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Bridging the Employer/Hispanic Labor Gap with a Trip to Mexico

Jan 28, 2011

With its mission to promote cultural understanding, the Puentes/Bridges program brings dairy producers to Mexico to learn more about their employees’ language, culture and family.

Duvall, Shaun pro photo 1 11   CopyBy Shaun Duvall, Puentes/Bridges
I am not from a dairy farm. My only encounter with agriculture came as a child, going to my uncles’ ranch in South Dakota. But I have a deep love for rural life, and live in a town of 700 souls. Spanish is not my native tongue. But I have been teaching it in various ways for almost 30 years.
These two elements of my life merged in 2001, when the Puentes/Bridges program was created. I got to where I needed to be and found my passion.  I wanted to help our local dairy producers create better understanding and relationships with their newly arrived Latino (mostly Mexican) employees.
Puentes/Bridges’ mission is to promote cultural understanding. We have been doing this through cultural immersion trips to Mexico for more than 150 people. There are few things in life more satisfying than helping people, who share little in terms of culture and geography, learn that they share so much humanity. 
Puentes trips are primarily, though not exclusively, for dairy producers who want to know their employees’ language, culture, and most importantly, family. We take the producers to the homes of the employees’ parents, wives, or children for a meeting, and usually a meal. The itinerary is flexible. We typically take 10 days, five in a rural community, and include intensive Spanish classes and a homestay, cultural excursions and discussions about current events. The cost is kept as low as possible. The “a-ha” moment, though, is the visits to the families.
Each time we visit, something very special happens. A bond is created between the producer and employee family. For the employees and their families, the fact that the producer would care enough to travel all the way to rural Mexico to visit them is huge. For the producer, to understand, see and share a moment of their lives creates a more meaningful relationship with employees.  
Duvall   Dec2005Veracruz 012   Copy
Duvall (center) and Wisconsin's Eileen Trim (left) meet with Trim's former dairy employee in Veracruz, Mexico in 2005. (Photo: Shaun Duvall)
So, how does participating in the Puentes/Bridges program get you where you need to be? We see results not only in having better employee relations, but also in milk quality, and lower costs due to reduced employee turnover.
There’s no better way to explain than to use the words of dairy producer participants:
  • “After I experienced the Puentes idea, I realized the regular labor management tools were wrong. I let my employees pick who works with them. I use compassion and understanding as tools for motivation. I recognize their actions sometimes are different than ours and react in a way that still gets the right things done. I trust their abilities to learn new jobs and avoid stereotypes. I feel good in a multicultural setting.”
  • “. . . Farming is different than working in a factory. As an employer, I now understand the sacrifices they make to come here and work for me. When I can show that I care about my employees and their lives here and at home, they are more at ease, and it shows. They put pride in their work and work to the best of their ability and it shows everyday on my farm. From the center of my heart, I wish more owner/managers would go on a Puentes/Bridges trip. Life changing!!”
Puentes/Bridges is a nonprofit organization that, under Shaun Duvall’s direction, promotes cultural understanding, particularly in the dairy industry. Duvall also operates SJD Language & Culture Services, LLC, a translation and interpretation business. For more information, contact Shaun Duvall at or (608) 685-4705.
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