From immigrant to advocate: How a Fort Wayne professor is fostering cross-cultural understanding

When Max Montesino first arrived in Fort Wayne in 1995, he remembers being the only foreign-born faculty member in his department at Purdue University Fort Wayne (then IPFW).

Today, his department in Organizational Leadership has five foreign-born faculty. It’s part of a shift in demographics Montesino is seeing city-wide, as Fort Wayne grows its population and attracts more talent to the region.

According to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Road to One Million, the 11-county region plans to grow its population to 1 million residents by 2030, and people from other cultures are likely to be part of that growth.

Montesino’s work helps immigrants make the transition to northeast Indiana as smooth as possible and prepares the region’s broader population of residents and employers to welcome them, too. Max Montesino is an advocate for immigrants and immigration reform, as well as an author and professor.

As a local professor, author, and immigrant-turned-U.S. citizen himself, Montesino works at the intersection of different cultures, helping people understand cultural nuances and the challenges immigrants face adapting to North American lifestyles.

At Purdue Fort Wayne (PFW), his classes deal with cross-cultural organizational behavior and comparing workplace behaviors between cultures, exploring the ways different cultures process things, like the sequencing of tasks, time management, conflict resolution, and other areas. (Classes are held in the evenings, so working adults can attend.)

Even so, while the focus of Montesino’s classes is the work environment, he says it’s important for all residents in cities to understand key differences between cultures as they interact on a day-to-day basis. That’s because there are so many subtle differences in communication styles and behaviors among people from different backgrounds.

These complexities have influenced Montesino’s research, as well. Initially, he began to explore the differences between Latinos and Americans, in terms of typical North American behaviors. But he realized that the term “Latino” was far too broad to study, so he narrowed it down, as he puts it, to his people: Dominicans.  

In 2018, Montesino published a book in Spanish in the Dominican Republic titled The Portrait of the Dominican in the Organizational Context, which offers a comparative description of Dominicans in organizational structures, as well as how this information relates to the workforce and the way people are culturally programmed to handle different tasks.

The book covers many variables that have tremendous implications for the workforce of the U.S., as well, given the growth of the country's Latino population. That said, it was well-received nationally, especially in states with high populations of Dominican residents, including Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania, Montesino notes.

In talking about his book, he jokingly says there’s more to Dominican culture than “baseball and Merengue.” For those who come to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, it is not an easy trip, and yet the small island country accounts for about 3-4 percent of Latinos nationwide.

“Dominicans are very hard workers,” Montesino says. “We are a very family-oriented people; Dominicans enrich our country in a way that is fantastic, as do most immigrants who come from across the world, from China to Africa to the Middle East.”

Going into 2020, he is currently working on a study for his next book, which he plans to publish in English. This book will focus on the workplace behavior of Latinos, in comparison to mainstream Americans.

Montesino himself has been a Hoosier for 25 years now. He first came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic as a grad student attending the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University, later earning his Ph.D. at Western Michigan University.

In 1995, when he was writing his doctoral dissertation, IPFW recruited him, and he found his way to the Summit City.

Along with being a professor at PFW today, he is also a proud member of the Fort Wayne Hispanic Leadership Coalition and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He has found the city to be a family-friendly place, too.

Montesino has two children he raised in Fort Wayne with his wife, Mercedes, who was a Spanish teacher at Bishop Luers High School until the end of the 2019 academic year when she retired. He says many of his wife’s former students have moved on to Purdue Fort Wayne where they now have him as a professor.

While he’s seen Fort Wayne evolve to become more welcoming to different cultures over the years, he believes the city should continue to advance its diversity and improve how it welcomes and integrates immigrants into its community.

 

He stresses the importance of secondary education for students from diverse backgrounds, and encourages local leaders to create and support more programs that actively recruit community college students and create pipelines for them to achieve their goals. One such program is the Transfer Single Articulation Pathway between Ivy Tech and PFW, which allows students who earn associates degrees at Ivy Tech to transfer their credits and earn 4-year degrees at PFW, if they choose.

 

Montesino would like to see more students continue their education as a means of opening doors of opportunity for themselves.

 

Along with studying and writing about immigrant populations, he is also an activist and advocate for immigrants and immigration reform in Indiana and beyond. Although he says that politics is not what drives him, he feels that there is no way to advocate for immigration reform without taking political action.

“There is no way for a Latino today to escape the injustices the current immigration system implies,” Montesino says. “When you become an advocate for a social cause, the distance between community advocacy and political participation is very small.”  

Along with speaking and writing about causes that matter to him, Montesino has met with elected officials in Washington, D.C., such as former Indiana Senators, Evan Bayh (D) and Richard Lugar (R).

He sees his role as speaking up for those who cannot easily advocate for themselves.

“In my case, I actually find myself assuming the voice that many people cannot raise, such as the undocumented, who cannot speak at a new station to advocate for the change of the law,” Montesino says. “Another person cannot vote or even be involved in politics. I can; I am an American by choice, and I exercise my right in that regard. All of us who participate in politics give voice to the voiceless, and there are so many in our community.”

His advice to those who are new to the U.S. and living in Fort Wayne?

“Reach out; don’t isolate yourself,” Montesino says. “Every week, there is an activity in our city. Fort Wayne is a very welcoming community with great people, and there are many ways to get involved. Just reach out.”

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