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

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

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  • Frank
    August 20, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    This is all well and good just as long as these farmers are hirng legal Mexican workers and not circumventing our laws for greed.

  • laura
    August 20, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful story, Marisa. I am sure the farmers who made the trip had a wonderful experience they will never forget. We human beings are capable of understanding each other across many differences – if we want to.
    A friend of mine just came back to the States from Puerto Rico and was looking for work. He found a (great) job very quickly and said how he encountered only professionalism, no racism, in his interviews. This, and the Midwestern farmers who travel to meet their workers’ families, is how the United States can be.

  • Frank
    August 21, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Well that isn’t realistic. My wife if from Polish ancestry and there is a high concentration of them in the Detroit area. Should her employer go to Detroit or to Poland to learn about her relatives and their culture?

  • Dave
    August 22, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Good story…nice to hear even a bit of positive news on that front.
    laura: “This… is how the United States can be.” Right on!
    Frank: Truly a good point..obviously everyone can’t make a trip for many reasons. But the effort to understand others around you is admirable however undertaken.

  • Gabriela
    August 23, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Frank…you have such good heart!

  • challis
    August 25, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Frank, I understand that your negativinty may come from a point of frustration, but it still makes you sound a little bit awful.
    Yes, MANY workers do come to work legally here in the US, many temporary agricultural workers have been coming in for years on this type of visa.
    Unfourtunately, the American government is making it quite difficult for these workers to come in now.
    It seems like a shame that these workers who have been coming for years legally are being targeted in the ‘tightening’ of the immigration laws–seems like the focus isn’t quite where it should be.

  • Frank
    August 25, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    challis, then take it up with our government. Law abiding Americans should not be demonized for their views and expectations of enforcement on illegal immigration.

  • Evelyn Chavez
    August 26, 2008 at 2:32 am

    Racists should not be demonizing immigrants and then using the law as a smoke screen to hide the truth of their hate agenda.

  • Evelyn Chavez
    August 26, 2008 at 4:46 am

    then take it up with our government. Law abiding Americans should not be demonized for their views and expectations of enforcement on illegal immigration
    That is exactly what we are doing.
    By exposing all the lies used to demonize immigrants the American people have been willing to embrace two presidential candidates who favor CIR.
    (Edited by Latina Lista moderator)

  • challis
    August 26, 2008 at 9:39 am

    see, that’s part of the problem.
    here we are(in this story and the following comments) talking about legal immigrants, and you keep hashing up illegal immigration.
    We ARE talking about LEGAL temporary farm workers here. so your ‘concern’ seems misplaced, or even that you are spouting off at the mouth every chance you get about ‘those damn illegals’ when it isn’t even the focus of what we are discussing.
    (the ” is not intended to mean that I took that phrase from anyone specifically.)

  • Frank
    August 26, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Talk to some racists about it then!!!!! The majority of American’s negative views on illegal immigration isn’t based on racism but the rule of law.

  • Frank
    August 26, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    challis, I guess I misread your post then. And no, I do not say those “damn illegals” every chance I get.
    It is my understanding from a member in here who posts under “liquidmicro” that there are many unused visas for this type of work. The farmers find it easier and cheaper to hire illegal workers instead of using those visas and hiring legal foreign workers.

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