Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cooking Another Cookbook

I am currently on a research leave and so I have time. A lot more time. So, I have taken up cooking again. Those of you who have followed my blog for quite some time may remember when I cooked through Plenty and Jerusalem. I started to work my way through Plenty More and then I got the Oh She Glows Everyday cookbook for Christmas, and decided to work my way through that. It is a vegan cookbook, which is handy since I don’t eat dairy unless I’m taking my Target brand lactaid pills. The cookbook does have hilarious ideas about appropriate protein levels. I am sure they are are more than enough to survive, but I lift weights, so I prefer to eat a bit more protein.

This cookbook is great for several reasons: none of the recipes are difficult to cook, they don’t typically involve a lot of unusual ingredients (which is handy as I am only staying in my apartment for 4 months and don’t want to stock an entire kitchen), work well with substitutions, and are delicious. There are also not a ton of recipes, so I think that this project is a bit more feasible than my Jerusalem project.

The recipes also often call for a food processor or vitamix, but this little guy works fine for most recipes I’ve tried.

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Today there is a snowstorm and nothing is open so I took the opportunity to write at home instead of the library and spend my breaks cooking. I am also happy that I got my groceries delivered yesterday, instead of my original plan, which was to have them delivered tomorrow.

This morning, I made some cookie dough balls (amazing).

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Then I had some lunch. Then I made roasted garlic sundried tomato hummus (with budget bytes version of sundried tomatoes). I have eaten a lot of hummus in my life and this might be a new fave. Now I am going to go eat some hummus and make curry for dinner.

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On Violence, Culture and Literature

A few weeks ago I presented at a conference about human rights, and I discussed conflict about land between LeBarons (a group of polygamous Mormons with an exceptionally violent history) and primarily Indigenous ejidatarios (people who live on collectively owned land granted or restituted by the Mexican government). My conclusion pondered the merits of consuming representations of the obviously violent aspects of this conflict, particularly as it is situated in Mexico.

“This talk about violence, and the overt representation of violence, may do harm than good. It is another way to exoticize Mexico. It overshadows the structural violence that leads to abject violence, which is then represented in visual and print cultures. I wonder if paying attention to the everyday bureaucratic actions and corresponding acts of resistance and the ways that they are represented would be a better approach. It would allow us to return to the reason we study literature, culture and history: the chance to glimpse times, people and places outside of our own experiences and to offer us ways to pay attention and to understand what we prefer to ignore. Returning to why we began such an unproductive career path in the first place allows us to trace the history of the machine that produces so much violence it has now become palatable for us.”

Meditation for a Faculty Meeting

Today I come to you with a heavy and uncertain heart. I know that many of you are feeling afraid, feeling threatened or feeling exhausted. In the country where we are living, people with power have taken advantage of these feelings to divide people and to present stereotypes and prejudices as if they were facts. Today, I offer you three short stories and a prayer to encourage us to live and work with honesty and integrity in this context of uncertainty, heaviness and divisiveness.

The first is about how we might see the good in others. About five and a half years ago I lived in a house with three roommates. One of them, who had grown up Catholic, and joined a non-denominational church as a teen, had a shelf full of statues of the Virgin Mary. I was very curious about this, as Mennonites of my background and friends from non-denominational evangelical backgrounds have not not often had saint statues. She told me that she thinks of the Virgin Mary as the Biblical/religious figure, and, as Madeline L’Engle pointed out, one who was obedient to God’s creative work. The concept of Christian obedience has often had awful consequences for women; however, I still like to light candles to the Virgin to remember to notice and to magnify what I believe is the divine light in all of us.

The second story is about finding ways to create conversation. I did not want to come back to school. My summer was amazing. I got to research in archives, research by talking to people and attend cultural events at least once or twice a week that directly pertained to my interests. Then we had faculty/staff retreat. That’s never the most uplifting part of the year for me. The following weekend, I went to a conference about Low German women, on a day when only women were speaking. It was in London, Ontario, close to large communities of Low German Mennonites. The panels were set up with kringel, a traditional braided breadstick-item as if we were going to visit. In this way, my research on how Low German people are seen in Mexican and Canadian culture (too often as drug traffickers) could more easily converse with the experiences of Dietsche women, and the social workers, teachers, public health researchers and MCC staff who work with them. This conference helped me realize that my research matters.

The last is a story of encouragement. In 1952, my maternal grandparents were called by the Mennonite Brethren Board of Missions to work in Paraguay with refugees who had recently arrived there from the Soviet Union. They had come to Canada from the Soviet Union as young children and so they shared a language, church, and culture with these people. My grandfather was a teacher and a preacher and my grandmother was a nurse. But, my grandma did not want to go and found it very hard to live there. She often said that one thing that kept her going was a verse that a couple from Kansas, who also belonged to their denomination, had sent them before my grandparents left for Paraguay. It was such an important piece of paper to her that she kept it in her wallet until she died, about a month ago. It said, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deutoronomy 33:27a).

And that is my prayer for you. That in the coming days and months we might find strength to magnify the divine creative light in one another and in our students, and to see how our research can deepen our relationships with marginalized people and to trust in God’s everlasting arms.

Mexico City

I have been in Mexico City for over a month now and I am not ready to leave. I don’t even know where I am going to. Is Ohio my home? I remain uncertain. This summer has been wonderful. First, I hosted by mom and our dear friend for a week. That was a bit stressful, but, I actually saw a number of my favourite tourist sites again – the basilica, the Frida Kahlo house in Coyoacán the Popular Art Museum, and we did parts of my friend Nacho’s patented Mexico City tour. We also had some problems with water in our airbnb, but I just recently got a refund so I’m now again fully on board with the precarious economy.

 

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Me and my mom in Coyoacán at the Frida Kahlo house

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Visitors!

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Santa Muerte

Then, since the beginning of July I have been in an apartment with my friend from my writing group and fellow Mexicanist. Every morning at home we wake up at 6:30 and go onto whatsapp and write. Anyone can join, but no one wants to. She makes me coffee every day and then we write every morning. We did other things during the day that pertained to both of our current book projects. I often went to the archives and museums. We also did yoga, at a great studio around the corner. It turns out that after a month of near-daily yoga I am pretty good. I can almost hold crow pose for a whole breath!

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Wearing a sweater from my roommate

I ate a lot of comida corrida, and my favourite and best tacos, where I went last year with my friend Santiago, his hilarious nephew and one of Santiago’s thesis committee members.  I went to a few museums, saw the altar to the Santa Muerte (Saint Death) and soaked up the energy of this incredible city.

Mennonite 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.

working, más o menos

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.

cutest children

Me and some family

After that very nice dinner, I went on to the Colonia Juárez. More on that later.

 

Going home

This past week I was at an intense academic event and by the end I just wanted to go home. And then come back in about a week with a whole bunch of new questions. That being outside of the realm of possibility, I said to myself, I want to go home. But where is my home?

I have a lovely apartment in Bluffton, a place where I have lived longer than any other specific space since Grebel (if an on-campus apartment that was by chance the same for two years counts) or high school. But is this my home? How can I be at home in a culture where I do not fit but where others perceive that I do. Case in point: once I was crossing the border with my Nexus, otherwise known as the I paid money in exchange for the “Hemispheric Security” knowing way too much about me lane, and the US customs official said welcome home. I was, how shall we say, shocked, appalled, emotional and I started crying. Second anecdote: I was evangelizing my students about immigration – sharing with them facts such as immigrants are human, and Romney’s father was born in Mexico – and one of them said, and I paraphrase, “we want immigrants like you.”

In spite of others ascribing a Midwestern fit to my life, I feel more at home in Mexico City, a place where I do not fit. One of the happiest moments of my life in Mexico City was when someone was trying to sell me kosher goods because they thought I would use them. Because I belonged here. I then decided to explain that I had family in the Mennonite colonies, which just confused the woman. So then I bought something and left the store.

Perhaps home is that space where I can move through time and everyone else stays frozen until I can attend to them again.

Why Mexico? Why Spanish?

Sometimes people ask me how I learned Spanish. I am not sure why I decided to learn Spanish or why I decided to study Mexico. As I have said before on my blog, or on facebook, Mexico City is like the boyfriend that is not so bad you can’t introduce him to your friends, but not so good you introduce him to your parents. But how did a class I took upon the encouragement of my mom in grade nine become the driving force in my life? And how, then, did it lead me to my first project (the book you should all be ordering for your libraries http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/the-national-body-in-mexican-literature-rebecca-janzen/?sf1=barcode&st1=9781137546272) and now, my second.

When I started studying Spanish I noticed that many of my classmates were there to connect with their families and their cultures. Although my professional work does not deal with identity, and, in fact, contests identity as the basis of academic inquiry, I believe it is important to connect oneself with one’s work, and thus, to connect myself to my work.

My new project looks at Mennonites who have immigrated to Mexico through the lens of popular culture. Given the confusion between Mennonites and Mormons, and historical events, it will also looks at Mormons in popular culture and ejido [land claim] conflicts. People have told their stories before, but they have told them from the perspective of the Mormon or Mennonite communities and within those fields of study. Of course, I am Mennonite, so this project necessarily involves a bias, but, I am also well versed in Mexican culture, history and politics, so, my work will be more interesting. I also think that I am seeking to legitimize myself within my field – by studying something to which I almost belong, I become, somehow, a more legitimate scholar. Someone who has more of a claim on Mexico because if my grandparents had decided to stay in Mexico after their visit in 1949, my life would have been different, had I ever even existed.