But in recent years, crossing the U.S. border has gone from difficult to dangerous to nearly impossible, and this has thrown the Triqui world out of whack. Fewer Triquis go north. Those already on the other side are stuck there. The ones who remain behind — often grandparents and children — live by hard-luck farming and government handouts. What’s left is basketball. “Their hunger and poverty is their potential,” said Sergio Zuñiga, the tall, soft-spoken outsider who the Triquis call “Coach.” “It is their way out,” he said.
Not likely to the NBA. The tallest known Triqui is about 5-foot-10. But Zuñiga is in no hurry to burst the hoop dreams of the kids under his care. His goals are more modest, although still a long shot for a boy or girl from Rio Venado. Learn to read and write Spanish. Attend high school in Oaxaca, the state capital, and maybe even go on to college. Have career options beyond sneaking over the U.S. border or sharecropping a cornfield.
Her backing helped him bring a team of Triqui kids in July to an international youth tournament in Orlando, where they beat a few U.S. teams and stunned organizers by asking to play barefoot. The kids had never been on an airplane before, let alone to another country. “Disney World,” said Daysi?Martinez, 12, when asked what she liked about the United States. “I saw a princess.”
His teams specialize in an up-tempo, relentless style of play that compensates for their diminutive size, and their tournament victories against kids from other parts of Mexico have caught the attention of basketball coaches elsewhere. Two of Zuñiga’s assistants have recently landed coaching jobs at high schools in other states, blazing a new career path for Triquis.
A team of Trique Indian boys from the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca are sweeping through youth basketball competitions, despite their generally short stature _ and the fact that most play barefoot. One of the Trique team coaches says many of boys can’t afford sneakers and have become accustomed to playing without them. The team won all six of its games at the recent International Festival of Mini-Basketball held in Argentina.