Monday, April 25, 2011
Mexico's Mennonites and Irma Voth
I've seen Mexican Mennonites occasionally since then. Most recently in a group at a building supply store in the Mejorada neighborhood: the men dressed in formal black overalls, the women covered in their long dark printed dresses. First time I'd seen Mennonite women in town. A small boy, maybe aged three or four, perched on a crate in his wee black overalls, white shirt and hat. I started to go for my camera, then hesitated, realizing that taking a photo might violate their cultural and religious rules.
So I was excited to discover Canadian writer Miriam Toews' new novel, Irma Voth, about a young Mennonite woman and her family in Mexico. Toews is of Mennonite background herself, and happened upon the subject matter after she was inveigled to play the role of a Mennonite wife in the art film, Stellet Licht (Silent Light), by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas.
I don't know how closely Irma Voth reflects the Mennonite experience in Mexico, or even Chihuahua state where it is mostly set. There are narcos and violence, and a deep, oppressive unhappiness. I loved the book anyway. The story line includes the making of a film involving the Mennonites and a foreign actress. Beyond the drama, it gives a view into the sensibility of this tribe who, as the fictional Irma says in the book, "live like ghosts", and "move all around the world in colonies looking for freedom and isolation and peace and opportunities to sell cheese."
Here's an article from the Globe and Mail if you'd like to read more about Toews and Irma Voth . Now I can't wait to see the film, Stellet Licht, if I can track it down.