I remember from very young age that the dietsche Mennonite people in Mexico would say that going to Canada was a sin. Not so much Canada itself but what it did to the families that went. People would bring back sinful things such as fancy watches, cameras, and colorful socks we had never seen before. I remember the preachers talking about that at church, and how disappointed they were that parents let their children change so much while they were working in Canada.
There were about ten families from my colony that would go to Canada and work in the fields from Easter to the end October. They would work in tobacco fields and pick cucumbers to make extra money so that they could build a bigger house, a new barn, and feed for their cattle when they returned to Mexico.
Some of the families would stay and work in Canada for a couple of years before returning back to Mexico. When they returned they bragged about how nice it was that, in Canada, if you couldn’t work during the winter months because you didn’t speak English, you could just go to Wilhelm Fehr’s house and pick up money to live off of.
I often thought how nice it would be to come to Canada and meet the Fehrs. It was a big secret and not too many people knew about them. We had no idea if this was actually true or if the kids were just telling stories, but we sure thought it was interesting.
Every year more people decided to go to Canada and work because it was too hard to maintain their dairy farms in Mexico. Even if they had land to grow crops, if it didn’t rain they lost everything that they had invested. And it was nearly impossible to make a living doing anything else since most other jobs were considered a sinful. The Mennonites would get excommunicated if they went and worked among the native Mexicans.
When families came back to Mexico from Canada they were expected to sell their vehicles right away or park them and go back to using only the horse and buggy for transportation. Some families did that but others just stopped going to their Mennonite church and continue to drive their motorized vehicles until they went back to Canada for the summer.
When I came to Canada I learned that when people talked about Wilhelm Fehr they meant Welfare, but I was lucky and didn’t need to visit the Fehrs because I got a job right away, even though I didn’t speak any English. I got hired at a factory because I knew how to sew. About half the workers and most of the supervisors there were Low German-speaking Mennonites. Some of them had lived in Canada long enough to learn English.
I knew that in order to work in Canada I had to have an oabeits koat, (a worker’s card). I applied for one right after I arrived in Canada and luckily got it before I started working.
In order for me to cash my pay cheques, I needed to open a bank account and I was determined to do this on my own. I took my pay cheque and went to a bank. I walked up to the teller and said, “Hi. I, Anna, cash cheque.”
The bank teller began smiling and struggled to keep from bursting out laughing. She asked, “Do you have your SIN number?”
“A SIN number?” I asked. I was so confused and thought, “This is why it is such a SIN to be in Canada. You actually need a card to SIN here! And I have to have one to open a bank account? I guess I don’t have a choice about this.”
A few of the other bank tellers caught on and decided to have a little fun. They asked me where I was from. I told them. They laughed and said, “So, you work at the factory down the road but you don’t have a SIN card? You shouldn’t be allowed to work in Canada if you don’t have a SIN card. It won’t be long before you get sent back to Mexico.”
On my way back to the factory I thought “I really need to get a SIN card because I don’t want to go back to Mexico.”
Back at the factory, I asked one Low German ladies if she had a SIN card and she said, “Yes, everyone has to have one to work in Canada. Has du nich ena oabeits koat? (Don’t you have a workers card?)” She asked.
“Yes, I have a oabeits koat but not a SIN card and I really need one because I can’t open a bank account without a SIN card.”
She started laughing and said, “Oba Anna, the oabeits koat is called a Social Insurance Number and here they call it a SIN card, the first letter of each word.”
I felt like such an idiot. I think I even had an out of body experience that night. I fell half asleep and dreamt that the man from the bank that joined the teller in making fun of me, held me down on my bed and whispered into my ear, “Anna, you are such a sinner… sinner… sinner… over and over and I couldn’t move. It was like I was asleep and I told myself to wake up but I wasn’t asleep and I couldn’t wake up. It was terrible.
The next day I went to a different bank with my “SIN” card and the man that helped me was very nice to me. He even complimented me on my accent. I know he was just being nice to get through the process because my English was terrible, but it was sinfully easy to open a bank account.
I realized that all those families that were always going back and forth to Canada from Mexico had had SIN cards all along and just never told me about it. I thought that they must obviously have been more concerned about Wilhelm Fehr than their SIN cards. Click here to continue reading my story.