improper for wealthy ranchero men to form consensual unions with additional women even if the man is already legally married. Such de facto polygamy results in multiple households, either in the same settlement or in different localities, but never under a single roof or even close to one another. The norm is that a man should only engage in such multiple marriages if he can afford to maintain more than one family. Mestizo rancheros may select indigenous women as second wives.

Inheritance. Technically, all legitimate children have the right to inherit land from their parents; however, although grown children often build houses and set up households on the family estate, the land is rarely divided until after the original patriarch passes away. For this reason, young couples interested in setting up their own ranchos usually have to buy land elsewhere. Given the strong intrafamily competition over eventual inheritance of large ranchos, there is often rivalry among brothers and close cousins. For men, marriage with women who come from the same class of rancheros could mean greater access to land. By the same token, it is not to the advantage of these men to have their own sisters married to men who could become additional claimants to the family estate.

Socialization. Until about the mid-1940s, children learned most of their life skills at home and at work. For boys, in particular, this included exposure to cowboy techniques, shooting, and an attitude of paternalism and racial superiority vis-à-vis the native population. At the same time, ranchero children used to interact daily with both native and mestizo workers, with whom they shared many cultural traits. Rancheros usually received at least some formal education in rural one-room schools, but with the expansion of the modern school system and opportunities to study outside of the region, a younger generation of rancheros is becoming increasingly urban and cosmopolitan in terms of values, linguistic usage, and identity. Consequently, many ranchero families have moved permanently into town and only visit their rustic homes on rare occasions, leaving the management of their properties in the hands of a manager to whom they might not even be related. This absenteeism is leading to a growing social gap between the rancheros and their ranch hands or other economic subordinates living on their ranchos.


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