Spotlight: Farmers who employ Mexican workers “immerse” themselves in their country and culture

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LatinaLista — While Latina Lista has reported on those farmers and vineyard owners who are guilty of not ensuring the well-being of their workers, there are some farmers who go beyond the obligations of a good employer. These farmers not only care about keeping their Mexican workers safe but want to understand where they come from and why they make the dangerous trips to work on their farms in the first place.
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Puentes/Bridges participant visits with one worker’s family in rural Mexico.
(Source: Puentes/Bridges)

As a result, these farmers immerse themselves in the culture of Mexico courtesy of a special 10-day cultural immersion trip just for farmers into rural Mexico. Called Puentes/Bridges, the program enables U.S. farmers travel to Mexico in late November.
Puentes/Bridges was the brainchild of Wisconsin high school Spanish teacher Shaun Duvall. Started in the late 1990s when Mexican workers started to arrive in large numbers to work the local dairy farms, Duvall was being called by local farmers to interpret between their new employees and themselves.
But it wasn’t long before Duvall realized that translating alone wasn’t going to bridge the cultural gap. So with the cooperation of a few local dairy farmers, Duvall organized the first trip into Mexico in 2001.

The trip includes visits to a variety of farms, as well as to historical and archeological sites. Lectures and tours are conducted by experts in Mexican culture, history, and immigration issues. Participants then have a three-day stay with a Mexican host family while attending intensive Spanish language classes during the day. Lastly, the group visits the families of the employees of one or more trip participants.

What has made the yearly project remarkable is the fact that the farmers on the trip actually get to visit the families of some of their workers. Testimonies attest that such interaction has gone a long way in fostering unique relationships between these Midwest farmers and their workers.
Duvall now operates Puentes/Bridges full-time and conducts fundraisers to help with funding for the trips which costs about $2,000 per person depending on air fares.
Since its been in operation, the program has received high marks and positive feedback. As one participant shared:

“I think the most meaningful part of the trip was the opportunity to see with our own eyes where our employees come from, and how hard they must work to overcome the transition to our culture. Most importantly, we have better employees because they see that we have made an investment in learning about their culture and their country. This seems to make them try even harder.”
– Deb Reinhart, Puentes/Bridges trip participant