Colonias: Life On the Mexican-American Border

Life at SMU – and University Park in general – could easily be described as comfortable, privileged, even sheltered. Because we are lucky enough to reside in such an economically developed area we often take our comfort for granted and do not stop to think about those who aren’t as fortunate as us. We city dwellers in prosperous North Texas are even more unlikely to think about, much less be aware of, colonias: the many substandard, unregulated settlements along the Mexican-American border, which are some of the most economically backward regions in the United States.

According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the term “colonia” refers to a community in a rural part of the southern border with marginal conditions relating to infrastructure and housing. Examples of such include, but are not limited to, potable water, road systems, and sanitary sewage. Colonias are additionally burdened by a lack of environmental protection from the government, given their incorporated status, as well as lack of access to traditional homeownership financing methods. Colonias are comprised of a predominantly Latinx population, as they are located along the US-Mexican border. However, contrary to the ideas that our current president may be agitating, colonias are not exactly a hub for “illegals;” 85% of the Latinx population under age 18 are US citizens.

It is widely known that the southern border of the US is one of the most economically underdeveloped regions in the entire country. However, if you take into consideration the growing intensification of trade and the strategic, sociopolitical location of the area along the southern border, the debilitating poverty of the colonias may not make much sense. One explanation of this phenomenon is that colonias have been largely neglected by the US government, and attempts to enhance the lives of “colonians” have been largely futile.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The low quality of life in these settlements is exacerbated by growing income inequality and its effects, such as social distance, especially compared to the overall prosperity of the rest of the nation. However, it cannot be said that there haven’t been any efforts made to revitalize the colonias. One notable example of an effort to improve the quality of life in colonias is the idea of offering microcredit, an extension of very small loans, with the ultimate goal of helping families to reach an acceptable level of housing quality. Because there is a lack of data collected on life in colonias, outreach efforts are most often unfulfilled. Future prospects appear bleak as well.

From what you have just read about colonias it is quite obvious that living conditions are pretty substandard, especially in comparison to your residential commons or whatever palatial dwelling in Dallas in which you currently reside. Though there is nothing wrong with being surrounded by the privilege of a school like SMU, as well as the material pleasures of living in perhaps Dallas’ highest-income neighborhood, it is nevertheless important to keep in mind that there are people and places beyond that vary drastically in terms of quality of life. Just remember to keep your mind open to the world outside of the pristine little community that is Southern Methodist University.

This article was written by Karen Guan. Click here to see more of Karen’s work.