After two decades focused on improving the quality of life for residents of the impoverished, relatively undeveloped villages, or “colonias,” clumped near population centers on the U.S. side of the Texas-Mexico border, the Texas A&M University Colonias Program is celebrating its myriad achievements by honoring its staff and the host of volunteers and community partners who have contributed to its success.
Colonias Program administrators from College Station gathered with their Lower Rio Grande Region staff, partners and community leaders at the historic Villa de Cortez in Weslaco for the first of three planned 20th anniversary celebrations.
Future observances are planned for regional offices in El Paso and Laredo.
The Weslaco event provided an opportunity to present awards to dozens of volunteers who have assisted the program throughout the years. Also recognized were the substantial contributions of the Colonias Program’s “promotoras,” specially trained colonia residents who work door-to-door throughout their communities, disseminating useful knowledge to help bridge language and cultural communication barriers that exist between their often-isolated neighbors in need and social service providers.
“Promotoras are the heart and soul of what we do,” said Jorge Vanegas, dean of the Texas A&M College of Architecture, which oversees the Colonias Program for the state.
“This is a celebration of 20 years of programs, projects, events and activities planned, organized, executed and delivered with more than 100 regional partners, 50 of whom are represented here today,” Vanegas, who also heads the Colonias Program, told the Weslaco crowd. “One thread that has forged a solid bond among us all,” he added, “is an unwavering commitment to serve the needs of people who live in the colonias of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.”
Also at the event, U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, the keynote speaker, presented a congressional proclamation honoring the program’s “outstanding service in the most vulnerable communities” and commending its “efforts to build stronger Texas communities through partnerships and to provide a better quality of life for their residents.”
“It is amazing what you have all achieved,” Hinojosa told the celebrants. "A hand up — not a handout."
There are currently 2,333 colonias in the United States, home to half a million people, and most are located throughout the Texas borderland between El Paso and Brownsville, said Oscar Muñoz, director of the Colonias Program. Though characteristics of these small, rural, unincorporated communities vary, they all generally lack one or more of the physical infrastructure amenities most take for granted: running water, sewer systems, paved roads and storm drainage. Because of their remote locations, poor economic conditions and cultural segregation, colonia residents tend to be isolated from government services and the various social safety nets that provide education, job training and placement, health care, and programs for the young and elderly.
For more information, go to http://one.arch.tamu.edu/news/2012/1/25/texas-m-colonias/.