Letter to the editor | Shannon L. Archibeque-Engle

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Dear Editor,

Thank you for raising the issue of cultural differences and awareness with your article Understand your Hispanic Workforce published in the January 2011 issue of Dairy Herd Management

I work actively at the intersection of agriculture and higher education.  I am an undergraduate academic advisor and champion the recruitment and retention efforts of Colorado State University’s Department of Animal Sciences, especially at those efforts regarding underrepresented populations.  I am also a Ph. D. candidate in Educational Leadership and my dissertation is focused on the future of educated agriculturalists in the United States.  Specifically my research and writing highlights the role of Latinos in agriculture and their underrepresentation in agricultural higher education. 

Given my career and academic interests, the cover of the January 2011 Dairy Herd Management caught my attention.  I immediately read the cover article yesterday morning when I saw the magazine.  Given that the dairy industry relies on the labor and talent of its Latino workforce and given that www.dairyherd.com features links like Manejo Lechero, I expected a respectful and well reasoned article aimed at promoting cultural understanding on dairies.   Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the tone of the article.  In my opinion, the article was condescending, ethnocentric, and perpetuated stereotypes of Hispanics. 

For example, the title of Capitalists vs. socialists is misleading.  I encourage you to investigate the governments of Latin America.  I believe that you will find governmental variations similar to the variations that you would find in Europe.  If you actually meant that Latin Americans value in-group collectivism rather than rugged individualism, that should have been explained more clearly (Northouse, P. G., 2010).   I find the statement “The reality is, Hispanics are socialistic-everyone is equal and generally satisfied with where we are” to be offensive.  Hispanics do care about their families and communities but that is not the definition of socialistic.  Further, if Hispanics really were satisfied with where they are, than why would they move to find more profitable employment?

I agree with you that dominant American culture is results-driven.  Many studies on cultures and leadership styles agree with you as well (Northouse, 2010).  However, I disagree with you that Hispanics are inefficient.  The popular Mexican dish of menudo illustrates Mexican efficiency (and ingenuity) in terms of food!  The implication that Hispanics are not hard workers (under the heading of Efficiency is a foreign concept) in also offensive.  If Hispanics were not hard workers, then why does the dairy industry rely on them?  Why does most of agriculture rely on them?  Would it not be easier to hire hard working American citizens?

The statement “Be aware that Hispanics come from a culture where corruption and mistrust are commonplace” perpetuates many stereotypes. There are many examples of corruption and mistrust in American society.  However, I would be upset if anyone asserted that Americans come from a culture of corruption and mistrust.  There are a number of ways to suggest that effective management and leadership requires building trust and being honest without making generalized disparaging statements about Hispanic cultures.

The heading that Education isn’t a high priority left me shaking my head.  Lacking opportunity is NOT the same as not prioritizing.  After all, I could name numerous highly educated Latinos in my own family and within the dairy industry.   I urge you to read more about education in Latin American society.  As Stephanie Elizondo Griest writes in Mexican Enough, “Education is so revered in Mexico, ‘Licenciado’ (holder of a bachelor’s degree) becomes part of your identity upon graduation.  People often add the prefix onto business cards, and are addressed as such in formal settings” (2008).  Education is a priority is most Latino societies, there simply is not an opportunity to gain an education. 

You are certainly correct that there is a communication quandary on many dairies. Communication could be improved if more workers spoke English or if more operators and managers spoke Spanish.  Being monolingual is unacceptable for professionals in the majority of the developed world.  Effective communication always requires confirming that the other person understands your message- remember the childhood game ‘telephone’?  Confirmation of your communication intent prevents misunderstandings in any language and is taught in most leadership and business management training.

Finally, I would like to address the statement, “Be aware there are cultural differences between Hispanics from Latin countries”.  Thank you for pointing out that there is not one Hispanic culture.  There are many and not all of them speak Spanish.  However, it is my assumption that the statement should read, “Latin American countries”.  Israel, Italy, Switzerland (Francophone), Spain, Portugal, and France are Latin European countries and I don’t think this article meant to include those cultures (Northouse, 2010).

My assumptions about the article are that it was written in a hurry and that the author is a good person who is not bigoted.  This is a sensitive subject.  As more and more Latinos find positions of influence in business, agriculture, education, politics and all other segments of American society, ethnocentric writing will be challenged more often.  I also assume that education of producers and managers to be more culturally competent would eliminate a significant number of problems.  I would be happy to discuss opportunities for such education if you would like.

I have included a list of references that I believe would be helpful in guiding any future articles on this subject.

Sincerely,

Shannon L. Archibeque-Engle

Undergraduate Advisor, Department of Animal Sciences

Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo. 


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