Last month, I wrote two blogs (“A Rising Generation is Making its Voice Heard” and “Embracing the Concept of Spiritual Co-Existence”) about relationships I’ve formed with individuals of different cultures, ethnicities and religions from my own. It’s amazing what we can discover about one another when we’re willing to become vulnerable and open to exchanging new ideas about what it means to be human. These conversations have helped me reflect on my own personal history and my family’s roots in Seminole, Texas.
The petroleum industry, farming and great schools are what I think of from my hometown. Seminole is a community located in the Texas Panhandle near the university town of Lubbock where my husband Larry and I attended Texas Tech University. It’s a close-knit community with a history I have learned a great deal about.
Recently, I received a call recently from a woman, Tina Siemens, who lives in Seminole. She explained that the Boerne Public Library where I live had received a special donation to their library. Boerne’s library had received a Rare 1614 Low German Bible. Tina and her colleague Rosalyn, who is an expert in the Low German Language, joined her as they read, commented and carefully touched the pages with white gloved hands.
Seeing such rich history reminded me of the diverse group of people I grew up with in Seminole. I co-existed with people from a multitude of cultural backgrounds. Some were Hispanic children whose parents worked on my grandparents’ farm when I was a young child. And after I left for college in the 1970s, it was these German Mennonite families who began moving to Seminole and a neighboring community.
One of the reasons Mennonites picked the Panhandle of Texas was to farm. They believed that if they owned the land, they could cross the border and live in Texas as legal immigrants. Unfortunately, owning land did not translate into being a citizen. As many as forty-three Mennonite families were required to leave Texas.
But the people of Texas rallied on behalf of the Mennonites. In 1980, members of the Texas congress passed a bill to legalize their immigration status. By the early 1990s, the Mennonites numbered more than 3,000 people in Seminole.
Most of them have made a living by farming or working as unskilled labors. The Mennonites have kept Seminole thriving by opening stores, restaurants and agricultural businesses. Tina’s family is one of the Mennonite families who settled in Seminole. Their perseverance and hard work over the years came to define her life.
The history of these German Mennonite families also connects to my personal family history as well. My mother and stepfather, Leon, were close to several Mennonite people in our community. Their friend Abe was one of them, a remarkable tradesman who built their house. Another is a local baker we affectionately call Grandma – she even made my mother’s 90th birthday cake.
My mother’s book, As I Recall, refers to some of her family’s German ancestry. I am confident that is why my mother chose German as her foreign language of choice to study in college. She moved our family to Alpine, Texas for the summer to continue her education. Although she struggled with her German assignments, she hired an elderly German widow to tutor her and my baby sister and I often accompanied her. After mother’s lessons, her German friend shared stories about living in Texas. My favorite was about the first time a Spanish-speaking group knocked on their door.
Mother asked the old lady what the group wanted.
“We thought they wanted directions,” she replied, “We tried to tell them which road to take but we spoke German and they spoke Spanish. When they left, they said, ‘muchas gracias.’”
“What did you think that meant?” Mother asked.
The elderly lady grinned and responded, “We thought they said, ‘Go eat grass.’”
The story reveals the fascinating mixture of cultures in West Texas. In a largely English-speaking region, here were two groups of people speaking German and Spanish together in this small town.
West Texas, like most places in America, is a melting pot richly seasoned with the diversity of ethnic heritages. Each group brings its own tremendous stories about what it means to be an American. God brings us together in the most amazing ways. We are so fortunate to connect with our similarities rather than focus on our differences and regardless of the language we speak, the color of our skin or where we come from, our communities are defined by acceptance and tolerance for all kinds of people.
© Tyra Manning 2019