It Happened To Me: I Had Dinner With A Cult (Uh, I Think)

At 17, I went to a bizarre dinner in rural Mexico with my boyfriend's family and one of their colleagues. It was ... weird. But was it a cult? I might never know.

Dec 29, 2013 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

So, let me preface this: I’m not completely sold on the “cult” title. This is probably because the word “cult” sparks instantaneous imagery of hooded figures in white robes with bleary drug eyes, and of 50-day standoffs in the desert heat. And I couldn’t possibly have attended a potluck with a cult leader and his followers, right? I keep denying it out of residual shock and disbelief, but the older I get, the more convinced I feel.
 
Let me back-track. Imagine a 17-year-old, comically cynical Gabi with frizzy, dyed red hair and a really tragic “thing” for dudes who played Pixies covers on their sick Fenders. Like, come on, Gabs. Have some self-worth! Don’t make out with a closeted Republican just because he can croon some dumb Jeff Buckley song, ya know?
 
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Young me, if I must.

Anyway, one of the nicer boyfriends took me on Spring Break Woohoo to visit his family that had just moved to the mountains of Mexico. His dad had been named CEO of a new company there. It was a breathtaking landscape. It wasn’t Cancun, Cabo, or any of the touristy Mexican hot spots, which made it even more beautiful. It was also extremely rural. Picture rolling hills, waving flags, a few bodegas and low business buildings, and then more landscape; that’s all there was outside our penthouse window.
 
Until we were forced to tag along to dinner with an investor of my BF's dad's new company. He described this investor as “very religious." Aside from that, I knew nothing about the family we would be having dinner with before we wound down their mile-long driveway in the middle of nowhere. The dirt had even changed. There was no longer any grass, just red, red clay.
 
And then there was this sprawling mansion with a huge iron gate.
 
We were greeted by The Investor Dude, which is what I will call him because I have no recollection of his name. The Dude shook hands with all of us in that way religious folk do, with both hands clasping around mine, and all of that blue eye contact. He exchanged a few words with the CEO, they had a few pats on the back, and we headed to the entrance of the house.
 
In the foyer, we were greeted by a couple of pretty ladies. What struck me the most was how they were dressed -- all buxom and teen dreamy in short skirts and tiny peasant shirts that could have been from American Eagle.
 
I’m sure they gave us a tour of the house, but I really don’t recall. I do recall seeing their acreage of plowed fields, and the gathering outside underneath a tarp tent. Something was on the spit, roasting in its original animal shape.
 
Then things started sinking in. There were about 40 people gathered, easily more. They all lived on the grounds. The men were roasting, hauling, pulling, skinning; the women were wiping, coddling, brushing, washing. It was like a line divided this massive backyard into two arenas: where the men worked and where the women worked. The women had babies, kids, and preteens hanging from their bodies, and the men had each other.
 
The only non-busy bodies there were the kids. So of course, that’s who I chose to converse with. In my somewhat hazy memory, they were all blonde, but I think it’s my mind’s way of projecting one little girl I had a meaningful and terrifying interaction with on every child there. 
 
I sat at a picnic bench under the tarp, smelling all the good food and watching teenage girls chat with my boyfriend like teenage girls do. Everyone seemed festive, so I asked some questions.
 
A blonde little girl and her sisters sat down in front of me and thanked me for coming, which was very adult to me. I responded politely and asked about the dynamics of the household. Did they all live there? Were they all related? Who was her mother? Was she there?
 
The girl responded eerily eloquently. They were not all technically related, but they were brothers and sisters before God, her mother was with her fourth baby sister, and yes, she enjoyed living there very much.
 
"What do you do during the days?" She explained that they have prayer in the mornings (she hated waking up before sunrise, but it was for the best), then they have homeschool, then they have service, then they have vocation. Vocation: sewing, cleaning, washing, wringing, brushing, grooming, and what have you. Then more prayer. And they had meals in between that they cooked for the household.
 
I was stunned a little bit. Such a young kid with such a tight schedule? No complaints? It was obviously uncomfortable for me -- a mallrat high-schooler -- to come to terms with.
 
Then a man came over and sat her on his lap. I didn’t ask if he was her father; I will never know. But I continued to talk to her as if he wasn’t there, asking her: “Would you ever want to leave here? Maybe go to college out of state?”
 
The little creature became enraged. In a way I was not expecting from someone so small and sweet.
 
“Why would you ask that? I would never leave my family; we all love it here. People don’t get it. They come over and they don’t get it. I don’t ever want to leave; I don’t know why I would have to leave.”
 
During her miniature tirade, the man stared coolly at me from underneath her. Like he had nothing to worry about.
 
The rest of the night was a barrage of prayers and songs and babies crying. There were a lot of babies. And the little girl I mentioned warmed up to me again somewhat, offering to serve me and my boyfriend’s family second helpings.
 
As we left, my boyfriend whispered that the teen girls in peasant shirts wanted to take him hiking around the property the next day. He said he liked the place. He liked how friendly these people were, how familial, how pure.
 
I said I’d pass. I saw something else. Something you see when you don’t live on the sunny side of a patriarchal power structure.
 
What do you all think? Was this a run-in with a cult? Am I just brainwashed from pop culture cult coverage? Could this have just been a very consensual commune?