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Thread: German-Speaking Mennonite Community in Northern Mexico

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    Senior Member OnePercent's Avatar
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    German-Speaking Mennonite Community in Northern Mexico



    Here is an interesting article I found about the Mennonites of Northern Mexico. There are about 70,000 of them living in the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Durango. Though the men learn spanish the communities still speak low-German dialect called Plautdietsch.


    The Mennonites of Mexico

    http://mazmessenger.com/2011/06/10/t...tes-of-mexico/

    The Mennonites, like many people, have persecution as a pivotal part of their history. They began as a part of the Christian Church in the 16th century known as “Anabapist.” This name came from the fact they rebaptized their adult believers. The Mennonites took their name from Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who converted to the Anabaptist faith and helped lead it to prominence in Holland by the mid-16th century. In addition to rebaptizism, the Mennonites refuse to take oaths or go to war, and believe in the separation of church and state. They are one of the peace churches, which hold to a doctrine of non-violence and pacifism.

    The first Mennonites came mainly from Swiss and German roots, with many of the important martyrs of the early church coming from the area around Zurich. To escape persecution, many Mennonites fled Western Europe for the more accommodating religious climate of the Americas. During the American War of Independence many Mennonites living in Pennsylvania felt a threat to their pacifistic beliefs and migrated to Canada.

    Although most Mennonites eschew modern technology, some will utilize modern farm machines.
    The Mennonites diligently applied their traditional agricultural ways and faith-based social structure and thrived once again. But in 1890 the Manitoba Municipal Act of 1880 established secular local governments. And the Manitoba Schools Act in 1890 required English as the sole language of instruction in schools as well as a secular curriculum. Their subsequent legal battles with the government cost them large sums of money, and in some cases Mennonites were imprisoned for refusing to send their children to public schools.

    Rejecting any compromise Old Colony Mennonites began to seek another promised land. In 1921 six Mennonites were chosen to seek out a new land for settlement in Latin America and they believed Mexico, despite its recent Revolution, would offer them a home.

    In 1922 Mexican President Álvaro Obregón invited Mennonites to settle in the northern regions of the country. He offered them cheap land and freedom from taxation for 100 years, as long as they agreed to supply cheese for northern Mexico. The Mennonites were also given freedom to organize their own educational system and freedom from military service. A total of 20,000 Mennonites arrived in 1922 in a mass migration beginning in March 1922. Over a four year period a total of 36 trains of 25-45 cars made the journey from Canada to Mexico carrying the settlers and their farm equipment. A total of 200,000 acres was obtained by the church.

    The cheese the Mennonites were obliged to produce was originally known as queso menonita, but currently called queso chihuahua. This pale yellow cheese, now duplicated in other parts of Mexico in versions ranging from mild to sharp, is still considered a specialty of the region, where the best Chihuahua cheese is found.

    Today in Chihuahua, Mennonites coexist, learning Spanish and English, as well as Low German, and living side by side with Tarahumara Indians in the hill country of the state. The lifestyle of Mexico’s Mennonites has not changed drastically since their initial migration, and continues to be centered on the fields, orchards and kitchen, making it food-centered, in both domestic and commercial terms. Each family grows its own vegetables. There are also family orchards, with cherries, pears, peaches, and the famous Chihuahua apples, a specialty of the Mennonites. Some continue to use plow horses to work the fields, although the modern Mennonites, who live in the same communities as the Old Colony groups, now use tractors. A number of these families also choose to use electricity, replacing part of the canning chores with freezing.

    About 50,000 Mennonites reside near the city of Cuauhtémoc in Chihuahua. In Durango, there are 32 Mennonite communities. Mennonites in Durango number more than 7,000 most of them living in Nuevo Ideal. The total Mennonite population in Mexico is estimated to be about 80,000.

    Authorities estimate Mennonite farmers account for at least 60% of Chihuahua’s agricultural produce, supplying staples such as corn and beans. Nicknamed “vendequesos” or “cheese-sellers,” Mennonites make 80% of the region’s cheese and some 70% of its dairy produce.
    Here is another article that points out the enormous contribution the Mennonite community has made to the economy of Mexico since their arrival:


    Mennonites are engine of Mexico's desert agriculture

    http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/mon...t-agriculture/

    Chihuahua – The 40,000-member Mennonite community in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua is the engine of agriculture and ranching in a desert region battered by drug-related violence.

    The Mennonites, whose lives revolve around farming, have transformed the arid landscape of Chihuahua into productive fields of corn, beans, oats and wheat, turning the border state into one of Mexico's top milk producers.

    The conservative Christian church, whose members arrived in Mexico from Canada in 1922 after a long journey through Russia, the Netherlands and Germany, has drilled deep wells in the arid land, using the water to produce corn harvests exceeding 300,000 tons.

    The Mennonites, who are the largest producers of oats in Mexico and also have extensive fields planted with beans, have now started to produce apples in large quantities.

    The community's star product, a food with which people all over Mexico are familiar, is Mennonite, or "Chihuahua," cheese, of which they produce 70,000 kilos (nearly 155,000 pounds) a day, selling this delicacy across the republic.

    Cheese production expanded rapidly to take advantage of the community's vast milk production, which now hovers around 400,000 liters (105,675 gallons) per day, Mennonite community member Abram Siemens said.

    The Mennonites, moreover, have constructed enormous facilities, known as "macro cheese plants," where they have improved the production of dairy products by developing special genetic strains of cattle, incorporating breeds from Canada, the United States and New Zealand.

    The businesses run by the Mennonites employ about 20,000 people in Chihuahua, with the majority of them working in agriculture and dairy production, Lisa Wolf, who runs the Mennonite Cultural Center and Museum in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, told Efe.

    The community has started building a strong metal-working industry, as well as agricultural machinery and furniture businesses, Wolf said.

    The Mennonites operate businesses along a 50-kilometer (31-mile) corridor that links the cities of Cuauhtemoc and Alvaro Obregon, providing the economic foundation for this area in a state where more than 4,000 people died in drug-related violence last year.

    The Christian church, which has about 70,000 members across Mexico, has followed the same way of life for hundreds of years, obtaining an exemption from military service for its pacifist members from the government and the right to practice their religion and educate their children.

    Many Mennonite homes do not have electricity, television or radios, but more liberal members of the church drive automobiles and educate their children at universities.

    "They have a culture that is very deeply rooted in the land," chef Patricia Quintana said.

    Quintana, the promoter of the "Flavors and Aromas of Mexico" tour, visited Chihuahua's Mennonite towns during a visit to the state this year.

    Mexico's Mennonites came from the United States and Canada in search of cheap land and greater respect for their way of life, a wish that was granted by Gen. Alvaro Obregon, who was Mexico's president from 1920 to 1924.

    Mennonites speak the Low German dialect among themselves, but their schools teach German, as well as some English and Spanish.

    Children usually finish school at the age of 12 and go to work, helping their fathers on farms or in other businesses, Wolf said.

    Chihuahua's Mennonite community has sent about 30 students to universities in the state, Germany and Canada to train as doctors, dentists and business managers, Wolf said.
    Alas, with the rising violence from the drug cartels the Mennonites are increasingly finding themselves caught in the crossfire, apparently many of them are heading back up to Canada:


    Mennonites flee violence, return north to Canada

    http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Men...549/story.html

    As Mexico spirals deeper into a cycle of drug-fuelled violence, Mennonites who migrated there from Canada nearly 90 years ago are returning home by the thousands.

    These traditional pacifists have found themselves caught up in the crossfire of Mexican drug cartels, which are waging a bloody battle for supremacy. As a result, the Mennonites have become the victims of crimes ranging from carjackings and armed robberies, to kidnapping and nighttime raids on their villages.

    An estimated 5,000 of the more than 70,000 Mexican Mennonites of Canadian origin have left the country in the past few years as the drug war has escalated, said John Janzen of the Mennonite Central Committee, a national organization for the community.

    "Mennonites traditionally try to live apart, and lead simple peaceful lives," he said. "Normal life has been disturbed by the drug cartels that are fighting among themselves for supremacy."

    Known for their independence and self-sufficiency, Mennonites typically don't turn to government authorities for help. But in two of the states most affected by drug-related violence -Chihuahua and Durango -they are increasingly turning to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City with safety concerns.

    "In consultations with community leaders, they have expressed their alarm at the deterioration of the security situation and fear about their well-being," says a June 2010 document from the Department of Foreign Affairs, which was obtained by Postmedia News under an access-toinformation request.
    Here is a link to the wikipedia article about them:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mennonites_in_Mexico

    Here are some more pics:











    This page has a lot of interesting pics as well:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/prithew...400964/detail/

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    Senior Member Hilderinc's Avatar
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    There is another thread about the Germans in Mexico, 'Germans' Leaving Mexico in Droves.

    I know a woman who I can only assume is a descendant of one of the mixed German-Mexican communities. Although the pictures you posted show quite pure Germans. I wonder how many (or how few) settlements mixed with the locals.
    All that is necessary for Evil to triumph is for good Men to do Nothing. ~ Edmund Burke

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilderinc View Post
    I know a woman who I can only assume is a descendant of one of the mixed German-Mexican communities. Although the pictures you posted show quite pure Germans. I wonder how many (or how few) settlements mixed with the locals.
    I really don't know, I tried to do some research on it but there isn't any information I could find. I suspect that among the actual Mennonite communities there is very little mixing because Mennonites can only marry others of their faith and very few outsiders are going to adopt their harsh lifestyle. On the other hand, I am sure that there are those who have left their communities and moved into the larger Mexican society where they have probably mixed with the locals.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilderinc View Post
    There is another thread about the Germans in Mexico, 'Germans' Leaving Mexico in Droves.

    I know a woman who I can only assume is a descendant of one of the mixed German-Mexican communities. Although the pictures you posted show quite pure Germans. I wonder how many (or how few) settlements mixed with the locals.
    Mennonites don't marry outside their faith so I doubt there would be any mixture.

    http://www.everyculture.com/North-Am...nd-Family.html

    Marriage. Historically, Mennonites were forbidden to marry non-Mennonites and, in some cases, members of other Mennonite groups. Presently, only the more conservative ones proscribe marriage outside the group. Marriage is strictly monogamous, and historically families negotiated the conditions of marriage (again, arrangements varied from group to group). Currently, only among the more conservative Mennonites are such arrangements made. The Umbitter (matchmaker) was usually a role played by the church pastor or elders among the Dutch, Prussian, and Russian Mennonites. Among the Old Colony and Holdeman Mennonites a form of matchmaking continues. Yet, even among the more liberal denominations, informal marriage arrangements and a Concern for selection of partners from within the church continue through church-sponsored events like camps, retreats, and institutions of higher education. Among all these groups the marriage ceremony is taken as seriously as baptism and is a ritual centered in the congregation and performed by church elders or pastors. The Swiss Mennonites, unlike those descended from the Netherlandish wing, have historically conducted the marriage ritual in the home. Although most currently conduct church weddings, they tend to be simpler than typical Protestant ceremonies. Presently, residence is neolocal, and only the more strict of the denominations strongly discourage and sometimes sanction divorce. In former times, it was common for the bride and her family to assemble a dowry. Historically, there have often been cousin marriages.

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    Not quite so. There are some groups in South and Central America that have inter-married somewhat. The Mennonites are quite like the Amish; they do spread their faith to outsiders. Some of them here in Canada have been involved in several initiatives, one of which is a "Mennonite" school that allows Muslim students.

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    Senior Member OnePercent's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gardisten View Post
    Not quite so. There are some groups in South and Central America that have inter-married somewhat. The Mennonites are quite like the Amish; they do spread their faith to outsiders. Some of them here in Canada have been involved in several initiatives, one of which is a "Mennonite" school that allows Muslim students.
    Yes, there is a fairly sizable community of Mennonites here in my area that are virtually indistinguishable from any other typical Christian sect. I guess they are "modernized Mennonites" or something. This Northern Mexico group are fairly recent arrivals to the area, I think they came around 1910 or so, and they still speak their German language (only the men learn Spanish for economic reasons). Perhaps this is why they haven't inter-married with the natives to a large degree?

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    If I recall correctly I had read about this in Old Colony Mennonites by Calvin Redekop. It was published over 40 years ago, but still is an interesting read. It seems to be the ones much further south where there are some issues. Drinking, inter-marriage, also gunfights with some of the locals from time to time.

    Quote Originally Posted by OnePercent View Post
    Yes, there is a fairly sizable community of Mennonites here in my area that are virtually indistinguishable from any other typical Christian sect. I guess they are "modernized Mennonites" or something. This Northern Mexico group are fairly recent arrivals to the area, I think they came around 1910 or so, and they still speak their German language (only the men learn Spanish for economic reasons). Perhaps this is why they haven't inter-married with the natives to a large degree?

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    The Amish/Mennonite's are an interesting group. They have many children, their communities are growing and they are starting new ones. These low real estate prices will help them expand, land price seems to be their biggest hurdle.

    They are pacifists though, and they wouldn't exist if not for the armies of the cultures that surround them.

    That said. I enjoy working with them and attending their events. They are successfully sustaining their culture. More than that they are prosperous and growing.

    If only they weren't christian/pacifist I would have joined them.

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