So just over two weeks ago I arrived in a pretty Mormon area of Mexico. I have been curious about Mormons for a long time ever since some kids at school confused Mennonites with Mormons (they also confused us with Jehovah’s Witnesses, but, we are not the same). As I became involved in a group that researches Mexico I got to know several Mormons. I also read a lot of books by and about Mormons and listened to some really great podcasts about the history of Mormonism in the US. I then realized that the Mormons from the US had expanded into Canada and Mexico and currently live in areas very close to where Mennonites live (in both countries, actually). Today, most Mormons in Mexico do not live in the small American/English-speaking areas in the North, called Colonia Juárez and Colonia Dublán. Rather, they live throughout the country and were converted through missionary efforts of the LDS (the largest and most mainstream group that uses the name Mormon) church.
In some ways, it turns out that Mennonites and Mormons are quite similar. One Mormon friend put me in touch with some of his distant relatives, who then opened their home to me. That is what has happened many times here in Mexico with my own relatives or family friends, who have been unbelievably kind to me. Many of the people I met had sacrificed a lot of time and money for their church, and the same could be said about Mennonites. In other ways, I would say that Mennonites and Mormons are not that similar. The Mormons believe in an additional revelation beyond the Bible, which I’d say is a pretty substantial difference. Also having a church where everyone in that denomination is doing the same thing on Sunday would not happen in any group of Mennonites I have ever known.
I spent just a few days in Colonia Juárez, where, thanks to my kind hosts, and some of their friends, I got to go to the end of a wedding reception of a Romney, legit talked to some people with the last name Romney, went to a funeral and went to church. The weirdest thing about the church service was that they only had three hymns, and they sat for all of them. These people could sing well. Why would they not stand so that their voices could be more beautiful?
It was a very fine few days, and from there I went and had a vacation in El Paso, Texas, and a town called Truth or Consequences, in New Mexico.
I have now been in Mexico for almost a week. I have travelled from Mexico City to the beautiful beautiful state of Chihuahua and am having a lovely time in the Mormon Colonia Juárez. But, this post will be about the first few days of my trip in the largest concentration of Mennonites in Mexico.
I visited some Mennonite people in the Cuauhtémoc area. I got to learn lots of interesting things about different projects happening, about Mennonites who are starting to vote, and that even in Mexico there are some Mennonites around my age who are not married. They were like unicorns.
I spent an afternoon at a bookstore and library my dad’s second cousin runs. There I got to volun-tour. I was cataloguing English books. People want to learn English so badly they have Amish teachers during the summer months. While cataloguing I got to talk to Anna and Elena, and learn a little bit more about their lives. I also had lunch at an Aeltenheim, or Old People’s Home. Classic Mennonite food in Mexico – bread, potatoes, fried chicken and maus (fruit soup). The soup was so delicious, and unlikely to be nutritious. Other classic Mennonite food in Mexico are tacos and beans.
Me and Anna
I also got to spend some time with my second cousin, Peter, who wrote an anniversary book on his colony, La Honda. He and his family were lovely people. I convinced one of their kids to teach me a little bit of Low German. I had more Mexican Mennonite food with them – pizza in a restaurant owned by a Mennonite family. That had a play structure for their kids.
Me and some family
After that very nice dinner, I went on to the Colonia Juárez. More on that later.
So I’m finally Manitoba, Mexico, and will eventually be heading to the Mormon colonies in Chihuahua and also the Mennonite colonies in Durango and Zacatecas. I’m doing research for my book. I have almost drafted the manuscript. And then I “just” need to revise the entire thing. Then my faithful editor, my dad, will make sure that it’s good enough. The writing is going fairly well, in part because a lot of these ideas have been percolating since I presented them for the first time at LASA in May of 2013. The other part of why it’s going well is my faithful unpaid editor.
I am reluctant to finish the manuscript, in part because I worry that my conclusions are going to offend someone. I am, of course, always worried that I am going to offend someone. The conclusions go against conventional academic discourse, that the Mennonites are separate somehow from Mexico; the research suggests some level of integration since arrival. Or, the research is from a perspective that serves to unite people from different Mennonite groups, and so focuses more on a Mennonite identity and less on how the Mennonites fit into Mexico. Research on Mormons is also primarily from an identity-based perspective. But, I believe that they are aware of their integration with Mexican society because it has been intentional for a longer period of time. Of course, I have not yet visited them, so perhaps I will come up with more problematic conclusions later. To date, I have only corresponded with some wonderful Mormons (who are also scholars of Mexico), so I am not sure whether and how well my research matches up to the typical experience. (Professors, teachers and church leaders might not be typical in any group. It is, somehow, easy for me to understand and relate to them though. I wonder why?).
My goal, then, for the next three weeks or so, is to keep paying attention, and to seek out opportunities to use my contacts and hosts (who speak the same languages I do) to learn about the rest of the community that does not speak the same languages I do. It is possible to glean a lot of information from simple interactions, especially when one is given to over-interpreting everyday events for one’s job. This should allow me to pay attention to people that are less frequently in scholarly literature, and to the stories that they might tell me, or show me. I also hope that paying attention to them might allow me to flesh out the hints at their lives that I see in literature and popular culture.