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Monday, August 29th 2022

How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

And Why They’re Leaving Today

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Introduction:

How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

The Mexican Mennonites left a legacy on the cultural landscape of Mexico. Seeking freedom, they brought with them traditions and practices that would impact the way we see Mexico today. Sadly, now they’re leaving.

In this article, we will provide a basic understanding of the Mennonites, and we’ll explore the cultural significance of this people throughout their adopted land, and why they’ve been leaving Mexico for greener pastures.

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Who Are the Mennonites?

How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

Mennonites are a Christian group, specifically an Anabaptist denomination. Their religion was founded in the 16th century, in the Dutch province of Friesland by a man named Menno Simons—from which Mennonites get their name.

Grabbing from earlier Swiss thought, Menno advocated a series of sacraments, like the washing of feet as a symbol of servanthood and the apostatic nature of the excommunicated. Also, like the Quakers, Mennonites are staunch advocates of nonviolence.

Since then, Mennonites have splintered into several smaller denominations, such as the Old Order Mennonites who live without modern conveniences (and came to be known as the Amish Mennonites, or just Amish), and Conservative Mennonites who have adopted a modern lifestyle, but have a more strict ideology.

Mennonites have fled persecution throughout their history, and thus communities now reside in Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America, and North America—the largest community living in Canada today.

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A Brief History of the Mennonites in Mexico

How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

The Mennonites began as Anabaptists in the Netherlands and Prussia, which were heavily influenced by the works of Huldrych Zwingli. Their founder Menno Simons left the Catholic Church at the age of 40, and soon became a prominent figure in the Anabaptist movement.

In the 16th century, they were relentlessly persecuted in the coming century, subjected to live burials, stoning, burnings, and imprisonment. In particular, the Swiss/South German Mennonites suffered particularly horrid persecution—with accounts of such atrocities occurring until 1710. Many Mennonites began to emigrate to Russia and other parts of Europe.

Then, several large communities fled to the Colonial Americas and Canada. For example, in 1873, 7,000 Mennonites left Russia to settle in Canada. Sadly, in the 1920s, restrictive measures were taken against the Mennonites in Canada. Specifically, the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba passed laws requiring public schools to fly the Union flag, and required Mennonites to attend the public schools that had been established in their settlements.

More conservative Mennonites decided to leave Canada to pursue autonomous rule, reaching out to several nations seeking out land for settlement. Mexico answered with welcoming arms. In particular, the Mexican government needed someone to tend land that had been appropriated after the Mexican Revolution, previously owned by William Randolph Hearst. The Mennonites purchased the land, and were granted freedom from Mexican educational laws, military services, and taxes.

In the years between 1922 and 1927, thousands of Mennonites left Canada for the states of Chihuahua and Durango. This process of Mennonite emigration would continue for decades—such as the nearly 1,000 Mennonites that joined Mexican Mennonite communities during 1948 and 1952.

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The Mennonites in Mexico Today

How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

About 100,000 Mennonites live in Mexico today. They’re mostly centered in the states of Chihuahua and Durango—though several have moved to the southern state of Chiapas, seeking safer areas with the turbulent climate in the north of Mexico.

For the most part, Modern Mennonites and Old Colony Mennonites live together—their modern counterparts still dressing simply and being staunch pacifists. However, over the past century, though they still speak 18th century German, many also speak Spanish and have become culturally Mexican in many aspects.

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The Mennonites Are Leaving Mexico

How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

Similarly, because of the dangerous climate in the north of Mexico—and the growing poverty of the working classes—many have ventured to other communities in Latin America—namely, Belize, Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. However, the vast majority have returned to Canada. For example, over 30,000 Mennonites left Mexico for Canada between the years of 2012 and 2017—roughly ¼ of their population at the time.

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The Mennonite Controversy in Mexico

How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

Another reason for the Mennonites leaving Mexico was the controversy beginning in the 1990s—which continues to this day. Most recently, in 2014, Abraham Friesen-Remple and five accomplices in Northern Mexico were convicted of smuggling marijuana hidden in farm equipment. This was only seen as confirmation of the corrupting influence of the Mexican cartels.

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The Mennonite Legacy in Mexico

How the Mennonites Influenced Mexico

In particular, the Mennonites are known for their farming and agrarian enterprises. They have become famous for their apple orchards—supplying Mexico with some of the highest-quality apples found in the country today.

However, their greatest contribution has been their introduction of dairy products to Northern Mexican cuisine. Oh, the Spaniards had brought an affinity for dairy hundreds of years prior, but the Mennonites helped to make dairy a staple in Northern Mexican cuisine. Namely, their cheese.

Queso Menonita—which is considered to be one of the best in Mexico—is basically synonymous with queso Chihuahua. This mild cheese is known for melting, making it a go-to for what might be the most famous Mexican dish: the quesadilla. (Yes, yes. Quesillo—or queso Oaxaca—is also a go-to.)

In addition, they helped to establish Mexican crema (cream in Spanish) as a part of Mexican cuisine. And, now, Mexicans throughout all 32 states enjoy cream on their chilaquiles and the like.

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Conclusion

How the Mennonites Shaped Mexico

Most think of the United States as the destination for immigrant communities (what we might call the expats of the past), however, many communities sought a new life in Mexico instead of the US—Irish, German, Swiss, French, and Germans to say the least.

Each people has left a lasting impression on the cultural landscape of Mexico—though Mexicans tend to have a myopic attitude toward their contributions. (As if the accordion had always existed in Mexico.) The Mennonites are no exception. And as they are leaving Mexico for safer countries, we must ask ourselves what we’re losing in the process.

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