María Martinez, LUPE member and leader of colonia La Homa Meadows, testifies before Hidalgo County Commissioners Court
“We’re very grateful for the money that has been acquired for the lights. Now for the most important part: the installation.”
With those words, María Martinez, LUPE member and leader of colonia La Homa Meadows, summed up the reason that around 30 LUPE leaders filled Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, Tuesday, June 14.
After promising the installation of solar lights in colonias north of Alton, precinct 3 representatives told LUPE leaders last month that they didn’t have the money to install the lights after all.
Colonias Mi Sueño, Buena Vida, and Eduardo 2 have been put on the list to receive from 1 to 3 lights. Other colonias that will receive lights in the future include La Homa Meadows Phase II, El Flaco Chiquito, as well as Pueblo de Palmas.
Colonia El Flaco Chiquito is one of 6 colonias organizing with LUPE that have been promised street lights
The promised lamps will produce light by solar energy. The lights were bought through a grant from the federal government, which allowed the county to buy 32 lights and light posts but which didn’t include the cost of the installation.
The residents of the recipient colonias organized themselves and prepared to present in a public hearing of the Commissioners Court in support of designating a total of $24,000 to cover the cost of the installation in the 6 colonias. After 6 colonia residents and 2 supporters spoke in support of the amendment funding the installation, the court made a unanimous vote of approval.
“A victory all around,” said Javier Parra, previous organizer in the area of Alton. “From getting the vote [of approval], to the leadership of the residents that rose to the challenge of speaking in public before the commissioners… Sí se puede!”
“La unión hace la fuerza.” Unity is strength, said Pilar Leal, colonia leader in El Flaco Chiquito, after the commission approved the $24,000 for installation. “It’s like a light that starts to go out. But when we blow on it, it flares up very big.”
“That about ‘unity is strength’ is very important. You see how together changes come,” said María Gomez, LUPE leader and previous organizer in the Mercedes area. “You struggle a lot to win, but when you win, you feel really good, with a lot of satisfaction.”
Colonia leaders, LUPE organizers, and supporters in victory pose after winning street light installation funds
“Each day, new colonia developments are proposed by developers and approved by commissioners,” said Javier Parra. “But they don’t ask about public light or parks for colonia residents.”
A future goal for the Union is to gain rules for the establishment of new subdivisions that include public lighting, parks, paved roads, and other necessities.
“We need to work very hard to get those rules,” Parra said. “We need to continue toward getting them to require more when they approve new colonias.”
Even the Objective Watchers of the Legal System (OWLS), a traditionally anti-immigrant organization, could not deny the need to meet the basic needs of colonia residents.
“If lighting is essential, that should be included in the county taking more control over colonia development,” commented Virginia Townsend, member of the OWLS. “If lighting is essential, that should be included in what we require the developers to include.”
The approval of the installation money is the latest step toward shinning light on colonias north of Alton. Colonia committees will continue to work toward more lights, improved drainage, paved roads, and their next major project, the construction of a park that residents of the 13 colonias can share.
“Chief Administrator [for precinct 3] Mona R Parras is familiar with the residents of Las Colonias del Norte who are still eagerly collecting signatures for petitions,” says Alton organizer Yvette Salinas. “After the street light installation victory, colonia reseidents won’t simply settle for 21 lights. Just like the fought for lights, now the people united want a park. And a park we’ll get!”
LUPE has been working for public lighting the in the colonias since 2005. Some colonias have been waiting for light for over 20 years.
LUPE members broke down the first barrier to public light for colonias when in 2005 the state legislature authorized counties to expend a portion of their community development block grant funds to install and maintain streetlights in colonias. A second hurtle was overcome when, as a result of LUPE’s organizing, in 2007 they authorized those same counties to collect a fee from colonia residents to pay for the electricity used by those streetlights. Now, LUPE has received support from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation to continue our push for public lights.
Communities Creating Healthy Environments (CCHE) initiative of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation is correct when stating that “the childhood obesity epidemic facing the nation is a byproduct of years of neglect and disinvestment in communities that has undermined our children’s ability to eat well and be physically active.” Without streetlights at night, colonia children are denied safe conditions for outside play. Staying inside means being less physically active.