I was raised in the rural, workingclass community of Seminole, Texas. Austere and deeply conservative, yet vulnerable to the boom and bust cycles of the oil field and cash crop agriculture, Seminole negotiates the tenuous space between permanence and transience, tradition and change. A multi-cultural community, where English, Spanish and Low German can be heard in the streets and stores, Seminole is home to a large Mexican-American community and a sizeable Low-German speaking Old Colony Mennonite community who immigrated to the area from northern Mexico beginning in 1977. As a girl attending a strict Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, I befriended Mennonites, many of whom had left or were in the process of leaving the Old Colony, who shared many of the same prohibitions and values. They revealed childhood memories and coming of age stories from the years they spent living in separatist Old Colony communities in Mexico. I grew up on tales of rebellion, addiction, hardship, and exile, as well as stories of family, friendship, and self-realization that were full of joy and laughter and sparked my documentary impulse. When I left Seminole after receiving a scholarship from the University of Texas at El Paso, I began to wrestle with the mores of my community, particularly concerning racism and the treatment of women. This questioning and desire to create change led to my involvement with social justice, arts, and community development organizations in the borderland, and I learned how to document these experiences from the artists and activists around me.

My formative years in rural west Texas and on the U.S.-Mexico border have shaped my identity as a poet, writer and educator. Propelled by my desire to engage in radical listening and storytelling with communities that have been traditionally marginalized, I have done docupoetic work and narrative collection with Old Colony Mennonite communities in Mexico and Texas, migrant workers, homeless communities, social workers, immigrants in the El Paso/Juárez region, as well as with migrants and asylum seekers in Central America and Mexico. My chapbook, Shelter Management, is a collection of poetry based on people I met while working in public education and the non-profit sector in El Paso, Texas, and focuses on the narratives of people experiencing homelessness, or at risk of experiencing homelessness, on the U.S.-Mexico border.

My most recent project, Darp Stories, completed with my husband Jonathan Klassen, is a collection of 30 oral history interviews, half in English, half in Spanish, with photographs by Marcella Enns, Veronica Enns, and Raúl “Kigra” Ramírez, available to the public on YouTube. They were collected in northern Mexico in the spring of 2018 as part of the “Rebels, Exiles and Bridge Builders: Cross-cultural Encounters in the Campos Menonitas of Chihuahua” Oral History Project, which is housed in the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The project grew out of a desire to provide a platform for people to tell and listen to the kinds of stories I heard growing up in Seminole, and to include Mestizo and Indigenous perspectives, which are often missing from discussions about Mennonite settlement in Mexico.

The First Apostolic Church of Tall Boys Inc.: Sunset Heights Park, 10:30 pm

Soap box lover. Street preacher. Who ate the Baby Jesus? My man
the homeless man. With the Sponge Bob backpack. Burden is

light. Light gonna let it shine. Follow behind. If you want
to see. Victory is mine. Twisted hands stretching toward

the sky. Soon and very soon. We are goin’ to see
the king. Sister Strange say, bright blue ghetto grandma

sing your song. A’ight. Simple man. Rasta man. I see
that hand! Can I get a witness? What, what? Do you

love? Oh you know. Lemme hear you say it. Stampin’ stilettos
on hard wood floors. Swayin’ can you hear me sayin’ Amen.

Loss Prevention

I was knee deep and some fool starts knocking on the dumpster. Motherfucker jumps in. Hauls my ass down to Loss Prevention. Body slams me into a chair and tells me I’m banned from Safeway. Everywhere. For a year. Step foot in a parking lot and they’ll throw my ass in jail. I said. Really? You got facial recognition cameras? You gonna scan my retinas? You gonna lift prints off my fingers? This is fucking Denver. You’re telling me if I go to a Safeway in Cali they’ll arrest me? He gets all up in my face, grabs my shirt and starts yelling. Get smart with me and I can be a real asshole. I start laughing. What are you talking about, man? You are an asshole. Your job is to be an asshole. You’re a motherfucking loser. Doing all this to stop some kid from eating a loaf of bread out of a dumpster.

Mandated Reporter

I got drunk for the first time as a social
worker the night I got a text from a girl

in our afterschool program at midnight
asking, Can u talk now plz? By the time

I picked up, she was already whispering,
It’s my fault, Miss. I was playing

on the Internet. I told him
I was older. I wasn’t

being a good girl. Don’t tell
my priest. I don’t want him to know

I didn’t save myself. I didn’t
lie, Miss. I told him I wanted to

but after we got to his barracks I changed
my mind. I told him I wanted to

go home. He said goddammit
I already brought you here. He picked me

up at the high school. Nobody knows
not even my parents ‘cause they work

so late. It’s my fault. He got so mad
‘cause the blood went all over his

mattress. How I am supposed to clean this
before inspection ? You fucking tell

me. He grabbed my hair and screamed, Stop
crying. Don’t blame this on me. You can’t

tell, Miss. I can’t tell. Can you
meet me somewhere? Yes, I breathed, but don’t

take a shower because you might need to
go to the hospital. Bring everything

you wore. Everything. I hate asking but do
you still have your panties? No Miss,

please don’t make me. I’m not hurt
that bad. I can’t go there

they’ll call the police. I can’t talk
to them. We’re not legal here.

Darp Stories

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVBtveM51MxMYGIP5taMJ4Da38jUJROrh (English and Spanish Trailers)

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVBtveM51MxOaZAL5hJpMetxKLAR_9nEm (Amelia and Carolina Pacheco Loewen-English)

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVBtveM51MxOpQBK3Z4t2Y0Uw0PbneE0A (Diana Sandoval-Spanish with English subtitles)

About the Author

Abigail Carl-Klassen

Abigail Carl-Klassen is a writer, researcher, poet, educator, translator, and activist living in El Paso, Texas. She grew up in the oil fields of the Permian Basin alongside Old Colony Mennonite immigrants from Mexico and has worked in education, language services, community development, social science research, and agriculture in a a variety of contexts across the USA and Latin America. She earned an MFA in Bilingual Creative Writing at the University of Texas El Paso, and her work has been published widely in English and Spanish, appearing in ZYZZYVA, Catapult, Cimarron Review, Rhubarb, Guernica, Aster(ix) Huizache, and others. She has published two poetry chapbooks, Ain't Country Like You (Digging Press) and Shelter Management (dancing girl press) and her full-length poetry collection, Village Mechanics, is forthcoming from FlowerSong Press in 2023. Recordings of her oral history project, “Rebels, Exiles, and Bridge Builders: Cross-Cultural Encounters in the Campos Menonitas of Chihuahua” can be found on the Darp Stories YouTube channel.