Bigamy . . . or is it?

On the question of polygamous relationships, Mexican family law has evolved since the night in 1970 I had a conversation with a mechanic in San Martín Texmelucan on the merits of consecutive versus simultaneous marriages.  Though formally marrying two persons has always been a crime, having a sweetie ensconced in a casa chica was, in colonial times, fairly common.  It is still practiced, and it isn’t called bigamy, it’s called concubinage.  (There is no such thing, per se,  as common law marriage in Mexico.)

I learn from the Internet that there’s nuances in the application of Mexican civil law relating to concubinage:  was the second woman beyond the age of consent when she entered the relationship?  Did she enter the relationship with eyes wide open or was she tricked-as when a man says he’ll marry her as soon as he disposes of his current spouse . . . when he had no such intent?  Is the man behaving responsibly towards offspring of the union, not only daily upkeep, but as relates to inheritance?

From what little I’ve been able to read on the subject, family courts in Mexico are more willing than heretofore to see events from the woman’s point of view.  Women are suing mates who have another spouse for a bigger, if not equal, share of the man’s wealth.  I suspect that the rise of the Mexican middle class will make concubinage rarer.  There will be more to lose and less to gain by having a second household.

Is Rigoberto Calderón a thoughtless machista, showing what cojones he has by keeping two women?  I think not.  He’s a man who’s never reflected enough-until his back is to the wall-about who he is and how he got to be that way.  His wife, Carmen, is an extension of the life he grew up in:  duty, responsibility, hard work, providing for dependents.  She’s an anchor, in the sense of keeping him firmly planted in the practical world, and an anchor in the sense of keeping him in harbor and not out on the sea of life.

Emma represents an alternative-a sail instead of an anchor.  He can talk to her like a friend.  They have languorous afternoons together.  He is drawn to her by some inner light which, if it was ever there, went out in Carmen early in their marriage.  He is propelled towards her by a sympathy inside himself, a selflessness that emerges suddenly, when he sees her vulnerable.

Life’s road constantly approaches forks.  Shall I take the scholarship and go to graduate school, or shall I bum around Europe till my money runs out?  Shall I be a lawyer like my father or the artist I want to be?  Early in life the forks lead in greatly divergent directions.  What governs our choices are complex weightings in our soul:  fear against excitement, lust against honor, social pressures against the yearnings of the heart.  As we get older the forks represent narrower ranges of choices as the choices that went before harden the arteries of our feelings.

Rigoberto Calderón comes to a fork in the road the first time he sees Emma, and it alters his life forever.