Fic­tional, but ac­cu­rate ac­count of Men­non­ite strug­gles

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Viewpoints -

(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 or tina.field­



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