By Craig Funston
Great, got your attention. Now read what I really want to say.
There are Catholics and then there are Catholics. There are hamburgers and then there are hamburgers. There are schools and then there are schools.
And in the context of today’s column, there are Mennonites and then there are Mennonites.
I write this because the Mennonite culture is very close to my heart. And some times I take it personally when I hear negative things said about them—even if some of them might be remotely true.
We English (ie., non-Mennonite) tend to stereotype our German friends from Mexico, Belize, and Bolivia. We rag on them for their clothing, customs, and culture. We denounce them for their limited English skills (which is often their third language, by the way), for their contempt for education (at least the book-learning sort), and their clannishness (oh, is there something wrong with hanging out with friends and family?).
Guess what: Some of that is true. Trouble is, not all of it is, and that’s my beef.
I call that treatment a soft (and sometime not-so-soft) form of prejudice, though very few of us would feel we’re guilty of prejudice, especially against anyone with white skin. A teasing here, a mocking there, just part of our culture.
It’s cultural profiling, so let’s just go ahead and call it prejudice.
Maybe the “Mennonite” law that has been finally implemented in Taber comes to mind. It seems to be targeting a type of Mennonite, and so it probably should. Again, they’re not all the same. Not all Mennonites bunch, spit, and vandalize—and that is essentially my point.
Regardless of the type of Mennonite, you know what they do for us: They rent our houses, buy our cars, populate our schools (public, private, and home), shop in our stores, and work on our farms.On the contrary, they make a significant contribution to our economy.I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Take the Mennonites (and temporary foreign workers, for that matter) out of the southern Alberta economy and it flounders. Please keep in mind that we (= English) are having smaller and smaller families, so we’re not filling the schools any more—but they are. And for that matter, we’re not filling the houses or shopping carts any longer—but they are. Be grateful for that, whether you’re a fellow-consumer, retailer or producer—because they are.
I was recently in the house of a one of these so-called uneducated Mennonites. I wish I were so dumb. Everything was meticulous and modern, practical and precise. He and his wife designed it, built it, and now enjoy it. He wasn’t there, of course, as he was out developing a thriving cement business and actively keeping up with the demand for quality workmanship.
To be sure, he may not be able to write a grammatically-correct paragraph, but he knows how to work, how to stay faithful to his wife and kids, and how to develop a career, usually in the trades. More than ever before in our province, it is these types of citizens that we need more of – not less of.
I could write his story many times over: Mennonites with a grade seven “education,” can hardly read English, but they are thriving tradespeople and business persons contributing to our society.
I wish I were so uneducated.
Don’t misunderstand me: I am not whitewashing their skewed view of academics (though only on the part of some). I too am very concerned, even peeved, at their cavalier attitude towards school (though only on the part of some). But we must all agree that there is much, much more to life than rows, rote, and recess.
Many of my homeschool families are Mennonites. As I travel the province I am welcomed into their homes like a long lost friend. In fact, there are days I feel I should change my name to Funk (Funkston, maybe?). We hear many reports of their hospitality and have enjoyed the same ourselves.
My simple plaint is this: Don’t lump them all together. The Mennonite law in Taber is targeted for a minority; the drug running done in Grassy Lake is by a minority; the wolf whistling in Bow Island is, well, you get the picture.
We should welcome them with open arms, not clenched fists.