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Building Strength from Within: Colonias of the Rio Grande Valley

Chad Richardson


Much of the extreme poverty found along the Texas-Mexico border is concentrated in what are known as colonias. These impoverished housing enclaves, found almost exclusively along the Rio Grande/Río Bravo border, are often regarded as "rural slums" by public officials and in media reports. Indeed, much of the legislative focus on colonias centers around attempts to stop their growth. Any efforts to reduce the poverty of border colonias must do more than curtail their growth or provide missing infrastructure. Colonias have many positive features related to their borderlands identity that could enable their residents to become key players in overcoming their poverty. The research reported herein describes a particular civic-participation strategy that aims to build a sense of community and empower colonia residents in Hidalgo County. Four colonias where the BARCA (Border Association for Refugees and Colonia Advocacy) organization had conducted such efforts, and two where they had only conducted a self-development program, were matched, colonia for colonia, with six that had experienced neither form of intervention. Over five hundred randomly-selected respondents in these colonias answered fixed-response and open-ended questions that were developed from previous in-depth interviews. The analysis supports BARCA's claim that their organizational strategy promotes collective action among low-income women and raises their sense of efficacy in improving colonia conditions. It fails, however, to support their claim that the strategy builds a stronger sense of belonging in the community and willingness to provide mutual assistance. Some tentative explanations of these findings are proposed.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229