Settlers, Braceros, Narcos (SBN) engages in a century-long exploration of Mennonite mobility. Leaving Canada for northern Mexico as settlers in the 1920s, thousands of traditional Mennonites were welcomed as frontier farmers by the post-revolutionary Mexican government. By mid-century they had established large colonies in the states of Chihuahua and Durango, but their image as “model farmers” was threatened by a decades-long drought.
This environmental catastrophe led a generation of Mennonites born in Mexico to look to aquifer-based irrigation. Others engaged in “return” migration as seasonal labourers to the nation their parents had left behind. This small-scale survival strategy was consolidated as a major migratory option in the face of renewed droughts and neoliberal reforms in the late twentieth century that threatened the viability of all small-scale farming in northern Mexican communities. Mexican Mennonites became a fixture in southwestern Ontario’s greenhouse economy, with a handful even gaining notoriety as transborder drug smugglers (“narco-Mennonites”).
SBN thus places border-crossing Anabaptists at the centre of the tumultuous migratory, environmental, and agricultural histories of twentieth-century North America.