WERE IT PRETTIER, you might call the town of Filadélfia mirage-like. To arrive here, you’ll drive six hours from Asunción, landlocked Paraguay’s sweaty capital, through the vast flatness of the Gran Chaco, a region stretching from northern Argentina across half of Paraguay and into Bolivia and Brazil. Every gust of wind here lifts a sheet of dust from the parched April ground. Flat-bottomed clouds slide by as over a sheet of glass. The sky’s not a dome, it’s a lid.
Filadélfia first appears as a blemish on the horizon where the dusty-brown earth and dusty-green forest merge with dusty-blue sky. Closer, the blemish becomes a monument, built in 2005 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the town’s founding. Five tapered concrete pikes stand in a circle holding a metal ring around a central cross that bows slightly forward. The cross looks—appropriately in the withering heat—like it’s wilting.
The concrete figures represent the five main ethnic groups that constitute Filadélfia’s population—the Enhlet, Guarayo and Nivaclé indigenous groups, the Latino Paraguayans and Brazilians, and the blond, blue-eyed German-speaking Mennonites. There are no markers to indicate which of the graduated pikes stands for which community, it is nevertheless clear that Filadélfia, a town of red brick, right angles and Teutonic determination, is Mennonite territory.