Mexicans in Dairyland.

Author:Conniff, Ruth
Position:MIDDLE AMERICA - Mexican dairy workers in Wisconsin

Mexican immi-grants make up more than half of workers on the dairy farms of western Wisconsin, where the Latino population has exploded over the last two decades. In Trempealeau County, near the Minnesota border, the number of Latino residents surged from 240 to 1,667 between the years 2000 and 2010--a 595 percent increase.

Lately, especially since Donald Trump became President, farmers and workers say local cops have been pulling over Latino drivers. (In 2007, a state law requiring driver's license applicants to provide Social Security numbers and proof of identity effectively made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to drive.) They report incidents of racial harassment at local stores and gas stations. The workers don't go out as much.

"You go to Walmart and there used to be Hispanics walking up and down the aisle. You go now and they're just not there," says Bill Traun, a dairy farmer who employs two Mexican workers to help feed and milk his cows.

Traun, a shy, older man with glasses, speaks lovingly about his first Mexican employee, Bianca Hernandez. "She was just a great person. Always done an excellent job, and always trying to learn me Spanish--but it would just go in one ear and out the other," he recalls.

Like a lot of his neighbors, Traun made the transition from an operation staffed entirely by family members to employing Mexican workers about twelve years ago, when he was expanding to try to keep up with the pressure to produce more milk.

Hernandez and her partner kept the place clean, named the cows they cared for, and took a lot of work off Traun, who still gets up at 3 a.m. for the first milking. "It was just a huge relief," he says.

Hernandez went back to Mexico, but her nephew now works for Traun. He lives on the Traun property with his wife and their one-year-old son.

"They kind of become part of your family. They're not just an employee," says Traun. "Farm work ain't an easy life.... They get up with me every morning, and we work side-by-side."

One strange fact of life in this heavily Republican area is that many of the same white, rural voters who helped elect Donald Trump are passionately devoted to their Mexican employees. Dairy farmers are worried about the threat of mass deportations, which would cripple their industry. And many get worked up defending their workers against the kind of smears that President Trump has launched at Mexicans.

Shaun Duvall, a Spanish teacher in Alma, Wisconsin, who counts both dairy...

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