Glimpses of their lives
When Dennis and I taught school in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in the early 1980s, we were quite surprised to see Mennonites there. However, we soon became accustomed to seeing them around town in their horse-drawn farm wagons.
The Mennonite ladies always wore long sleeved dresses, and I always thought that they must be sweltering in the heat. I certainly was, and I didn't have long sleeves. They did make a few concessions to the tropical climate -- they wore broad-brimmed hats rather than bonnets and they didn't bother with black stockings.
Our main contact with the Mennonites was at the markets where we bought their cheese -- queso menonito. It was a white cheese that was a bit watery, salty, and squeaky. Our Wisconsin friend, Dan Sands, said it reminded him of "new cheese." It didn't melt well, but we used it in grilled cheese sandwiches anyway.
I didn't know anything about the history of the Bolivian Mennonites then, but I've learned from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) that the first colony around Santa Cruz was established in the late 1950s, and other colonies were established in the Santa Cruz area during the 1960s.
I taught a little Mennonite boy from Kansas in my 6th grade class at the Santa Cruz Cooperative School. His family was in Bolivia as workers from the Mennonite Central Committee, the outreach of the North American Mennonites. His father's job was to teach improved farming methods to the Bolivian Mennonite men, and his mother's job was to teach the women various skills for the home.
Recently, I've read several articles about the Bolivian Mennonites and the land reforms in Bolivia. They're worried about losing their farms. They have cleared and created a lot of farmland, and while they hold title to some of it, they don't have papers for all of it. (This is not surprising in Bolivia.) My sympathies lie with them. They've worked hard for what they have.
Slide show about the Bolivian Mennonites (New York Times)
Jordi Busque's photo essays about the Bolivian Mennonites (scroll down)