Fictional, but accurate account of Mennonite struggles
(This is a fictional story inspired by experiences by (but certainly not limited to) Low German Speaking Mennonite people in Southern Alberta. )
Beet harvest was in full swing at the beginning of October. I was in the middle of an evening shift taking my supper break, one hand holding a fork and the other a chemistry textbook. Though I was lucky enough to not have to miss school to work at the beet dump, I was spending every spare minute trying to ensure I didn’t fall behind in my Grade 11 classes.
My parents still didn’t understand why I wanted to finish high school. They had come from Mexico with minimal education, having only gone to school until about 12 or 13 years of age. They didn’t understand the difference a high school diploma could make on a resume. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do once I finished high school and that’s why I was taking every class possible to make sure I was keeping my options open.
I was reluctant to put my gloves back on after spending time in the warm break room. Sliding my fingers into them, I braced myself for the cold wind as I stepped outside. I walked over to my station where I was taking samples from the beets to test their quality. The work was easy, and I really didn’t mind it. My older brothers came to mind as I picked up another beet; they were working full time in a mechanic shop and had never finished their schooling. They had dropped out a few years ago when my parents were in a tough financial spot. Though my dad had been working hard, the bills weren’t being paid, so my parents had asked my brothers to pick up more work. My brothers didn’t seem to mind though, as they would rather work than be in school anyway. I didn’t share the same thoughts on school as my brothers, but I did feel the same sense of responsibility to help my family. It wasn’t always easy to manage work, school, and a social life, but it felt good to be able to contribute, even if it was in a small way.
That didn’t mean I didn’t envy my friendswhose parents didn’t need them to have a job. They seemed to have so much extra time to finish up their homework or study, hang out with friends, and make fun plans for the weekend. I knew my weekends would be spent here, though the beet season would soon be over. Then I would be able to go back to work at the local grocery store where the shifts were much shorter and would make school life easier to manage.
My family would also be going to Mexico for a few weeks during the winter to visit family. The trips to Mexico were getting shorter every year, I could remember the times we used to go for a few months at a time. It had been hard to catch up on the school work I had missed while were gone, but with the shorter trips that part was much easier to manage now. Really I was quite fortunate, I had so many more opportunities here than if my parents hadn’t moved my family to Canada. And these opportunities required me to memorize some chemical compounds. Picking up yet another beet I tried to recall what I had read about earlier in my textbook.
I understood my parent’s desire to hold to traditional Mennonite values and the battle within as they tried to justify those traditions with a new way of life in Canada, but it was hard to explain these struggles to my Canadian friends. Although I too wanted to hold onto the old way of life, I also didn’t want to miss out on some of the new opportunities at my fingertips. Many of the families that had made Canada their permanent home were slowly integrating into Canadian society and that was both scary and exciting for me to witness.
Many of my younger siblings spoke less and less Low German and that made communicating with our grandparents difficult as they don’t speak any English. Some of the girls that worked at the beet dump with me often jeered at me for still being a ‘school child’ but I just brushed it off. Traditionally, school was only for those under the age of 12 or 13 but my Grade 8 teacher had inspired me to keep going and make a difference in the world. At the time I couldn’t believe that someone like me could make a difference anywhere, as I was raised to only strive to be a wife and a mother, but then I had seen a glimpse of what could be and I was determined to see how far I could go! I am so very thankful for the opportunity to dream and maybe one day make that difference somehow!
Whenever you work with a culture that differs from your own, take a moment to appreciate their traditions and potential inner struggles. Coming alongside someone, building relationships, and helping them to reach for their own stars, can have an incredible impact!
Trudy Dyck and Tina Fielding are Community Health Representatives with Alberta Health Services that works specifically with the Low German Speaking Mennonite population. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.