AuthorConniff, Ruth

We're living through a daunting time in our national politics. Election denial, overt racism, and pernicious attacks on the pillars of civil society--from school boards to local election officials--accompany a general coarsening of discourse and increasing threats of violence. As we head toward the 2024 presidential election, authoritarianism looms.

And yet, in the middle of all this ugliness, as racist political advertisements connecting a Black U.S. Senate candidate to violent crime blanketed the airwaves in Wisconsin ahead of November's midterm elections, and giant Trump banners waved over cornfields in rural parts of the state, I found myself traveling to talk to groups of people about the unlikely friendship between farmers and undocumented immigrants. I felt the warmth among groups of voters, many of them Republicans, toward the undocumented Mexican immigrants who do most of the work on Wisconsin's dairy farms.

Joining me at the University of Wisconsin's Eau Claire campus, and at the tiny public library in Wabasha, Minnesota, were some of the people whose stories I collected in my book, Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers.

John Rosenow, a dairy farmer from Cochrane, Wisconsin, was there with his employee Roberto Tecpile, who grew up in Astacinga, a tiny village in the mountains of Veracruz, in southern Mexico. So was Stan Linder, a dairy farmer from Stockholm, Wisconsin, who has been driving down to Mexico regularly for the last twenty years, taking van loads of other farmers to visit the families of their Mexican workers and to admire the homes and businesses the workers have built with the money they've made milking cows up north. Shaun Duvall, the high school Spanish teacher from Alma, Wisconsin, who first had the idea to take groups of farmers to Mexico, was there, too. So was Mercedes Falk, who now runs Puentes/Bridges, the nonprofit group Duvall founded to build cultural understanding between Midwestern dairy farmers and the Mexican workers who comprise more than half of the workforce on the dairy farms of the Upper Midwest.

One farmer, Chris Weisenbeck, describes his visits to the small villages of rural Mexico as stepping into a scene from his own past, when tight-knit rural communities were thriving. Watching a group of neighbors working to build a house together, he commented, "It's about neighbors helping neighbors and everybody working together. Small town Mexico...

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