Do I Exaggerate?

Often I don’t post my stream-of-consciousness thoughts because they’re half-baked, not nearly done, never neat. Just a mere introduction to topics that run in ever deepening, complicated webs impossible to untangle.

Here, let me try, nevertheless.

I was told that this post from last week was inaccurate.

“We’re the same as everyone else.”

Okay well, pretty much, yeah.

So why do I dig into those little differences and pry at them so?

It’s interesting to consider the differing generational reactions to our kind of Manitoba Mennonite-ism. I don’t know or understand the experience of my ancestors, never had a chance to discuss how the social and religious pull of this Mennonite people group they were a part of shaped them, or how each successive generation pulled away, viewed Mennonite-ism as a hindrance, something to escape from, and to deny. I felt it too — a desire to distance myself from this group and present myself as one whose ancestry may well be a generic sort of distant British (guess the whole “schools question” worked out for the Canadian government).

The generation before me didn’t understand all those rules — and I’m glad for that. The generation before me was annoyed by the way insider Mennonites kept to themselves, feeling they were above everyone else, as if they alone had the keys to heaven — and I’m glad they resisted this as well. The previous generation wanted to shake off the old. They wanted that rock ‘n’ roll identity, that generic North American persona — and I’m good with this too, but also fascinated. The generation before me also didn’t entirely understand or respect the old Mennonite stance on peace, the C.O.’s, saying they would’ve gone to war if they had the chance — and this I have a problem with, how they worked to scrub all latent ethnic Mennonite aspects with American Evangelicalism.

It worked, it worked, it worked.

It’s true. No one ever pointed at me and laughed because I’m CLEARLY descended from that ethno-religious Dutch-Prussian-Russian-Mennonite group. It was never that clear. I’m just another Canadian. But all Canadians have stories. What’s mine?

I’m interested in the truth of my own history. The times I couldn’t quite pull off the whole, “Who me, Mennonite? NAVER!” thing. The times the cracks in my ethnicity showed through.

I only have one real example for you. (Perhaps in sharing this recollection, it’ll open my memory wider so I can recall more examples someday.) When I was in junior high, a good friend moved to Calgary. She was not Mennonite, she had merely been here while her dad attended the seminary at Providence, and then afterward they moved away. A year later she returned for a visit, and she blown away by how Mennonite I sounded. I couldn’t hear it, and so I was helpless to change it (try though I might).

That’s it. That’s the only time I can remember a non-Mennonite pointing out that my efforts to un-Menno myself hadn’t worked.

It was embarrassing at the time, but it’s something I’m desperate to cling to now.

I want to dig my nails into these cracks that expose my personal ethnic history. Pry those cracks wide open. Expose what little remains. Expand upon it. And possibly… exaggerate?

Let me cling to the few threads of cultural identity I can still find.