Colonias. If you’re from a border state, you may be quite familiar with this word, as it is generally used to describe unsanitary or unsafe housing located along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
In Texas, colonias date back to at least the 1950s; developed as unincorporated subdivisions because the land was agriculturally worthless, they were sold at very low prices to low-income individuals. According to the Texas Secretary of State, colonias are defined as a residential area along the Mexico-Texas border which lacks basic necessities, like potable water, sewer systems, electricity, paved roads and simply safe and sanitary housing.
As one may assume by this definition, the health of many of the nearly 500,000 colonia residents is poor.
According to a New York Times article, in the highest health risk colonias water- and mosquito-borne illnesses are rampant due to no sewer system or wastewater disposal. There are high rates of asthma, rashes and lice infestations because of the burning garbage, mold and large amount of cockroaches and rodents. But still, there are more health ailments.
Because they have poor diets, as many people in poverty do, they have poor dental hygiene, diabetes, and other diseases. But what’s worse is most of these residents have no means to help themselves. There is no easy solution of going to the doctor. With many without health insurance and little access to healthcare clinics, they have no way to receive treatment.
Thankfully, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. More rural healthcare clinics are opening to fulfill this need that is so desperately needed for colonias. Like the University of Texas recently opened a new campus—University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, which currently has its inaugural class. This new medical school will not only bring in medical students from around the country but will also allow students to serve the population they grew up in.
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