Tuesday, June 14, 2011
It's flag day.....for real, look it up
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.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.