Utah Symphony
Ma Joad: Deanne Meek in Minnesota Opera - The Grapes of Wrath Composer: Ricky Ian Gordon Conductor: Grant Gershon Lyrics/Libretto: Mchael Korie Director: Eric Simonson

We don't talk a lot about "matriarchs" in the United States. But in Mexico, the matriarchs hold society together.

Just as Ma Joad sits at the center of John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath" and gives the book its soul, the mothers and grandmothers of Mexico keep the national heart there pumping.

Use the word "mother" in a derogatory way in Mexico and you better be ready to fight.

The Virgin Mary is revered like no other saint.

And one's own mother is revered just as much as the Virgin Mary.

Mexico, at heart, is matriarchal.

And some of the most fascinating matriarchs are the Mormon matriarchs.

I met several last week at the groundbreaking for the new Tijuana Mexico Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were easy to spot. They sat or stood in the scorching sun fanning themselves with those lacey fold-out fans. They wore stylish dresses, broad-brimmed hats and some even held umbrellas to ward away the rays.

They carried themselves with self-respect and when they spoke they spoke carefully and clearly.

They offered wonderful conversation to anyone who was wise enough to listen.

I spent some time listening.

One aging widow told me of her travails trying to attend a temple. Now, she said, her fears had fled. Tijuana had its own temple. And she could visit it anytime she wished.

She spoke of the many temples she'd visited with loving awe — the beauty of the Oaxaca Mexico Temple, the friendliness of the workers in Hermosillo. I could have listened to her all day.

Just as I could have listened for hours to Dominga G. Sifuentes. Sister Sifuentes was baptized into the LDS Church in 1964.

"We only had 30 active members in Tijuana then," she said. And she recounted how much she loved to visit each new chapel the LDS Church would build in Tijuana over the years. Each one spoke to her of commitment, love and community.

Now she would have a new temple to visit.

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Sister Sifuentes reminded me of another matriarch — Altimira Osuna. Sister Osuna attends the Sycamore Branch in Box Elder County. Many members of Sister Osuna's family live in Tijuana. And every time she visits her family in Tijuana, one of them decides to join the LDS Church.

If every member were a missionary like Sister Osuna, the world would be baptized.

As I left the groundbreaking, I thought of that old Spanish proverb: "An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy."

I knew in my heart it was true — true not only in Mexico, but pretty much everywhere else.

EMAIL: jerjohn@desnews.com