Puentes/Bridges, Inc. is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit that has helped farming communities in west central Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota bridge the cultural and language gaps between Mexican workers, the farmers with whom they work, and the communities in which they live.
In 1999, Carl Duley, Buffalo county’s UW-Extension agricultural agent approached Shaun Duvall, the local high school Spanish teacher, about the need to bridge the communication gap between local farmers and their Mexican employees. She began teaching Spanish and interpreting for local farmers and quickly learned that interpreting alone wasn’t enough. So, in 2001, she went to Mexico with 15 farmers for two weeks. During this trip, they immersed themselves in Spanish language classes, cultural immersion experiences, and visited with employees’ families. John Rosenow, one of the farmers on the trip, said it was life-changing for him and upon returning home, he wanted to do whatever he could to make it happen again. He and Shaun put their heads together and in 2003, they officially incorporated Puentes as a non-profit.
Over the last 15 years, the trips have evolved into a full-on immersion experience with visits to employees’ homes that includes sharing of meals and conversation that has helped all those involved learn how much humanity they share despite the geographical and cultural differences between them. The highlight of the trips for many has been visits with the families of employees of dairies in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Well over 150 farmers, educators, and people from all walks of life in the U.S. have taken trips to Mexico to see and understand the culture and specifically, the lives of those who have made the hard decision to leave their families and come to the US to work. Participants have developed a greater understanding of the culture the employees come from and farmers have seen their employees beam and work towards their highest potential as a result of taking a personal interest in them.