I am a herdsman on a dairy farm in DeForest. I enjoy being there. They treat me like family.
My age is 34. I came here for a better economic life. I had a job in Honduras, but here you make so much more money. My goal was to study, but I had to send money to my family. So, I started to work. Farm work takes a lot of time. I go there at 3:30, maybe 4 in the morning, and I am done at 9, 10, 11 at night. I am willing to be there all the time. One of the advantages of hard work is there is always a check. And my boss does not charge me rent for my home.
My job is to take care of the cows, milking, feeding, everything. There are 400 cows. I worked as a teacher in Honduras. I didn’t know anything about cows. At first, I worked at a smaller farm, in Waunakee. Everything I learned was from the older man who farmed there.
Farms are so dependent on the immigrant workers. Farmers know most Americans would never want to do the work.
At home, I was very connected to my church. But I work Sundays, so I pray and meditate at home or watch services on-line. Sometimes I go to the Hispanic service at Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison. Things have gone well for me. Maybe they will go well for other people if they are close to God and pray.
Immigrants come to Wisconsin from all over the world for different reasons and bring with them a wide range of education and experiences. Today, over 280,000 of Wisconsin’s 5.84 million residents are immigrants. They have come here from more than 113 different countries and are employed in many job sectors in the state.
Nearly 3 out of 10 adult immigrants who have settled in Wisconsin have a college degree or more, a proportion similar to that of native-born Wisconsinites. On the other hand, immigrants are more likely than the U.S. born population to have less than a high school diploma (25% vs 7%).
In total, immigrants account for about 6% of the labor force in Wisconsin. They often work in jobs where there is a growing need for workers, including in manufacturing and agriculture. As of 2015, 7.2% of the manufacturing workforce and 11.2% of ‘Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting’ workforce was immigrants.
In 1915, Wisconsin led the nation in the production of butter and cheese. Cows and dairy farms have since been central to the state’s identity and global reputation.
A hundred years later, Wisconsin is the nation’s second most productive dairy state. Economic and demographic forces are putting pressure on Wisconsin’s dairy farmers and those who work on the farms. A study sponsored by the national dairy industry in 2015 found that half of all dairy workers in the U.S. are immigrants. In Wisconsin, about 40 percent of the state’s dairy workforce are immigrants.
Today, Wisconsin’s $43 billion dairy industry is mostly made up of large farms that operate all day, every day, year-round. The work day starts before the sun rises and ends after sun sets in every type of weather, including rain, snow, blazing heat and subzero temperatures. The work of directing animals with commands, operating farm machinery and monitoring the milk pumping system requires training and skill. The wages start around $8/hour.
A number of factors – including increased herd size on farms, declining rural populations, a very low unemployment rate, and changes in farm family culture – have led dairy farms to hire employees when once they relied more on family members.
- The WHC offers free screenings of the film Los Lecheros, a carefully researched 20-minute documentary film that explores Wisconsin’s shifting landscape of dairy production and rising tensions over undocumented dairy workers. Screenings are followed by facilitated discussions.
Like the immigrants and migrants who came before them, many Latino Wisconsinites have made faith and religious institutions a central component of community life. In the 1920s, the Catholic Church served as a vital point of reception and incorporation for Milwaukee’s earliest Mexican arrivals. Today, while the majority of the Latino population in the United States belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, the number of people within the Latino community who identify as other denominations or who are unaffiliated with any religion is growing. Fifty-nine percent of the Latino population in the U.S. noted that religion continues to play a ‘very important’ role in their life.