Race, Gender, and Mennonite Brethren Religious Identity Along the Texas-Mexico Border, Part 2
By the early 1940s, Mennonite Brethren (MB) missionaries experienced discouragement concerning their efforts in the Los Ebanos community. As a result, and because of a desire to keep their children out of the public schools, the idea for a parochial school began to foment. Soon thereafter, a site was chosen for the school just off main highway 83, two miles north of Los Ebanos in Sullivan City. 50 By 1948 El Faro School (“The Lighthouse”), as it came to be called, welcomed its first class of seventy-five students ranging from grades one through eight. The students represented families from all three of the mission stations in Los Ebanos, Chihuahua, and La Grulla. Because of the great demand by parents who wanted to enroll their children in El Faro, admission standards gave priority to regular MB church members, then to children of the church members, children who attended missions regularly, and finally to those considered outsiders.
The Mexican-American MB in south Texas radically challenged the essentialist and racist ideology of the Anglo MB church by creating alternative social spaces and envisioning the possibility of racial and gender parity within the church.
A MISSION PROJECT SCHOOL
The school became a mission project of the Southern District Conference (SDC) and subsequently did not charge tuition fees to any student interested and able to meet the stringent requirements. This proved to be a good strategy for bringing students from the public school to El Faro as most families did not have the financial resources to pay tuition. Student fees were not implemented until 1965 when each child was charged twenty-five dollars and three dollars for every additional child in the same family. 51 Initially the teaching staff for El Faro consisted entirely of Anglo MB missionaries. In addition to teaching classes during the week, teachers also had church responsibilities on the weekends in the different mission stations.
The school concerned itself with the spiritual needs of their students; daily prayer and calls for conversion were part of the curriculum. This meant that teachers carried secular education hand in hand with the evangelical mission. The reports about El Faro highlighted this dual emphasis by stating that “Secular studies become dry and uninteresting many times, but when Bible study and Bible story time rolls around, we see faces brighten up.” 52 The second year of the school welcomed fifty-three students on the first day of classes, and the number eventually doubled to one hundred six by the following week. New teachers were also added as the school expanded some of its secular and evangelical curriculum.
By 1956 the school had reached its apex. Enrollment was higher than in previous years, new buildings were being built to accommodate the growth, and ninth-grade instruction had become part of the curriculum. The school used standard textbooks approved by the Texas Education Agency and taught Spanish as a foreign language. 53 The strategies implemented at El Faro did prove successful in achieving appropriate academic goals. Students had little problem going from El Faro to public school, and the school existed up to this point with unprecedented growth and financial stability. However, the following years proved not as fluid, marred by internal dissent over the true purpose of the school. 54
QUESTIONS AND PROBLEMS ARISE
With a parochial school established and eight churches planted by 1956, the MB mission remained strong and destined to grow in the coming years. The congregations planted in La Grulla, Chihuahua, and Los Ebanos all reported an overall membership at or above fifty, with Chihuahua the largest at seventy members. 55 The remaining five congregations in La Casita, La Joya, Mission, Lull, and Premont reported much smaller numbers due to their relatively new status. The reasons behind church growth are complex and multifaceted. However, much is due to large financial and human investments (between 1937 and 1956 total funding from the SDC for both churches and El Faro totaled $317,114), key Mexican-American leaders converting in Los Ebanos (Abelardo Mireles and Federico Peña), the social charity practiced early on by the Neufelds (which helped build trust in the community), and the rural nature of the mission (which allowed missionaries total access in promoting their message). 56
Despite positive results during the 1950s, some within the SDC began to question the work in south Texas and looked for ways out of the mission. Moreover, after World War II increased out-migration from the rural communities where the mission began affected church membership and raised new questions about the location of the churches. 57 As these problems exposed themselves, the SDC began to preach an “indigenization” program in order to grant more autonomy to south Texas churches. As religious historian Juan Martínez noted, “The MB leadership [wanted] to find a way to get the [south Texas] project off their hands. Everyone was tired of the dependency and no one had a solution.” 58
The mission pattern represented a hierarchical and paternalistic system that, while stimulating early church growth, had no solid indigenous foundation upon which that growth could continue. The consequences of paternalistic and racist mission patterns began to surface when in 1969 El Faro school closed its doors after slightly more than twenty years of operations. That same year the Board of Foreign Missions, which assumed partial control in south Texas in 1959, began to phase out the MB mission in south Texas, citing that “it was a waste of money to spend it on people who could not or would not assume financial responsibility for their own churches.” 59 Church growth had regressed after 1958 and did not pick up again until 1963. One last growth spurt then extended through 1966, bringing total church membership in Hidalgo and Starr counties to three hundred ten.
FINAL YEARS OF SOUTH TEXAS MISSION
The work of the SDC in south Texas reached its saturation point after twenty years of mission work, and it became increasingly difficult to sustain a mission with an annual cost by 1958 of over thirty-three thousand dollars. 60 Final years of the mission in south Texas are significant for several reasons. First, in the latter half of the 1950s the SDC began to reevaluate its mission strategy, making a strong case for the indigenization of south Texas churches. This resulted in the creation of the South Texas Commission (STC), which served as a representative group of both the Home Missions Committee and the Board of Foreign Missions.
Second, in 1960 the evangelical branch of the mission was transferred to the Board of Foreign Missions based in Fresno, California, while the Home Missions Committee of the SDC maintained control of El Faro school. This move solidified the decline of MB missions in south Texas. By 1971 funding from the SDC was completely withdrawn, and the repercussions were felt almost immediately. Shortly thereafter, Mexican-Americans themselves assumed charge of the mission work after nearly thirty-five years of working under the White missionaries.
Third, in 1964 a representative core from the different mission churches established a governing body that came to be known as the Latin American Mennonite Brethren Conference (LAMB). Fourth, the parochial school that started in 1948 as an alternative to south Texas public schools closed its doors in 1969 under intense financial pressure and disagreement between the STC and the local community over the purpose of the school. Last, this particular time period saw membership growth during the mid-1960s, but when the financial cord was cut and the mission terminated, the membership dropped almost immediately during the final years of 1969 through 1972.
In assessing the major factors involved in the eventual decline of a missionary project that looked promising in the 1950s, it is important to understand the paternalistic relationships that developed between White missionaries and Mexican-Americans. MB missionaries excluded Mexican-Americans from leadership positions and thus limited their ability to shape church goals and vision. This resulted in institutional inflexibility by the MB Conferences on issues of contextual and appropriate Christianity. The lack of institutional flexibility manifested itself in racist mission strategies that prohibited structural involvement (developing indigenous worship styles, administrative practice, and having voice in defining institutional direction) by Mexican-Americans. The ill-timed closure of El Faro school in 1969, the lack of efficient leadership training, and the exclusion of Mexican-American women symbolized much of this inflexibility. As one local Mexican-American pastor noted, “They [MB missionaries] did everything while they were here.” 61
MAKING A RELIGIOUS IDENTITY: RACE AND GENDER IN BECOMING MENNONITE BRETHREN
A major part of this essay argues that Mexican-Americans themselves constructed a religious identity in becoming Mennonite Brethren despite a racist mission strategy. Regardless of the racial prejudice inherent in the missionary project, Mexican-Americans converted and withstood demeaning comments, a dual wage system, and a deep sense that the White missionary “knew best.” In doing so, Mexicanos constructed their own identity separate from whatever perceptions White missionaries had about them and their community. Important in this process was the strong belief that, if given the chance, Mexican-Americans themselves could in fact plant churches and handle administrative duties associated with evangelical work.
As previously mentioned, MB missionaries entered south Texas with a racist conceptualization of the Mexican-American community along the border. However, the context and culture of MB racism in south Texas was paradoxically inclusive of some Mexican-Americans while exclusive of others not working toward an assimilated resemblance of Whiteness. In other words, conversion for the missionaries not only represented spiritual salvation, but racial salvation as well. In this sense, stripping Mexican-Americans of their cultural identity went hand in hand with evangelical conversion. Racism, in this case, not only served to demean and belittle Mexican-Americans, but helped maintain White power for the MB as newly assimilated White Americans. As historian Neil Foley noted, racism operates not only as a biologically superior racial status but as a manipulated social and economic power source that serves to maintain power and privilege solely with those colored with a particular hue of Whiteness. 62
However, race represented only one factor which MB missionaries utilized to marginalize Mexican-Americans. In neglecting their strongest support system (Mexican-American women), MB missionaries missed the possibility of women taking on significant roles in leadership. Mexican-American women made up a major portion of those who attended the newly established MB churches in the rural communities of south Texas between 1937 and 1971. Many participated in church activities and in many cases as teachers of Sunday school programs. In spite of this, however, the work that women were allowed to do differed from the work considered the sole responsibility of men. For example, Mexican-American women were expected to work primarily with other women and children in activities such as sewing circles, vacation Bible school, and Sunday school instruction. Preaching, doing missionary activity among men, or leading Bible studies where both men and women were present remained the sole domain of men.
Be that as it may, the ideas that MB missionaries carried regarding masculinity and femininity differed from the perception held by Mexican-Americans. Many women, in fact, believed that Protestant conversion and the church represented a particular space where gender parity existed to a greater degree than in the Catholic church or in secular society. Similarly, despite the racist attitudes of the MB missionaries, most Mexican-American converts believed that racial justice could only come through the church. Thus, Mexican-Americans themselves had radically different ideas concerning race and gender than the alienating notions imposed by MB missionaries. For Mexican-Americans, in this case, conversion served not solely as a means for salvation, but also as a means to provide both racial and gender parity. 63
The case of Yolanda Villareal and MB perceptions over curanderismo best illustrate how race and gender intersected to create social identities far removed from the essentialist notions imposed by MB missionaries. Villareal served as one of the few Mexican-American women to become a missionary and worked in conjunction with many White MB missionaries, both male and female. Although paid significantly less than her counterpart Annie Dyck, Villareal did the work that initially led to the success of many of the churches in south Texas.
Yolanda and her sister Carmen lost their mother at a very young age and were raised by their grandmother and father. Both struggled with various types of illnesses for most of their lives, Yolanda especially, who suffered from thyroid problems and, on many occasions, visited with doctors and curanderos (folk healers) in the community. “Me and my sister were into Satanic rituals that we believed could help us get better,” Yolanda recalled. “We really believed they worked, and my father approved because it was a very normal practice back then.” 64
On one occasion a curandero advised her that she should find el libro negro (the black book) and read it in order to heal. Yolanda began searching for the book without really knowing what she was looking for until she saw “a black book” during an evangelical service to which her cousin had invited her in the nearby town of Mission, Texas. “I asked the Santos (saints) for forgiveness first,” commented Yolanda, “because I knew it was wrong to be in a Christian service; but it was there that I first saw the black book, la Biblia (the Bible).” 65
It was at this point that Yolanda began reading the Bible and learning more about Protestant Christianity with the understanding that “la Virgen de Guadalupe was going to be okay with this.” Sometime later, she saw the black book on (MB missionary) Ruben Wedel’s tabletop and asked if she could get a copy. He responded by saying that the book cost one dollar and that he could get her a copy if she really wanted one. Yolanda saw this as a direct sign from diosito (a term of endearment toward God) that she should follow the work of this missionary to help him plant his church. Yolanda began to help Wedel in his ministry, which started under a tree and attracted mostly women and children. Because Wedel had no Spanish language skills, Walter Gomez (a Mexican-American convert from an MB mission in Oklahoma) came to preach the sermons in Spanish and formed an instrumental part in establishing the mission. The first converts to the mission in the village town of La Grulla were women: Lupita Ortiz, Yolanda and Carmen Villareal, and Guadalupe Gutierrez. 66
Yolanda, along with her sister Carmen, worked with women and children in the community. The work of the women (la femenil, the women’s group) is important to the history of the La Grulla church as it became the largest MB church in south Texas. While Wedel worked at teaching the Bible to new converts, cadres of twelve to fifteen women met weekly to pray, organize church events, distribute and sell used clothing, and sew and make quilts. Along with the Villareal sisters, Ofelia Tagle formed part of the organizing group of women in La Grulla. The organizing included activities that benefited both the new church and the local community. For example, the quilts the women sewed were sold along with used clothing from the north at prices community people could afford. This brought income to the church and helped provide resources for the community. Yolanda noted that the gatherings of the women provided them a place to “worship God and help each other with needs that we had.” 67
This provides us a window into what conversion to Protestant Christianity meant to Mexican-Americans (especially women) in these communities. Aside from challenging cultural tradition and providing moral guidance, the newly established churches inadvertently provided a space for women to gather and support one another. In rural communities where little if any social organizations existed outside of the family and fictive kinship networks, the church served as a much needed resource.
Thus, the notion of a “community of women” is critical to our understanding of why Mexican-American women converted and why the church held such a priority in their lives. 68 In this way, viewing conversion as a one-way process fails to understand how women negotiated certain benefits of conversion and used them to promote both social and financial well-being. While religious conversion did imply a certain disjuncture from the traditional community, Mexican-American women in this case were willing to take that risk if it meant their families had access to resources including used clothes, social spaces of support, and “formal” healthcare. Regardless of the patriarchal and exclusionary nature of the church, Mexican-American women were active agents in creating community and negotiating practical resources for their families. 69
Another key area of analysis is the manner in which MB missionaries challenged the system of healthcare in rural communities: curanderismo (folk healing). Curanderismo not only represented a tradition prevalent in both Mexican and Mexican-American culture, but also a practical healthcare option in a community where formal healthcare remained out of reach. In and of itself there is nothing sinister about curanderismo. Villareal’s aforementioned reference to “Satanic rituals” represents the views of some Mexican-American Protestants, but it is not an accurate description of the history and contextual importance of curanderismo in south Texas. The notion that curanderismo embodies “Satanic rituals” was an imported idea that Protestant missionaries imposed on Mexican-Americans along the Southwest. For example, MB missionaries, particularly Harry Neufeld, viewed curanderismo as a false and superstitious belief system which served only to deceive an already racially inferior community. The Mexican-Americans that Neufeld encountered, however, viewed curanderismo as a practical healthcare resource that held real spiritual value.
After eight years in south Texas, Neufeld wrote to MB church leaders in Kansas on the subject of curanderismo:
Missionaries to Africa write about this and how the natives there are bound by it. Naturally living in a civilized country it is not expected here, but believe me it is here among this people. Some of them live without hope of ever being saved because they have sold themselves to the devil, and they worship him in all sincerity, and that in the worst form, namely, sex. 70
Thus, challenging this system of folk healthcare and substituting it with Anglo Protestant ideas of prayer and healing carried racial and sexualized overtones.
Empowered by his faith in Jesus Christ, Neufeld decried traditional curanderismo as a false belief system but thrived in being perceived as the new “faith healer” in the community. Neufeld shared many of his healing stories via the Christian Leader, the Mennonite Brethren church magazine. Several of these “super-hero” stories are worth mentioning here:
Instance 1: There is much crying in the village; a child is dying in the home of a staunch hostile Roman Catholic. Should we go there? Yes, we must! We go! We ask permission to pray. The medic has pronounced the child beyond recovery. But God hears our plea and immediately the child rallies and gets well. Rejoicing in the village? Surprise and wonderment? Yes, and not a little bit. 71
Instance 2: The girl is bleeding from the nose. Nothing will stop it. The missionary is called. Prayer is made, but the girl bleeds on. A call to the doctor is urged, but it is too far to go to one. What shall be done? All eyes are upon the missionary; all the cotton is pulled out of the nostrils and washed out; the bleeding recedes and the girl is better. 72
On many other occasions, when speaking about curanderismo in the community, Neufeld made remarks that attempted to discredit curanderos/as and credit himself as the new healer in the community.
The missionary could not refrain from smiling as he told the young brother that Christians do not believe such things [speaking of mal de ojo]. “But it is true,” remonstrated the believer, “we know it is true because we have seen it too many times.” “No dear brother, that is not true, and let me tell you another thing. If it could be true, then we have a glorious gospel, because the cow did not die but got well, and that very rapidly, and this is because we prayed and trusted in Jesus. So Jesus was the power. But don’t believe that about ‘malojos’ [sic] anymore; it is not true.” Now we understand why some people have at times come and placed their hands over our faces or over the face of our little baby. 73
Neufeld criticized every aspect of Mexican-American religiosity when he attacked la Virgen de Guadalupe, curanderismo, and other cultural belief systems. By doing so, he understood a very particular need in the community and manipulated that need in order to gain new converts.
Mexican-American acquiescence to Neufeld’s perceptions of curanderismo helps illustrate the ways in which converts negotiated their newfound faith. Neufeld became successful only to the extent that converts, especially women, saw this conversion process as a means to gain access to another type of supernatural healing. In other words, for Mexican-American women it did not matter so much who prayed for healing (curandera/o or the missionary) as long as the family received some type of advocacy and support. Again, the key point here is the centrality of the family and the practical needs of a marginalized and rural community. While Mexican-American men resisted conversion to some extent, the women who did convert (and some of the men) did so in order to find spiritual favor for their family and to gain access to practical resources that missionaries provided.
ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES OF CULTURAL CONFLICT
For many Mexican-Americans, conversion to Protestantism created intra-ethnic conflict with others in the community. Many converts were seen as los aleluyas (the hallelujahs), or vendidos (cultural sell-outs). Both terms connote negative feelings, and for many it represented major stress. Those who converted altered most of their cultural connections, both socially and religiously. For example, seeing a curandero/a was no longer an option. Cultural dances were deemed un-Christian, along with cultural music, alcohol, cigarette smoking, and any connection to Catholicism. This often created problems because many of the cultural ceremonies were closely tied in with Catholicism, including weddings and funerals.
Nevertheless, rituals did not change in these ceremonies so much as they were adapted to fit within a Protestant rubric. The community typically went along with these changes because, at least in weddings, it was still customary to practice ceremonial rituals that to the missionaries did not hinder Christian faith. But the celebratory aspects of the wedding did change. Alcohol and Mexican cultural music, for example, were the first to go since “dancing and drinking at wedding receptions that went all night were no longer acceptable.” 74 The length of time of celebration changed from all night celebrations to a brief single evening. The menu at Mexican-American wedding receptions was also altered. “Secular weddings usually served foods like cabrito (goat) and barbacoa (shredded beef) with pan fino y galletitas (sweet bread and cookies),” commented Yolanda Villareal, “but Christian weddings only served maybe rice and beans with some type of meat with cake, but nothing like cabrito.” 75
This process of cultural adaptation does not deny the fact that Mexican-Americans resisted cultural transformation and have since maintained many of the cultural practices that missionaries tried to subtract. Mexican-American Protestant weddings and funerals are different than those held by their Catholic counterparts, but much of the symbolism and ritual remains, so as to create an authentic Mexican-American Protestant cultural and religious experience.
The MB church “did everything,” as one pastor noted, and made it clear that they (Anglos) were the ones in charge and able to dictate theology. Instruments were not allowed in church, dancing was prohibited, Christian prayer by a missionary replaced folk healing, and biblical interpretation came solely from the missionary. Both race and gender played a major role in defining the social structure of the mission and in maintaining systemic power with the Anglo MB.
Mexican-Americans, however, did not roll over and allow themselves to remain in subordinate relationships. There were many cases in which they left the church as a result of racist relationships, most evident by the mass exodus of the late 1960s. Moreover, Mexican-Americans often challenged MB Anglo leadership, only to be rejected and ignored. The Anglo MB felt that, because they were supplying the financial bloodline for the mission work, they had ultimate authority to do what they deemed necessary despite the somewhat strong voices of resistance coming from south Texas.
In the end, religion and religious identity cannot be viewed as static. It is a process that is constantly shifting and recreating itself in ways that defy easy categorization. As has been demonstrated in this essay, the Mexican-American MB in south Texas radically challenged the essentialist and racist ideology of the Anglo MB church by creating alternative social spaces and envisioning the possibility of racial and gender parity within the church. Far from being cultural “sell-outs,” converts established and created a unique Mexican-American experience within the rubric of the MB church in south Texas.
Today, the MB church in south Texas is relatively small and scattered throughout both Starr and Hidalgo counties. They identify themselves as the “Latin American Mennonite Brethren” or LAMB. However, their stories of religious faith and cultural identity say much about the unique nature of Mexican-American Protestantism in the United States.
This article is the second of two parts, begun in the fall 2005 issue of Direction. This work represents part of the author’s master’s thesis which was completed in 2004 at the University of Texas Pan American.
- Anna Esau, What God Has Done: The Story of the Latin American Mennonite Brethren Conference (Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1987), 42. Missionary Henry Thomas wrote: “The [public school] influence is bad. Worldly songs are taught, and the complaint has reached us that the teachers even wanted to teach dancing to the children. The school house is often used for dances. Then our own son, Marlin, will be of school age next fall. Would you want your children in such a school? We cannot consent to it.” Henry Thomas, report to SDC constituency, 30 April 1946 (Hillsboro, Kansas, Center for MB Studies archives).
- Ibid., 43.
- Ibid., 45.
- See further Felipe Hinojosa, “ ‘Yours for the Salvation of Mexican People’: Race, Identity, and the Growth/Decline of Mennonite Brethren Missionary Efforts in South Texas, 1937-1971” (M.A. thesis, University of Texas Pan American, Edinburg, Texas, 2004). MB missionaries viewed the school primarily as an evangelistic tool. When they felt it was no longer serving its purpose, they decided to shut it down. However, the Mexican-American community viewed El Faro as a place where their children could attain an education superior to the one available in public schools. For them, it served a community function, not simply an evangelistic one.
- Ibid., 168.
- For example, shortly after their conversion, Abelardo Mireles (bootlegger) and Federico Peña (small business owner) began assisting Harry Neufeld in his evangelistic endeavors. By 1943 the south Texas missions budget totaled $9,564.49, and a third of that overall budget, $3,172.84, went to the first two mission churches in Los Ebanos and Chihuahua. See Southern District Conference minutes, Nov. 6-9, 1943, Corn, Oklahoma, south Texas Report written and signed by Harry and Sarah Neufeld and Henry and Ruth Thomas (Hillsboro, Kansas, Center for MB Studies archives).
- Juan F. Martínez, interview with author, e-mail correspondence, 12 March 2004.
- Tim Kliewer, interview with author, 2 February 2004, e-mail correspondence.
- Pastor Alfredo Tagle, interview by author, tape recording, Mission, Texas, 15 September 2003.
- Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997); Tobin Miller Shearer, interview with author, 23 December 2003, e-mail correspondence.
- The work of Anna Adams has proved extremely helpful in understanding this dynamic. Adams contends that researchers need to listen to the perception that women have about their own lives and count that as legitimate. Regardless of whether the institutional church represents a patriarchal structure, what matters is the perception that women have about the greater degree of gender parity within the church as opposed to secular society. Adams writes, “Perceptions of gender equality have begun to shape the way some women relate to their churches and have empowered them to reevaluate some church practices. Their perceptions matter because they have served as a force for change. Thus far, Pentecostalism’s adaptability has worked in its favor.” See Anna Adams, “Perception Matters: Pentecostal Latinas in Allentown, Pennsylvania,” in María Pilar Aquino, Daisy L. Machado, and Jeannette Rodríguez, eds., A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002), 113.
- Yolanda Villareal, interview with author, 15 July 2003, Mission, TX.
- Ibid. Curanderismo, as defined by Robert T. Trotter II and Juan Antonio Chavira, constitutes a system of Mexican-American folk healing that is important to many Mexican-Americans throughout the Southwest. The curandero/a is typically a person from the community who shares similar experiences with those around him/her. See Robert T. Trotter II and Juan Antonio Chavira, Curanderismo: Mexican American Folk Healing, 2d ed. (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1997).
- Yolanda Villareal, interview with author, tape recording, 8 January 2004, Mission, Texas.
- In understanding the varied meanings of community, I use the work of anthropologist Steven Gregory who defines community as a process (and ideology) that is constantly in flux not bound by place, space, and history in many instances. Gregory writes, “community describes not a static, place-based social collective but a power-laden field of social relations whose meanings, structures, and frontiers are continually produced, contested, and reworked in relation to a complex range of sociopolitical attachments and antagonisms.” In south Texas the notion of community manifested itself in a variety of ways. In the case of Mexican-American women who converted to the MB faith, the new church community did not represent a strict departure from the secular community as much as it represented a rearticulated notion of community. In this way the church provided an “autonomous organization” for women converts and helped them forge community under different circumstances. See Steven Gregory, Black Corona: Race and the Politics of Place in an Urban Community (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 11.
- In Vicki Ruiz’s work on cannery women workers in California, the idea of a particular “worker culture” between and among women is a strong theme throughout. Essentially, Ruiz argued that women forged a worker culture in sharing similar experiences in the workplace. These shared experiences (low pay, poor working conditions, etc.) helped establish relationships among women that led to childcare networks, fictive kinship ties, support networks, and labor organizing. The idea of a worker culture is an appealing one because it helps us understand the lives of women beyond the moments of labor organizing. In understanding and articulating a worker culture, we are given the full scope of women’s lives within and without work. In this same way, Mexican-American women developed a “church culture” that helped in forging their own lives within and without the church and Protestant Christianity. See Vicki Ruiz, Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930-1950 (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1987).
- Harry Neufeld, Eight Years Among Latin Americans (Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1947), 39.
- Harry Neufeld, “God Works in Los Ebanos,” Christian Leader, April 1945, 4-5.
- Harry Neufeld, Eight Years, 39.
- Yolanda Villareal, interview, 8 January 2004, Mission, TX.