When an twelve year old girl from Dover, Florida returned to school after an absence of some months, her teachers asked her why she had been absent. She replied that she had given birth, and that the father was her twenty eight year old brother in law, who lived next door to her family in a trailer park filled with migrant farm workers.
The father, Teodoro Pablo-Ramirez, was promptly arrested. The girl’s parents, who had moved back to Guatemala, sent a letter to the court saying that the couple was married, and that it was normal in their culture for girls to marry at a very young age.
The case has created a stir in the Florida court system. The problem is that Pablo-Ramirez speaks no English and very little Spanish; his native language is Mam, a rare Mayan tongue. It is understood by very few interpreters. When Pablo-Ramirez was sentenced to life in prison for fathering the eleven year old’s child, there was no Mam interpreter in the courtroom, only a Spanish interpreter. When his life sentence was handed down in Spanish, Pable-Ramirez did not understand enough of the language to realize what had happened to him. The judge has therefore granted a motion for a retrial.
Read more about the problems obscure languages can cause in the courtroom at Obscure Mayan language leaves justice tongue-tied.