Mennonites: Paraguay ‘s Other Farmers
The history of the Mennonite colonies in Paraguay proves a lesson in the power of collective work to overcome obstacles. Originally hailng from various corners of the globe, Paraguay’s Mennonites are all bound by the same desire for religious freedom, respect of tradition and hard work ethic. The country’s first colonies were sent to the hostile Chaco where they had to struggle for survival in the harsh weather and work hard to farm crops in middle of the wilderness. Though the newer colonies of Eastern Paraguay have easier living and farming conditions, they work just as assiduously. Some colonies are very old-fashioned and closed off to outsiders while others are more modern and integrated. Entering a
Mennonite colony can feel a bit like the Twilight Zone. Though you are in rural Paraguay these farmers are no campesinos. In fact, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum from Paraguay’s native farming class. Used to working in large cooperatives, often with overseas funding from parent colonies, the Mennonites have financial resources unavailable to most rural Paraguayans. They put these funds to use investing in technology (in the form of machinery and research) that allows farming on a large scale. Agricultural experts run experimental farms where new crops are introduced and farming methods are tested. In addition to hard work, education is a priority – almost all Mennonite children finish high school and continue on to university either in large nearby cities or overseas.
Many third generation Mennonites find themselves juggling two cultures – Paraguayan culture and that of their ancestors. They drink terere (and maybe Brahma as well) and speak some Guaram and Spanish. But most are encouraged to return to their homeland to pursue higher education, as well as to find a spouse. Though they are lauded for the economic advances they bring to the country the Mennonites are roundly criticized by Paraguayans for their lack of integration. Discrimination towards outsiders is a problem, especially towards native populations. Tourists traveling through Mennonite areas will also be given a cool reception – don’t take it personally.
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