Deadly violence. Repressive governments. Persecuted minority groups. Immigrants in the U.S. and Canada preserving a mother tongue. Plucky, hard-nosed builders of a new life.
The chronicles of lionized North American Mennonite ancestors have several common denominators, no matter the century. But they are not limited to historic refugee escapes from Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands or Russia.
They are not limited to Guatemala, Chile, Mexico or El Salvador.
And they are not limited to South Korea, Myanmar, Indonesia or Vietnam.
Too often, comfortable white Mennonites more than a century removed from forebears’ immigration hardships remain fixated on a tradition of victimhood, blind to the fresh traumas impacting their brothers and sisters in Christ. Sadly, ancestors of the Indigenous people who lived first in North America continue bearing wounds that are both the newest and oldest.
Increasing discrimination and hate crimes targeting Asian American and Pacific Islander people should be cause for concern and solidarity. Even more so for any Mennonite who looks back with pride on discrimination they or their ancestors endured for saying no to war or for dressing differently.
We have much in common, to a degree. However, even though descendants of European Mennonites often claim the banner of persecution, it is unlikely they have experienced the level of hate and discrimination being levied against AAPI people. It is not the time to extend a hand saying, “I know how you feel.” It’s time to offer solidarity against hate and to learn from AAPI people who today are more experienced with Mennonite history’s defining struggles than the rest of us.
Solidarity work is not easy. There are layers of pain to work through. Vocabulary that must be learned.
Many Asian cultures value quiet collectivism, in contrast to North America’s relatively brash individualism. This meshes well with the Anabaptist priority of peaceable fellowship. It has not been clear in the past, so let now be the time our AAPI brothers and sisters know they too are equal members of our body.