Shaun Duvall helps Midwestern farmers and their Mexican-born employees understand one another.
Author Joan Fischer Photography Jonathan Chapman
SHAUN DUVALL, 55
To deepen cultural understanding and provide hands-on support to dairy farmers and their Mexican employees in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. Farmers and workers are in a mutually beneficial relationship, Duvall says, but problems sometimes arise in rural communities that are unaccustomed to large influxes of newcomers. In the late 1990s, Duvall started Puentes (meaning “Bridges”) to teach English to farmworkers and Spanish to their employers, as well as to provide interpreting and support services—everything from arranging doctor visits to helping figure out bills. Later she began taking agricultural professionals on annual 10-day “cultural immersion trips” to villages in Mexico where the farmers stay with workers’ families. Duvall knew something special was happening on their first trip when she watched a strapping dairy farmer take the hand of two-year-old Lydia, the daughter of one of his workers. The toddler was the reason her father was in the United States—and the farmer, as his employer, was helping give Lydia a better life. On the Mexican side, the families were touched that a patron, an employer, would take the time to visit.
“Changing hearts and minds,” Duvall says. “Encouraging people to become more understanding and compassionate.” Of course, it’s also pretty flattering to be called “angel de los Mexicanos,” a nickname that makes her blush.
IN HER SPARE TIME
Duvall enjoys running, though she calls it “plodding.” (So far, she’s plodded through two marathons.) She’s also planning to write a book about Puentes.
HOW TO HELP
Duvall urges people to learn Spanish if they don’t already know it and reach out to non-English-speakers in their area. For more information, visit www.puentesbridges.org.