Messy notes on Indigenous, Mennonite, Mestizo Encounters (part 4)

This post is part of a series. Read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here,

I never did have my shizznit together for this. But to make matters worse, I definitely arrived to day two of the conference lacking brainspace, as I had a learning opportunity elsewhere on the morning of Saturday October 22nd… which meant I missed a key piece of the conference. Pretty sure it was recorded so I’ll go back and watch that yet.

So anyway. Day two. I was eager to take a seat and take in papers on the subject of Indigenous, Mennonite, Mestizo: Encounters in Mexico, Paraguay, and Bolivia, chaired by Miriam Rudolph (whose presentation and art I was captivated by in 2019).

First, Hannes Kalisch speaking on Indigenous-Mennonite Relations in the Paraguayan Chaco. He began by sharing his thought, that being at this conference made him feel that Spanish ought to be considered a Mennonite language. This received applause. Other notes from what he shared include: “we don’t often hear from the people on whose land Mennonites settled” … “an analysis of the history of relationship b/t Mennonites and Enlhet in the Paraguayan Chaco” … … 1: challenges Mennonite narratives … sought gov’t help in case of trouble with indigenous populations … so then it wasn’t empty, was it? so Mennonites considered them “part of the inventory of natural resources” and labour “useful for clearing land” … “will never offer problems” … subject them to “conversion and development schemes” … 2: partners (Enlhet) wanted to help Mennonites, thinking they’d share the land, sharing, mutually participating … Enlhet were the true owners of the land, believed Mennonites were dispose to reciprocity and mutual respect … but the Mennonites didn’t understand reciprocity … “immense misunderstanding”.  3: action of immigrants … published in Mennoblatt, prejudices, negative views, missionaries writing about their “inner poverty” … figured they’d “save Enlhet … “Mennonites don’t think they arrived on our lands… they don’t think of that.” Salvation > dispossession … name of misson: “light to the Indians” … “his actions rendered us tame” … passive … subject to the interests of the colonists, the Enlhet perspective was silenced. 4: Mennonites didn’t understand or accept the Enlhet … an alliance with the colonists was “just a dream” … “they took (lands) from us … not discussed beforehand … “Enlhet don’t know how to make themselves heard” … “history is made in favour of the colonists” … “Mennonites do not consider what the Enlhet have lost” … “they speak well of the Mennonites… but that’s different from their lived experience”.

That was a lot, but I like how aggressively frank that paper was. Someone has to be. But even then, where does it go? Will any change happen? At any rate, I’ve learned things, that’s for sure. The beginning of learning.

Patricia Islas read her paper in Spanish, with her daughter interpreting in English: From Confluence to Influence: Inter-ethnic Relations in the Northwest Region of Chihuahua, Mexico. My stilted notes include: “forced migration – diaspora” … “displacement of Mestizo” … “trying to survive” … “moved from cities” … “been there since the 16th century” … “I live in the same location as my object of study” … “collective memory: relaxing conversations over coffee with Mennonite desserts or blue corn tortillas” … “the land of cheeses and apples” … “dominant Mestizo community” … “festival of 3 cultures” … here she showed pictures of the centenary celebration of Mennonites in Mexico, pictures which I’ve seen on Facebook shared by friends who live there and were deeply involved in these events. I love how connected this all is.

Next was Tracy Hruska (who calls himself “a suspicious-looking stranger”) reading his paper Social Consequences of Mennonite Agricultural Success: Lessons from Chihuahua, Mexico. He conducted 116 interviews (and 53 others, “barely structured”) … “did the 2005 Mennonite village come from buying land from a drug cartel?” (wait what?) … “Mennonites are now reliant on migrant workers” … “they grow genetically modified cotton, which is actually illegal to grow everywhere (else?) in Mexico” … “farms are much larger, yet water is much more difficult to come by — cost is huge to get water” … “Mennonite colonies drive up property values” … “fully remote farming” … “capitalism in agriculture” … “carved it up” … “can’t buy/break into farming… trapped doing other kinds of labour” … “No es justo! It is not just! Cheated of the Mennonite dream / they don’t talk about it” … “industry hardship” … “turn inward from the rest of the world” … “keeps fracturing”. (I feel like this paper was a cousin to Samuel Boucher’s.)

Geovana Carrreno read her paper Options in the Tropics: Indigenous and Mennonite Farmers Meet MCC in Lowland Bolivia. I noted: “dangerous, I’m probably misunderstanding everything” … this seemed to have gone entirely over my head. I won’t be able to pretend otherwise.

Time for faspa and several coffees.