Mexican Mennonites and Some Puzzling Pictures? (Bra? Unkapped?)

Mexico Mennonites bras
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I would love to visit the Mexican Mennonite settlements sometime. It’s one of the last “plain places” that I haven’t been.  Ironically the closest I’ve come to visiting them wasn’t near Mexico, it was near Aylmer, Ontario.  That’s where there is a large population of Mennonites who have returned to Canada from Mexican and brought some of their customs and culture with them.  As you all know, I am fascinated by plain communities and how they interact with the larger world around them.  In Mexico you have a very different surrounding environment, one that is much harsher, yet the Mennonite settlements have generally thrived.  The Amish have never been able to get a toehold in Mexico (not for lack of trying), but the Mennonites efforts have been more coordinated and concerted and that had made all the difference.  How many of you have crossed over to Mexico on the northern border?  Where did you cross?  I would love to go…..Rachel and I were in Brownsville, Texas in 2010 to visit the Amish settlement near Beeville and we were right up against the border fence, but, alas, we didn’t go over (oh so close!).  It just seemed too dangerous at the time with the reports coming out of the news media.  We did get close enough for Rachel to snap this border patrol photo:)  Ah, but that’s not the puzzling photo…more about those below…

Mexico Mennonites bras

The Mexican Mennonite settlements seem to have gained more prominence over the past couple of years.  There was the movie “Silent Light” chronicling life in the Mexican Mennonite settlements that came out a couple of years ago.  Has anyone seen that?  What did you think of it?  I’m not sure you could find that movie in Red Box:)

Mexican Mennonites are on my mind this morning because of a photo package Time Magazine is running right now chronicling the work of photographer Eunice Adorno. Adorno has released a book of her images shot in the Mexican Mennonite settlements.  The book is entitled Las Mujeres Flores.  I would love to get a copy of this book, her images seem so striking, relevant, and revealing.  I can say, however, that as someone who has chronicled plain settlements for over 20 years I can’t imagine – even if they consented, which I am sure they did  - photographing an Amish or Mennonite woman in her bra or without the kapp and publishing it (or taking it period).  This is where I think some context would have been very helpful before Time Magazine just posted them.   I’m guessing the book probably does give context, although I still can’t imagine any context where I’d do that.. I’m not being self-righteous, just my own comfort zone and my own experiences with the plain people. Of course, I’m a guy….but I’m trying to imagine a circumstance where I’d have one of the female photographers I have worked with capture that and I just can’t. So I’m curious about the context.  Lest anyone think I am being unnecessarily sensational, I realize you can’t “see anything” in the photo and the woman is turned away, but I am still curious about context. Also, a photo with the kapp (head-covering) removed showing the beautiful tresses of hair tumbling down would seem to be a zone of privacy that I wouldn’t want to invade and publish.  Again, without knowing more context it is tough to say.  There were a few other “head-scratchers” in the collection, but there were also some beautiful, poignant and striking images.    You can view the collection here.  What do you think?  Do you agree with me? Disagree?

And speaking of South Texas, we were at a state park in near the Rio Grande and were so lucky to see a bobcat and some bobcat kittens out in plain view (they had strayed out of their usually thick woods redoubts because of heavy flooding).  Take a look at this photo Rachel captured…Mama Bobcat looking back at her kitten near the park gate:Mexico Mennonites bras

 

 

 

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The Discussion


  1. I lived in New Mexico for a while, and we had property down at Terlingua, near the Big Bend. I have been into Mexico, but only briefly and I have not visited the Mennonite settlements there. There are also Mennonites in South America. In 2010, many of us here in Canada and in the USA had to petition the Canadian government to help remove a Canadian Mennonite family that was trying to leave a South American country but had their passports and other documents confiscated. It was apparently an attempt to get a sizable bribe out of them and the Mennonite communities. The issue was happily resolved, but it was very distressing.

    As to the issue of photographing a Plain woman without kapp and dress bodice…well, no. I have even stopped publishing photos of myself on my blog as the lack of respect concerning their republication was unacceptable. And that’s with kapp and fullly dressed. There is a photo in one of my old “Anglican, Plain” posts of me without my kapp, and my hair down, viewed from behind, as ladies wanted to know what it looked like when uncut hair has reached its terminal length. When I had mentioned this post to friends, one male friend said that he would be shy to look at it, as it would seem to cross some boundary.

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  2. Some of those pictures are just not right!!! I can’t imagine having those internationally published!
    As for the bra and unkapped head…what is the photographer going for? To show that a Menonite lady wears a bra?!?!?
    To each their own, she said as she kissed the cow….those pictures are not my idea of a nice chronicle of Mexican Mennonites!

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    • Allyson, I agree with you…I’m trying to kind of keep a very open mind and reserve judgment until I see the book…But as it stands right now I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would be comfortable taking such a photo of a plain person and publishing it or even just taking the photo and NOT publishing it…and I am speaking as someone who has been around plain people for two decades in almost every conceivable setting…so while I am trying to be open-minded (I’ll let you know after I review the book) I just can’t see an appropriate context. So thanks for your comment and welcome to Amishcookonline! – Kevin

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  3. Although I think that the partially clothed picture is out of place, it does appear that there is some kind of mark or burn on the young lady’s skin and another person is pointing it out. There is likely some story relating to how this occurred and it maybe related to something related to their way of life or some injustice perpetrated.

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    • Julie,
      welcome, so nice to see you back on this new site, and those are good observations – Kevin

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      • Julie Hartmus says:


        Like the new site. Been looking around when I have a few minutes (which are few and far between right now). Great job! Can’t wait to hear more about all this once you receive the book.

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  4. With much of my family being Beachy Amish and Mennonite, we have to remember that each community has their own set of rules, standards and expectaions on behavior, dress, etc. Some of my family wear prints, some do not. Some of my family actually cuts their hair, some do not. Some go on to higher education (me, my sisters and few of my cousins) some are strongly opposed. While the head covering is a universal rule – I have been with family where they do not wear their head coverings all the time, mostly before bead and after showers so the long hair can dry for instance. I no longer wear one, but that reason is far beyond a photographers glimpse into my life!

    Perhaps the photographer was getting a moment that so few see?

    Another thought: It maybe also out of practicality or safety – perhaps this community is in a rather rough area of Mexico and the community leaders decided it would be better for the community to avoid certain identifiers? It’s one thing to place your faith in God for protection, it’s quite another to deliberately place yourself in harms way.

    Also the women of this community obviously felt comfortable with the photographer show such an intimate side of them selves. And the leaders of the community obviously allowed it so it’s a tricky line to observe without judging and trust those behind the camera approved. I think some better captioning would have been beneficial.

    I do not however, think this is some form of “Mennonite’s Gone Wild”. Though the thought of that does make me giggle.

    Hopefully I did not offend, antagonize, or seem too holier than thou. Just sharing my thoughts and reflections. Thanks!

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    • Tricia – Great feedback. My quarrel actually was less with the photographs themselves and more with exactly the issues which you outlined: context. And my guess is that the book provides context (if it doesn’t then, yes, the book isn’t a very good teaching tool) and that Time Magazine just dropped the ball in their excerpting. I wanted to know the context in which these were taken and without it some of the photos were jarring. My wife and I were discussing the very issue you brought up which is that rules are different from plain settlement to plain settlement, which is a powerful teaching tool. In St. Ignatius, Montana’s Amish settlement, for instance, the Amish truly did not mind being photographed in documentary-type situations. So in our upcoming book we include those photos (um…none of the people were in underwear:) plus context. I agree with you, the photos are hardly Mennonites Gone Wild:), but they scream for context that Time Mag didn’t give us (but I will when I get the book) – Kevin

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      • Kevin,
        I can’t wait for your book to come out and it’s good to hear you won’t have anyone in their underwear! ;) I did think about that last night, Mennonities and Amish gone wild and I couldn’t stop giggling. It’s the simple things that get me going.

        I’m with you thinking Time dropped the ball. When I showed my husband these photos (he was unfamiliar with the culture until he married me… poor guy – what an education he got!) he started laughing and said, “So that’s what you did at your prayer meetings!”

        It’s great to have such discussions! I truly enjoy your site and your books!

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  5. IMcDowell says:


    I certainly think the partially clothed picture is distasteful, no matter what the photographer’s reasoning, out of respect to the plain people. Stick to your beliefs, Kevin, because your way of thinking is the right one. So glad you have respect for their way of life and we appreciate you for that. Too many people these days are unfortunately lacking miserably in that respect. Thanks for all you do with the column and such!

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    • Thank you…….my thinking too:) And welcome to amishcookonline, hope to see you here again!

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      • Thanks for the welcome! The column is the dessert of our newspaper! Thanks for all your information and all you do to provide us with insight to the Amish world; not to mention the wonderful recipes! Best wishes always! =)

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  6. Pastor Martin Counterman says:


    Kevin,

    Several years ago, in 1983, I had the privilege of visiting a mennonite settlement in Cuauhtémoc (Chihuahua, Mexico). Strikingly different from the surrounding Mexican countryside with typical farms, and school.These settlements, established between 1922 and 1927, are located about 230 miles (370 km) south of El Paso, Texas, and 75 miles (125 km) west of the capital city of Chihuahua. Worship services, two or three hours in length, were conducted in plain meetinghouses furnished with backless wooden benches. The Vorsänger who selected the hymns and set the pitch for the congregation, had a place beside the pulpit next to the ministers. The melodies and singing resembled those used by the Amish in the Ausbund of several centuries ago. The use of harmony or musical instruments did not occur. The sermon was read in High German and expository comments were made in Low German. Intermarriage with Mexicans occured but rarely.Concerning the moral and ethical status of the colony there are differences of opinion. Each village had its own school, which was usually in session from November to April or May. The schools were under the supervision of the ministers. The Fibel, Catechism, Bible, and Gesangbuch constituted the main study materials. Instruction was by rote and in the High German language, although all of the children spoke Low German at play. The government of Mexico is friendly toward the Mennonites. They are looked up to as model farmers. Social intercourse between Mennonites and Mexicans is restricted mainly to business transactions.
    However, what struck me the hardest was the problems the church elders shared with me on my visit. At that time there was a great stuggle with the young men and alcohol and drugs.
    If you ever get the opportunity to visit this settlement you would be struck with awe at the differences in the countryside as you enter the area. We made our crossing into Mexico at the El Paso border.

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    • Pastor Counterman, what an enlightening post. Thank you for sharing! I’d love to visit someday and I’m an optimist…the border will get safe to cross again…Ciudad Jaurez apparently is much safer now than a year ago and I think it will continue to improve….so one day, I am sure, I will visit.

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