Excommunication Sequence

Poems by Abigail Carl-Klassen

After Excommunication I: Manitoba Colony, Chihuahua,1950s-80s


My grandparents had a print shop here, where there were many books from the community. They had hymnbooks, all the school material, everything. My father, from childhood he wanted very much to go to school. He very quickly learned to read and write. He was a very restless boy, he wanted to know more. They had the print shop and many books, and there he had access to many books. He learned a lot by himself, and he did a lot of translations for auctions and things like that. He also knew Spanish well, and apart from German, a bit of English from reading. He always wanted to study for a degree or something like that. He was a person who really enjoyed school, and he found out about the school that that had been started in Cuauhtémoc by the Russian Mennonites that were there. I don’t know if you know that story? He was very interested, and he wanted his children to be in a different school. For that reason, they changed, they went to a different church. It cost them a lot in the family, especially in my mother’s family. It cost them. Because they excommunicated my father, they had to sell everything, the press and the bookstore. No one came to shop anymore because they were excommunicated. He wanted us to study. My father was also in a group that pushed education very much. He wanted the school to be registered, so that many more Mennonite kids could study. He worked a lot in that group in the school. When my husband and I started to date, or rather, when he realized we were dating, my father was very afraid because the doors to better education were barely opening, and he wanted more people to study. If we would marry like that, a Mennonite and a Mexican, there would be a lot of rejection on the part of the traditional Mennonites, right? So that if this were to happen people who thought like that would be able to see that, yes, this is happening. So, for that reason, for my father it was difficult to accept our relationship. All of this was very difficult, not because of the person, or because he was from another culture. No. It was because he felt that it would very much slow down the education that he had been fighting for.


After Excommunication II: Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua, 1960s and 70s

It was terrible that the Mennonite church had rejected us. With the Mennonites you were from the “Mexas” and with “The Mexas” we were “The Menones.” So you don’t belong to anyone, right? You are alone, right? For the women, it was much easier than for my male siblings. They also felt the Mennonites’ rejection, it was very hard. It was very difficult because physically we looked like them, right? It was difficult sometimes for my older brothers because it came to blows. They were attacked when they were walking to school. They weren’t just verbal attacks, they were strong attacks and still to this day my brothers have that feeling of “No de aquí, ni de allá,” “Neither from here, nor from there.” Right? The attacks they suffered from the Mexicans were really, really ugly. At school I always felt bad because they said that the Mennonites had stolen the land from the Mexicans. They would point at me like this, “You stole the land!” In classes in middle school and elementary school that’s how one would be addressed. When you are a girl you don’t see it like you would now. Now I say, “How is it possible that a teacher, an adult person, would do this?” Right? So, that more or less was the way it felt, the relationship then between Mexicans and Mennonites.


After Excommunication III: Swift Colony, Chihuahua, 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s


My sister, she married a preacher’s son, so when my parents left, she wasn’t able to speak to us anymore. It was really hard for my parents not to be able to communicate with their daughter. We couldn’t talk to her at all. So that was like a couple of years. We still went to visit her, but everybody was, like, pushing us back. We went there just because my dad was like, “I’m not going to not see my daughter, we’re just going.” And then we went. When my parents left the traditional church, my grandparents on my mom’s side, they did not talk to them at all. They were not invited to family gatherings, nothing. And on my dad’s side, it was a little bit more like, since my grandpa was a total rebel, he always wanted to do things differently. He’s like, “Oh, good for you.” He’s just praising it, my parents. But on my mom’s side, she didn’t talk to her parents for years. But yeah, it changed with time, I think, people have become more accepting around here, when somebody else is a little different, or if they have a different way of thinking. 


After Excommunication IV: Swift Colony, Chihuahua, 2018

Rebel, exile, or bridge builder? All of them. And intensely. For periods of time. Probably a decade of “Rebel” and a decade of “Exile” and now a few years, not a decade, but a few years of “Bridge Building.” Art was not the reason I was a rebel. Art was not the reason I was an exile, but art was the reason I was able to deal with it all and have a way to still communicate, in a way, to the people who see me as the rebel and say, “You’re excommunicated for this and for that.” It helps me heal a lot of the other experiences that I’ve had. Excommunication was a very, very hard stage. Not for being an artist, but just for being a woman who asks, “Why?” It’s amazing because I didn’t have any expectations of being a bridge builder. I just wanted to make my art, but it’s happened on its own and it’s been because of the art.  


I’ll Be Staying: Swift Colony, Chihuahua, 2018

Community is in my blood, and I do like it here, as much as I can criticize it sometimes. I see many things that are wrong here, but there’s also many things right. And so I’ll definitely be staying, and trying to change what needs to change. So that part is probably a rebel. I don’t always follow the mold. I don’t always follow the rules.


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.