The work of the Empowerment Congress of Doña Ana County is so vitally important because of the families and communities it supports and serves. Doña Ana County is home to 37 designated Colonias; the designation of a Colonia is generally an unincorporated, rural community along the U.S./Mexico border. In New Mexico, some of the Colonias are small long-standing communities, and others are subdivision-level Colonias, but they all have in common a lack of adequate public infrastructure.
While there has been some development and improvement of infrastructure within the Colonias, many continue to struggle with dangerous flooding conditions, unhealthy sewer systems, unpaved roads and lack of broadband internet or public facilities. Unmitigated flooding, unpaved roads and inadequate sewer systems are a combination of potential poor driving conditions that make it challenging to move around a neighborhood. With a lack of broadband internet, the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders have put these families and communities at a considerable disadvantage. At first glance, these may not seem like life-or-death situations or dire public health concerns, but they can be.
When unpaved roads flood from rainwater or poor sewer systems in the Colonias, it results in undrivable roadways. What does this mean for the families and residents of the Colonia communities? Residents may not be able to drive out of or into their homes or neighborhoods, school buses cannot pick up children for school, and emergency service vehicles cannot respond to calls for assistance. People miss work or school; young children are not in class for the next math or language arts lesson; and the health of our most cherished and vulnerable community members, our elders, are at risk if they need assistance from emergency services.
Why have such conditions persisted when the Colonia designation was intended to increase funding into these communities to improve their infrastructure? Unfortunately, our local and state public funding priority has been focused elsewhere on projects like the film industry, sweetheart deals for out-of-state business contracts and special economic development projects. But the families and residents of the Colonias deserve more. They deserve better from their city, county and state government.
While the picture of the conditions in the Colonias appears grim, the people who live there are not. The Colonias are rich with history and culture, and their residents are vibrant, warm and strong people who have grit and work hard for their families. The Empowerment Congress works to serve these families and residents by supporting and cultivating community leaders to advocate for investment and development of infrastructure and policies that work for everyday people. Our programs and staff go a step above to collaborate with Colonia leaders to generate and enact solutions to address a community-wide problem through organizing, leading and empowering projects and other policy change campaigns.
Because EC cares deeply about the people of the Colonias, it knows it has to work with families and other organizations on the ground to change their communities’ conditions. EC is a partner organization within the SUCCESS partnership. EC understands that healthy living environments contribute to our children’s educational success. If children cannot go to school or their guardians cannot go to work due to flooded and poor roadways or a lack of broadband internet, they will miss out on vital educational instruction and lose out on their family’s income.
Empowerment Congress does this work because it believes that all New Mexicans deserve to live in healthy, equitable communities. It believes that healthy and equitable communities produce conditions for success for all their families and residents. If you would like to know how you can support these communities’ infrastructure, you are invited to contact the Empowerment Congress of Doña Ana County.
Daisy Ann Maldonado is the EC Director of the Empowerment Congress of Doña Ana County.