The photos are from stories I’ve done in Mexico, Los Angeles, as well as a brief trip to Bogota I took at the behest of Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, to do a story on the girl soldiers in the guerrilla militias.
Above are four of the shots: from a story on the emergence of tubas as the region’s emblematic musical instrument; a group of Mennonite kids at a school in northern Mexico, where I went to do a story on Mennonites’ involvement in drug trafficking.
There’s also Grace, a legendary drag queen in the 1980s who is now homeless, and another of a Oaxacan farmworker in the agricultural valley of San Quintin, which is south of Ensenada, Baja California.
Many more are up at Kaldi — hope you like them….They make great Christmas gifts!….:)
Years ago, I had a run-in with drug-smuggling Mennonites in the area around Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua in Mexico, and wrote about it, and the decay of traditional Mennonite communities there, in my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream.
A recent narcotics arrest in Canada is about that as well. The Mexican Old Colony Mennonites have been working with drug cartels, and been major importers of marijuana and cocaine to Canada and the U.S. themselves, for years.
They began in the late 1970s, early 1980s, and were able to use their ingenuity as mechanics and welders to fashion new hiding places for drugs in trucks and cars.
For my book, I found that the largest drug bust in the history of the state of Oklahoma up to that time was a Mennonite ring run out Cuauhtemoc. The main informant, now presumed dead, was himself Mennonite.
Used to be a Mennonite family crossing into El Paso would be waved through Customs. Now they get the full treatment — drug dogs, mirrors under the car, etc.
One man I spoke with said a common way to smuggle drugs was to strap them around a senile grandmother, wearing a long dress and a traditional bonnet and looking for all the world like a peasant for the 1800s.
This photo here is from an AA meeting I attended for Mennonites in the communities near Cuauhtemoc.
Mennonite one-room school house near Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua
Time Magazine has published a set of photos of an Old Colony Mennonite community in Durango, Mexico, titling it The Flower Girls. Check them out. Tell me what you think. I find the photos are sweet, delicate, beautiful, and only hint at the disaster that has befallen most of these Mennonite communities, which have tried mightily to separate themselves from the world.
The Mennonite communities in Chihuahua are replete with severe problems of inbreeding, domestic violence, benighted education, alcoholism, and, in the last 20 years, drug trafficking, particularly in the colonies near Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, four hours south of Ciudad Juarez.
Mennonites came to Mexico from Canada in the 1920s, invited by the government that wanted to colonize the north to avoid further US depredations. Those who came to escape the world were masterful farmers and cheesemakers. But in time they suffered from the same problems as other Mexican farmers: drought, lack of credit, etc. Many in the Chihuahua colonies turned to drug smuggling — some full time and some to pay an urgent debt. I ran into these folks in 2003 and included a chapter on the harrowing result — the scariest moment of my reporting life — in my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream.
I like the Time photos immensely, but from them you’d not guess much of the reality of Old Colony Mennonite life in Mexico.
For many of these world-rejecting Mennonites, it always seemed to me that their very attempt to isolate themselves made them vulnerable to the worst the modern world has to offer. Many I spoke with described their people as lambs, unprepared for what they would encounter outside their community. Some likened it to Indians’ lack of exposure to small pox before the Europeans came.
I’ve included a photo above of a one-room schoolhouse, taught by a man with barely a bad sixth-grade education, which is how Mennonite kids are still schooled in the colonies near Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua. Would love your comments on the Time photos.