From Mexico to HyLife, Windom Employee Shares his Personal Journey
Cristian Maldonado Medina is part of a very special group. He is one of our HyLife Windom We Care team members.
Launched in June of 2021, with a clear purpose, We Care actively listens to our employees and helps answer their questions. To create a culture of positivity, empowerment, and inclusiveness, this dedicated team is there to support.
The Cottonwood County Citizen, Windom’s main news source, recently connected with Cristian to learn more about his story, our We Care Team. Dave Fjeld, Staff Reporter, highlights Cristian’s journey from his hometown in Salvatierra, Guanajuato, Mexico to adapting to life in Windom.
The following article was published in the Cottonwood County Citizen and written by Dave Fjeld.
Making the most of an opportunity
Cristian Medina Maldonado finds a new life in Windom with HyLife team.
Cristian Medina Maldonado is learning all about Minnesota winters. He’s witnessed his first 10-inch snowfall and last week he learned what sub-zero temperatures and wind chill are all about.
But the weather hasn’t made him think twice about his decision to move from the year-round heat of his home in Salvatierra, Guanajuato, Mexico. No, the chance to come to the United States and experience an entirely different culture was an opportunity he simply couldn’t pass up and far outweighs the cold he’ll have to endure for a few months each year.
“When you come here, you gain something that’s really good, but at the same time you lose something,” he points out, referring to more pay, but missing family. “I know that I’m here because I’m able to help by family way more than when I was there and also making money for my own family in the future.
“We’re able to provide more opportunities for our family that they didn’t have before.”
Medina Maldonado, 24, works with the We Care Team at HyLife in Windom.
Although he left his home in Mexico, he is not living alone in Windom. His brothers – Marco, 25, and Emanuel, 20 – have joined him in Windom. They all work at HyLife and live in Windom. They left behind in Salvatierra their mother, sister and youngest brother.
Cristian says Salvatierra is smaller than Mankato but larger than Windom. However, it offers few job opportunities, aside from HyLife’s Mexico plant in the city. That is where Cristian worked for about three years as the company’s maintenance coordinator.
Move to Minnesota
So, how did he wind up working for HyLife?
After graduating from high school, Cristian served on a mission team in Arizona for a year with the Mormon church. That, he says, is where he learned English.
“When I first came to the USA, I didn’t speak any single word of English,” he says with a chuckle.
“It’s been difficult (learning English), but it has helped me get this opportunity. I’m sure I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t speak English.”
HyLife work involves helping others
When he returned from the mission field – with a fledgling grasp on the English language – he began working for HyLife’s plant in Salvatierra.
But it was his high school studies that prepared him for working at HyLife. Studying information technology in high school helped him land the position he has at HyLife. However, his work at the plant in Mexico was more involved than that. He was involved with the preventative maintenance for machines as well as the work activities on a day-to-day basis.
“I made a preventative maintenance calendar for each machine for the year – when we’re going to fix the machine or do this to that machine,” Cristian explains. “I started just working with the work orders, but I was able to learn a lot of other things, so I got the position as maintenance coordinator.”
That work ultimately led to a job opportunity at the plant in Windom.
When HyLife announced plans to bring workers from its HyLife Mexico plant to its HyLife Minnesota plant, Cristian’s younger brother Emanuel was the first to jump on board.
He provided a “scouting report” of sorts to his older brothers, who followed him to Windom three weeks later in May. Cristian also needed time to provide instruction to the person taking over his duties at the plant in Mexico.
“Emanuel was pretty excited,” Cristian recalls, noticing that his younger brother was living in Mankato at the time.
“But it wasn’t winter yet,” Cristian adds with a laugh.
The three of them lived in Mankato and were bused to work until moving to Windom at the end of June.
HyLife Windom work
When Cristian began work in the Windom plant, he didn’t have the same job he had in Mexico. Instead, he started out as a lead hand in the packaging department, which lasted just a month. That’s when he was hired as part of the company’s new We Care Team.
“As a member of the We Care Team, our purpose is to talk to everyone in the plant and do our best to help them with their needs,” Cristian explains.
“We help them find the answers or the help they need – to show them that we care about them, that they have somebody they can talk to if they have any problem”
He enjoys this job.
“I really like that I have a chance to help other people, because I know what it’s like being on the other side. Having someone who’s going to help you, especially with the language, because there are a lot of people who don’t speak any English, is great to have.”
His work never stops throughout the day. Cristian says that as soon as he has helped one person, there’s someone else waiting for his assistance. He and another We Care Team member, who does the same job as Cristian, wear pink helmets which makes them easy to spot should an employee have questions or need help.
Another two with the same jobs work the second shift.
The two-person teams try to see as many of the 400 to 600 employees per shift as possible.
“We go through the lines while people are working and ask them, ‘How are you doing? How’s your day been?’ If we see somebody who needs help, we go to them and start a conversation,” Cristian explains.
But his work at the plant in Windom is not his only focus these days. He is also going to school online to earn an industrial engineering degree from the university in Salvatierra. He started at the university while still in Mexico, but when the pandemic arrived in Mexico, the university switched to online learning. After moving to the U.S., Cristian continued to study online.
Living in Minnesota
Life on their own in Windom definitely has been what Cristian terms “a growing experience.”
On the upside, his English language skills have improved. On the “needs work” side, is food.
“We are not the best cooks,” Cristian says with a chuckle. “But we are learning how to cook.”
On the downside, the brothers miss their family back in Mexico. But, bit by bit, they are finding things to do in the community. For example, they have joined an indoor volleyball league at the Windom Community Center.
“It has been good. Our team is not the best, but we have a lot of fun,” he says with a laugh.
“People here in Windom are really nice and welcoming and there are a lot of Latinos. So, it feels like it is becoming home for us.”
While Cristian has been able to adapt more quickly to life in Windom because of his English skills, that’s not necessarily the case for most non-English-speaking Latinos in the community. Indeed, language remains the single biggest barrier for those coming to Windom to acclimate themselves to local society.
Cristian believes that creating participatory sports opportunities in the community, such as the local volleyball league, would be a big help to integrating longtime residents with Latino newcomers. He says that would be especially important now, as Minnesotans settle into the long, cold winter months when there is little to do outdoors.
Those who have left their families in other countries to come to work in Windom especially miss their families more at this time when they tend to be indoors. That’s where more indoor activities, especially spots, would help them get their minds off being away from their families. For instance, there has been talk about creating opportunities for ice skating at the arena.
In the seven months since arriving in Windom, Cristian admits that he feels much more comfortable here.
“I like Windom because it’s a safe place,” he says. “Being here you feel safe. You feel like it is a peaceful place and it’s not as crazy as if you were in the Cities. I really like it here because, for me, the Cities are close and you can get whatever you like. But at the same time, you live in a peaceful.”