DRUGS: Mennonites and Time’s `Flower Girls’

Mennonite one-room school house near Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua

Time Magazine has published a set of photos of an Old Colony Mennonite community in Durango, Mexico, titling it The Flower Girls. Check them out. Tell me what you think. I find the photos are sweet, delicate, beautiful, and only hint at the disaster that has befallen most of these Mennonite communities, which have tried mightily to separate themselves from the world.

The Mennonite communities in Chihuahua are replete with severe problems of inbreeding, domestic violence, benighted education, alcoholism, and, in the last 20 years, drug trafficking, particularly in the colonies near Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, four hours south of Ciudad Juarez.

Mennonites came to Mexico from Canada in the 1920s, invited by the government that wanted to colonize the north to avoid further US depredations. Those who came to escape the world were masterful farmers and cheesemakers. But in time they suffered from the same problems as other Mexican farmers: drought, lack of credit, etc. Many in the Chihuahua colonies turned to drug smuggling — some full time and some to pay an urgent debt. I ran into these folks in 2003 and included a chapter on the harrowing result — the scariest moment of my reporting life — in my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream.

I like the Time photos immensely, but from them you’d not guess much of the reality of Old Colony Mennonite life in Mexico.

For many of these world-rejecting Mennonites, it always seemed to me that their very attempt to isolate themselves made them  vulnerable to the worst the modern world has to offer. Many I spoke with described their people as lambs, unprepared for what they would encounter outside their community. Some likened it to Indians’ lack of exposure to small pox before the Europeans came.

I’ve included a photo above of a one-room schoolhouse, taught by a man with barely a bad sixth-grade education, which is how Mennonite kids are still schooled in the colonies near Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua. Would  love your comments on the Time photos.


Filed under Drugs, Mexico

2 Responses to DRUGS: Mennonites and Time’s `Flower Girls’

  1. samquinones

    Kevin — yes, it’s my impression that, in fact, many Mennonites are not suffering the problems faced by those in parts of Mexico.

    I’d also agree — the Old Colony church I saw reminded me of nothing so much as the pre-Reformation Catholic Church: masses in a language no one understood, many prohibitions, not much reading, or understanding, of the Bible.

  2. Kevin Miller

    As a more modern Mennonite in Indiana, I find your characterization of these Old Colony Mennonites poignant. Their struggle to be in the world but not of it in this case doesn’t seem to account for the fact that worldliness is a product from within just as it is an evil ready to overtake us from without. Some of these Mennonites in Mexico may fall prey to the lure of fast drug money, but too many of us in the Mennonite church I belong to here succumb to the base materialism of our capitalist system. Were he alive, Menno Simons would call for radical renewal in both of our churches, even as he did in the European churches nearly 500 years ago.
    I was able to visit with German-speaking Old Colony Mennonites in Belize not long ago and there found morally scrupulous people who are living separately from the world. One of the young men I talked with had a visible and debilitating eye injury from a bullet wound from a particular outsider “from town” who for a time regularly raided the colony to steal money from these nonresistant, pacifist people. The man was eventually caught by Belize police and sent to jail for a number of years. Under the flicker of a latern’s light, I asked the injured young Mennonite if he was able to forgive the man who had shot him, and he answered yes. He then told me how he and others had cut and hewn lumber from the local forest to build a house for the convicted man when his house had burned down while he was in jail, leaving his wife and children homeless. After he got out of jail, the man remained in touch, occassionally attending church services with them. Why had they returned good for evil? “We are to love our enemies as Jesus said,” was his simple answer.

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