by Tina Fielding & Trudy Reimer
We are Tina Fielding and Trudy Reimer, and we work together with Alberta Health Services as Community Health Representatives to assist Low German Speaking Mennonite families. In our roles, we have discovered just how diverse any one culture group can be. Although some of our key traditions and beliefs are the same or similar, we each had completely different experiences growing up.
Tina’s story: I was born in Durango, Mexico and am the first daughter in a family of 12 children. Due to economic hardship in Mexico, my parents moved us to Ontario when I was four years old. We moved into a very dilapidated house when we arrived in Ontario in the spring, and by September, my older brothers and I were enrolled in public school. At age 11, my family moved back to Mexico to make a life there permanently. The belief was that raising a family in the traditional way was easier to do in the villages in Mexico, away from the outside world. Once back in our village, we lived in a one-bedroom mud/brick house with a dirt floor, and no indoor plumbing or electricity.
At night, our kitchen was transformed into a bedroom by laying down mattresses and blankets for us children. The single cow we had was milked each day, and what was not used in our kitchen was sent to the local cheese factory via the milk wagon. Chickens and the occasional pig were our source of protein with the occasional beef being split between multiple families. When things got tight financially, we would bake cookies and the boys would sell them in the nearest towns. School was held in the church building which converted to a one-room school during the week. The classroom and schoolyard were both divided with an imaginary line and girls and boys did not interact at all during the school day. Most children attended school from the age of five to 14, and then stayed home to learn the skills taught in the home or on the farm. Motorized vehicles were not permitted in our village, so horse and buggy was the mode of travel. After almost three years of financial struggles we returned to Ontario, and then moved to Alberta. Today my life looks very different than I ever expected, and I appreciate the experience of growing up the way I did (although I adore indoor plumbing and lights at the flick of a switch!)
Trudy’s story: I was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and lived in a cement house with running water and electricity. My father supported my family of eight with a dryland irrigation farm and some dairy cows. In the early morning, my parents and older siblings would hand-milk the cows, feed the farm animals and gather fresh eggs. I attended school in Mexico for almost two years before moving to Canada. During that time I learned High German in a small school that was run by the church my family attended. Boys and girls did not have to be separated and I looked forward to learning Spanish once I reached the higher grades. But due to a drought, my parents moved to Southern Alberta, only intending to stay for a few years. After living in Canada for a short while, they found it much easier to make a living and the quality of life was better than it had been in Mexico. They sold our property and made Canada our permanent home.
The transition to public school was quite easy for my siblings and I. My parents were our role models in working hard to read and learn a new language by attending ESL classes. My parents valued education and were supportive of post-secondary education. I would enjoy going back to Mexico to visit family and friends every few years, but otherwise we stayed put in our Canadian home. I am very fortunate to have grown up experiencing both the LGM and Canadian culture.
With our very different stories, it goes to show that you can’t paint the whole Low German Mennonite culture with one brush. This can be true for any culture group. Both of our families have integrated into mainstream society while in some ways still staying true to our traditional roots. Each family we work with has their own unique story and perspective on life here in Canada.
Tina Fielding and Trudy Reimer are Community Health Representatives and work with Population Health with Alberta Health Services. They can be reached at [email protected] (403-388-6671) or [email protected] (403-330-7552).