Letter to the editor | Carlos Risco

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Dear Editor,

I want to thank you and Dairy Herd Management for the wonderful work that you do in helping our dairy producers manage their complex production systems. Dr. Tom Furhmann is indeed a valued and well respected colleague with vast experience in large dairy herd management and a person that I have a lot of respect for.  I know that the article or Tom's input was not meant to be offensive. However, the article can be interpreted as such, particularly those of Latino origin or social scientist that work in the area of cultural diversity which is a very complex topic.

The statements presented in the article are lacking in scientific support/validity and express the opinion of two individuals who may not be well versed in the complexity of ethnic identity.  That is, we can be criticized by those that work in this area for providing guidance in an area that is out of our expertise no matter how many years of experience we may have. To begin with, in many dairy related articles the term Hispanic is commonly used which is not considered correct by social scientist whose work is in the area of enculturation of ethnic groups into the American society.  According to Carranza (Carranza, S. Address. Hispanics in the United States, Green Bay, Oct. 26, 2000; Garcia-Preto, N. Latino Families: An Overview. In M. McGoldrick, J. Giordano and N. Garcia-Preto (eds.) Ethnicity and Family Therapy. Guilford Press: NY. 2005), Latino defines Americans of Latin American descent and describes Americans with a common bond to Latin America. This term is considered by some to be more correct, when compared to Hispanic or Mexican, because it recognizes an ancestry to the indigenous peoples of this continent. On many dairy farms in the US this is indeed the case as Spanish speaking workers are truly diverse because they originate from countries such as; El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. These authors comment that when training culturally diverse workers on dairy farms it is important to realize that they originate from different countries. Albeit, they speak Spanish yet have different cultural backgrounds that makes them unique. As such, one should not generalize as all having the same socio-political beliefs. I may have misunderstood your article but the premise that I got is that all Hispanic employees are alike.

Specific comments to statements made in your Dairy Herd Management (DHM).

DHM: Understand that Hispanics, generally speaking, come from countries that tend to be more socialistic than the U.S.

CAR: As far as I know all of the countries where our dairy employees come from businesses are privately owned and there is very little or no public or cooperative management by the government. The exception being Oil in Mexico.   Therefore, our Latino employees from an early understand that in any business transaction it is the owner who manages it takes the greatest risk and understandably will benefit the most if successful.

DHM: Meanwhile, Americans are capitalists; we’re competitive, always measuring, improving, growing our business, and are concerned about profits. We even socialize over competitive events, such as football games. “What I see in Mexico is completely different,” says Fuhrmann. “It’s not about results; rather there is greater importance on the concept that everyone is equal.”A common mistake is dairy owners assume the Hispanics they hire think in the same capitalistic, results-orientated manner that they do. The reality is, Hispanics are socialistic — everyone is equal and generally satisfied with where we are, notes Gumaro Gonzalez, training technician with DairyWorks, who immigrated to the United States when he was 13 years old.

CAR: I believe that the difference here is that these individuals because of their financial and social status do not have an opportunity to become self employed or engaged in businesses driven by the capitalist concept. Go to Miami and you will clearly see that emigrants from our Spanish speaking countries indeed engage in private enterprise and own their own bossiness. Indeed many of the most successful businesses in Miami are owned and managed by Latinos. They simply came to the US to seek an opportunity, they brought with them their intellect, hard work ethic, and capitalist mentality that was nurtured at an early age in their home country; the US because of who we are simply gave them an opportunity.

DHM: Efficiency is a foreign concept. Unlike Americans, who come from a results-driven culture, Hispanics have grown up in a world where they receive basically the same pay no matter how hard they work. As a result, there is no sense of urgency; everything can wait until tomorrow or mañana.

CAR: This is a generalization that can be misconstrued as a stereotype, even though not intended. There are many Latinos in the US and outside of the US, that do not leave things until tomorrow! According to respected business publications (Forbes Magazine for one)   of the top 200 business in the US, many (~ 17 %) are Latino owned companies! Would they have been this successful for leaving things until tomorrow?

DHM: Family first

Appreciate that family is the first priority for Hispanics.

As Anglos, we say we care about family, but it’s nothing compared to the type of attention Hispanics pay to their families, points out a Texas Panhandle dairy producer who manages 78 employees. Family can be more important than work. An American may miss his or her child’s ball game because there is a work commitment. The Hispanic may judge this activity more important than work. Take time to learn about their families.

CAR: This is a very true statement which is very applicable to Anglos as well. Would you not agree that currently in the US the motto today is family first!  In fact, ask any private bovine practitioners what is their selling point when hiring a new veterinarian and they will tell you that it is assurance of family time. In fact, it is my unsolicited opinion that the excuse to attend a child's ball game may even be used too much by many Anglo workers to get off work!

DHM: Corruption happens

Be aware that Hispanics come from a culture where corruption and mistrust are commonplace. Generally, Hispanics believe that if someone gets ahead of them, that person will try to take advantage of them. The ‘if you don’t cheat, you don’t get ahead’ attitude is seen as normal in Mexico, says Gonzalez. Because of the corruption, Hispanics have a hard time trusting anyone. You can overcome that trust deficit with consistent actions that prove your trustworthiness.

CAR: Again this is a generalization and cannot be used as a commonality among Latinos.  Are you saying that in the US, especially with what happened with Bernie Madoff, in Wall Street, the banking systems and our retirement, this sentiment is not pervasive in many Anglos? Further, the implication to me is that Latino’s get ahead by cheating.

DHM: Education isn’t a high priority

Hispanics are very intelligent, but they have been raised in countries that cannot put education at a high priority because of their economic situation. This is in contrast to America where good schools are readily available; we attend high school and are encouraged to further our education beyond high school. But, don’t underestimate the intelligence of your Hispanic employees.

CAR:  Why would Hispanics not be intelligent? In my experience as a dairy veterinarian in the US (32 years) Latino employees do value education for their children because they see it as the great equalizer to the inequities of life. Many of our public and private universities have Latino students from low income homes whom have been encouraged to further their education at home.  What is true is that in the US many Latino children come from poor schools and perhaps are taught   by teachers that are not sensitive or understand cultural diversity and thus there may not be a role model for higher education.

Dairy managers surveyed (Grusenmeyer D and Maloney T. In –depth look at Hispanics on dairies. Northeast Dairy Business (The Manager). December, 2004, Page 51. ), noted that promoting immigrant workers into higher – level positions is challenging due to language barriers. However, most Latino workers surveyed aspire to learn new skills or improve existing skills in order to be promoted within the dairy organization. My take from this survey is that many Latino dairy employees value training which is a form of education to improve their skills and be promoted within the dairy operation.

DHM: Be aware there are cultural differences between Hispanics from Latin countries.

Just because a Guatemalan, Chilean and Mexican speak the same language does not mean they are the same. Each one has a different cultural background, just like British and Americans. “The differences may be subtle and small, but they are there,” says Gonzalez. “A better understanding of these cultural differences has allowed me to improve my employee management and move some Hispanic employees into middle-manager positions,” says a Texas Panhandle dairy producer. “In turn, I can spend my time focusing on big picture things like futures markets, feed management and human resources.”Understanding of these cultural differences will make you a more efficient, productive and profitable dairy, says Fuhrmann.

CAR: Excellent point that is substantiated by research (Garcia-Preto, N. (2005). Latino Families: An Overview. In M. McGoldrick, J. Giordano and N. Garcia-Preto (eds.) Ethnicity and Family Therapy. Guilford Press: NY; Gloria A. M., and Segura-Herrera, T. A. (2004). Somos Latinas and Latinos in the United States. In D. R. Atkinson (ed.) Counseling American Minorities. McGraw Hill: NY.  We need to work hard with our producers so that they understand these differences, which to me is the foundation of good Latino employee communication.

Please excuse me if I am being pedantic, over sensitive or trying to be politically correct. My comments are not personal and I certainly do not wish to attack you, I am simply sharing with you my interpretation of the article, which after all is my opinion of course.  I encourage you to continue writing about this topic and if I can be of any assistance please let me know.

Carlos Risco

Professor, Food Animal Reproduction and Medicine Service

University of Florida


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