Mennonites – meeting people from the past (4-5 February)

March 4, 2006  
Topics: Mexico

Once we visited a small park in Merida, where among all the Mexicans we noticed a strangely dressed family of white people. The man and the kid had the same dark blue trousers with suspenders, and bright shirts. The woman was wearing a dark brown old stylish dress and all of them were wearing hats. Katja immediately remembered that once she has heard about the German communities, which moved to USA long time ago and some of them are living in conditions similar to the ones 100 years ago. We could not imagine that in a few days we would know much more about these people.

From Santa Elena we travelled South, down to Campeche state. We arrived to Hopelchen around noon. This small town was full of those mysterious European looking people in similar dress. We were keen to have at least a short conversation with them, in order to know who are they and where do they come from.

We approached two men with three boys. They did not speak English, but did speak Spanish. Those men called themselves Germans, but Katja did not succeed to communicate with them in her native language, as they use the old German  language, which is a little bit different from the modern one used in Germany.

The men were not very friendly. They quickly answered our questions, and in return started to ask about our financial background of the travelling. Their look became more friendly after we mentioned that we do not use public transport, but travel by hitch-hiking.

It was not an easy conversation, but in the end we got to know that several years ago few families of these people came from the North of Mexico and established colonies here, in Campeche state.

The first impression about these people was not very positive, but we were keen to know more about them! We continued travelling towards Dzibalchen. In the next car, the Mexican driver told us a little bit more about these strange people and showed the gravel road in the fields, which leads to the German colonies.

We arrived to Dzibalchen and got to know even more. These Germans are called “menonas” in Spanish (“mennonites” in English) and they had one more colony in the fields, about 7km from Dzibalchen. We had the feeling to try to get to this Mennonites’ village and try to get in contact with them. Locals showed us the crossroad where the road leads to the village of Mennonites called Nueva Trinidad (New Trinidad). We have been told that there is a chance that one of the Mennonites’ tractors will still pass this evening.

It was almost dark when we finally got a lift by a young guy called Peter. He is Mennonite himself, but lives in Canada. A few months ago he came to Mexico to work in his father’s fields. During the nights Peter stays in Nueva Trinidad with his aunt.

When we arrived to the place Peter’s relatives invited us to stay inside the house. All rooms looked very simple: basic furniture, a lot of space and clean and tidy. That evening, the family (Peter’s aunt Helena with her husband – another Peter) invited us for supper – coffee, bread with jam, and banana pancakes. During the evening we learned more about their life, and they got to know how people live in Germany.

Next day, on Sunday, we all drove back to Hopelchen to pick up Peter’s father Isaak who came here from Canada together with Peter’s cousin Jonas.

Mennonites speak with each other in old German language, which sounds close to nowadays Dutch. Additionally, Mennonite men in Mexico speak Spanish, as they need this language to communicate with locals whom they employ to help in farming. In the contrary, women hardly can speak any Spanish, as they rarely leave their colony. Having Helena’s brother Isaak and Peter from Canada made our stay in that house much easier, as these men were fluent in English.

During all Sunday we had a lot of interesting conversations with Isaak about what is it like to be a Mennonite. It is worth to mention, that Mennonites are Christians and religion is a very important part of their life. On Sundays families use horses and carriages to come to the church where the mass is held from 6 to 9 am. The rest of the day they visit their families, friends and neighbours.

The community has a school, where boys and girls have 6-7 years of education. Isaak was complaining about the short time of going to school. He claimed that any application forms which one may face in the life (e.g. Immigration form which should be filled by entering Mexico) are too difficult to fill-in for Mennonites.

We got impression that to have more than 10 kids in the family is a must. All the Mennonites we met on Sunday grew with 10, 12 or even 15 brothers and sisters in their childhood, and have themselves dozens of children. The men usually work in the fields growing peppers, water melons, tomatoes, or anything else what is growing on the local earth and is profitable to make money later on. Mennonite women seem to spend all their life in the house, raising kids, cooking, washing, taking care about few chickens in the garden and keeping the house clean.

Different Mennonite communities have different restrictions. For example, Nueva Trinidad church does not allow to have a car, which is the reason why people here use only tractors. There cannot be a TV or radio in the house, but a microwave and a fridge is accepted. Isaak told us that in the Northern states of Mexico one may find Mennonite communities using steel tires on their tractors, as having any other tires is prohibited. Every community makes its own rules. That means, that it is possible to find colonies with cars and TVs allowed.

This was not all what Isaak shared with us that day. If you would like to know about these people, simply search the Internet for the Mennonites and you will find plenty of information.

Sunday afternoon we proposed to cook for the whole family. We wanted to show what type of food we eat during our travelling. We were preparing rice with different kinds of vegetables. The interest from the family women was incredible. All the time they were observing us cutting the ingredients, boiling and frying them, and finally mixing all together. It was our first time to prepare a meal for 12-15 people. To tell the truth we overestimated and made even more portions. 🙂

Monday morning we said goodbye to our new friends in Nueva Trinidad and started travelling direction Palenque in Chiapas state.


  1. sm says:

    Not a very good representation of Mennonites as a whole. OK article, however. Thanks.

  2. Intersting article. i wish you would have named a few more families un the Campeche Colony of Mexico. Although i have never visited there i do have relatives living in that Colony. I came from Northern Mexico in 1962 to Canada and the relatives Iin Campeche moved there later. Thanks

  3. Barbara L. Bell says:

    This was an interesting article. These people are fascinating to me. I sometimes envy their simple life style. Thank you for sharing.