CTMS Event

Departing Canada, Encountering Latin America

Oct 21-22 9:45AM-5:15PM

Departing Canada, Encountering Latin America: Reflections on the Centenary of Mennonite Emigration from Canada to Mexico and Paraguay

October 21-22, 2022

In-Person and Livestreamed
A Conference Hosted by the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies
at The University of Winnipeg

The year 1922 marks the beginning of the largest group emigration in Canadian history, when several thousand Low German–speaking Mennonites from Manitoba and Saskatchewan began to establish their first colonies in northern Mexico. Their emigration was accompanied by plans for a major settlement of Mennonites in the contested Paraguayan Gran Chaco that would begin later that decade. These moves were products of conflict with provincial authorities over English-language education but also reflected internal tensions over acculturation and technology use. Since these seminal migrations of the 1920s, internal growth and sub-migration have resulted in the establishment of Low German Mennonite communities throughout Mexico and Paraguay as well as in Belize, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru. The majority of the roughly 250,000 Low German–speaking Mennonites now living in Latin America are descendants of that initial migration to post-revolutionary Mexico a century ago.

This centenary conference presented papers from a variety of disciplines that explore the development of Mennonite life on the Canadian Prairies, the factors that drove emigration, the establishment and evolution of Mennonite communities in Mexico and Paraguay, and the subsequent migration of Mennonites from Mexico to other regions of Latin America.

This conference was held in person and livestreamed. A playlist of conference recordings is available on our YouTube channel.

Download the conference program (PDF)


Friday, October 21

9:45–10:00 a.m.
Welcome and Introduction
  • Welcome: Jan Stewart, Interim Provost and Vice-President Academic, University of Winnipeg
  • Opening Remarks: Aileen Friesen, Executive Director, Plett Foundation
  • Conference Introduction: Ben Nobbs-Thiessen, Chair in Mennonite Studies
10:00–11:45 a.m.
Mobile Families Across Space and Time
  • Chair: Jeremy Wiebe
  • Bruce Hiebert, “From Russia to Mexico: The Demographics of Mennonite Migration”
  • Aileen Friesen, “‘Our Kind of Mennonites’: The Old Colony, the Russlaender and Themes of Migration”
  • Ernest Braun, “A Tale of Two Decisions”
  • Tina Fehr Kehler, “The Transmigrational Life: One Dietsche Family’s History of Migration”
12:00–1:00 p.m.
Lunch Break
1:15–3:00 p.m.
Conditions of Departure: Immigration to, and Emigration from, Mexico
  • Chair: Rebecca Janzen
  • Arnoldo Vázquez Gómez, “The Role of the Railway and Press in Mennonite Immigration to Northern Mexico, 1922–26”
  • María Ordoñez Trujano, “Mexican Diplomacy in the Migration of Mennonites to Mexico, 1922–24”
  • Ben Nobbs-Thiessen, “Permanence or Perpetual Motion? Cycles of Settlement and Mobility Initiated by the 1922 Emigration”
  • Samuel Boucher, “Climate, Violence, and the Mennonite Migration from Mexico to Colombia”
3:00–3:15 p.m.
Coffee Break/Faspa
3:15–5:00 p.m.
Education and Identity in Canada and Mexico
  • Chair: Kerry Fast
  • Conrad Stoesz, “Was it Really About Education? The Sommerfeld/Bergthaler Split of 1893 Re-considered”
  • Rodger Toews, “The Mennonite School Petitions from 1916 to 1921”
  • Abe Wall, “Tu Puente: Transnational Schooling Initiatives Connecting Ontario and Mexico”
  • Emma Hoebens, “Schooling and Autonomy: Village Schools in the Old Colony Community of Salamanca, Quintana Roo, Mexico”
5:00–7:00 p.m.
Dinner Break

Featured Evening

7:00-9:00 pm
Conform Film Screening
  • Centenary documentary screening with director Andrew Wall (Refuge 31 Films). Followed by a question period.

Saturday, October 22

10:00–11:45 a.m.
Gender, Labour, and Foodways in Mexico, Canada, and Bolivia
  • Chair: Aileen Friesen
  • Rebecca Janzen, “Reflecting on a Hundred Years: Mennonites and Food in the Americas”
  • Abigail Carl-Klassen, “Trachjmoakas, Parteras, and Midwives: 100 Years of Maternal Care in the Campos Menonitas of Chihuahua”
  • Leidy Muñoz, “Gender Relations in Low German Mennonite Communities in the Lowlands of Eastern Bolivia”
  • Doreen Klassen, “‘You must be at least 85!’ Low German Mennonites in Mexico and Belize ‘Research’ a Kanadier Anthropologist”
12:00–1:00 p.m.
Lunch Break
1:15–3:00 p.m.
Indigenous, Mennonite, Mestizo: Encounters in Mexico, Paraguay, and Bolivia
  • Chair: Miriam Rudolph
  • Hannes Kalisch, “Indigenous–Mennonite Relations in the Paraguayan Chaco”
  • Patricia Islas, “From Confluence to Influence: Inter-ethnic Relations in the Northwest Region of Chihuahua, Mexico”
  • Tracy Hruska, “Social Consequences of Mennonite Agricultural Success: Lessons from Chihuahua, Mexico”
  • Geovana Carreño-Rocabado and Royden Loewen, “Options in the Tropics: Indigenous and Mennonite Farmers Meet MCC in Lowland Bolivia”
3:00–3:15 p.m.
Coffee Break/Faspa
3:15–5:00 p.m.
Change and Persistence: Land, Environment, Technology, Church
  • Chair: Jonathan Hildebrand
  • Paola Canova, “Socio-Environmental Dynamics of Cattle Ranching in Paraguay’s Central Chaco”
  • Yann le Polain, “The Next Good Place: Religion, Culture, and Mennonite Land Use in Latin America”
  • Carel Roessingh, “A Quest for Isolation from the Influence of the World: The Case of the Hoover Mennonites in Belize”
  • Patrick Friesen, “Mennonite Churches in Menno Colony, Paraguay: Living the Tensions Between Faith, Change, and Tradition”
5:00-5:15 pm
Conference wrap-up; Reflections

Major Contributors: Special thanks to the Plett Foundation and the University of Winnipeg.

Planning Committee: Aileen Friesen, Paola Canova, Rebecca Janzen, and Ben Nobbs-Thiessen.

Special Thanks: Jeremy Wiebe and University of Winnipeg student volunteers

Journal of Mennonite Studies

Selected, peer-reviewed papers from this conference will be published in 2023 in the Journal of Mennonite Studies. For more information, visit jms.uwinnipeg.ca.

Our Next Annual Conference

Subjects, Settlers, Citizens

The 1870s Mennonites in Historical Context

University of Winnipeg and Livestream