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Three Little Towns

South of Palomas, hunger may be even more dire.

 

I recently was told by a woman involved with food distribution in Palomas that in the three little towns a half-hour south of the border there was more hunger than in Palomas.

Another woman in Palomas disagreed with her. So I went there to find out for myself.

I hadn't driven over that route for five years, since the drug war exploded in early 2008. My nerves were buzzing before I started, despite everyone saying there isn't any violence on that stretch of road.

The three towns are near what is called the entronque, which is just a T in the road. You turn left to go to Juarez and right to go to Ascension.

Two of the towns, Colonia Modelo on the left and Colonia Guadalupe Victoria on the right, are a mile or two north of the T. Just south of the T is the colonia called Seis de Enero.

The highway to the entronque was rebuilt and repaved about a year ago. It still has two lanes, but the shoulders are much wider and there's a row of white fenceposts about 30 feet from each side that runs the whole way down.

It makes the whole landscape look different — more expansive, cleaner.

People in the towns near the entronque uniformly claimed that they've had very little violence over the past several years, or at least much less than in Juarez or Palomas, despite being right on the route between Juarez and Palomas.

 

First I visited Colonia Victoria, known as an agricultural town where many people in the area find work in the summer and fall. It has a bit of visible prosperity, a pretty nice central plaza with lots of trees, and the comfortable atmosphere of a small, isolated town. It's about six miles from the main road.

A man at a tire repair shop said the farmworkers were made up of townspeople, workers from Palomas, and other workers from southern states like Oaxaca and Veracruz. But when I got there it seemed to be almost a ghost town, because most residents were out working in the chile fields.

The only fieldworkers I talked to at Colonia Victoria were three guys at a semi-abandoned house. They were sitting outside cooking beans in a coffee can over a tiny fire. Yes, they often missed meals in the winter, they said.

Two slept in the one small room that had just a screen door, not a real door. A runty, luckless guy named Hipólito said cheerfully that he slept outside with only a blanket, even in winter.

He'd been deported from Utah a year ago. "I was just walking along the road doing nothing when they got me," he said.

 

The name Colonia Modelo is almost like a joke. This "model town" took a wrong turn somewhere. It consists of a few dozen low houses in the desert built out of cement block. A few of them have only one room.

There are almost no sources of work in town. I think it could be a candidate for being one of the most barren places on the planet.

I walked up to a man just getting out of his truck beside his light-green house. He told me he's making $13 a day, but he used to make more as a tractor driver. He called his wife Alma to come out of the house and talk with me.

She arrived with a little girl in her arms. While we talked, Alma didn't smile once.

I asked her how often they go without eating for a whole day in the winter. (I figured that's one way to measure hunger.) She said it happens often.

"Are there many people like you here?" I asked. She said yes. She hadn't heard of any groups that help people with food.

She looked very tired.

Another man was fixing a pipe or something in the ground outside his house, and his wife Raquel stood watching him with her toddler in her arms.

I tried to figure out how hungry they get in the winter. "Out of a month, there are two weeks without food," said Raquel. That means about every other day. This is an alarming level of hunger for this area.

She told me she has four children at home. "There was more work here before," she said. The red chile crop was almost over, far earlier than usual because of drought.

Raquel had the same weary look Alma did.

 

At the entronque there are a dozen restaurants that provide employment to many people in Colonia Seis de Enero. But also a lot of people work in the fields.

I talked to a friendly farmworker about 60 named Reyes. He's getting older so sometimes he earns just $5 or $7 a day.

He said without self-pity that he and his wife aren't exactly hungry, but "we're not eating as we should." They eat beans and rice, and eggs "occasionally." His wife once had to ask their daughter across the street for soap last winter. Reyes explained, as others did also, that there's less work this year because "there's less water."

He was referring to the catastrophic drought that's put Chihuahua, including its border with the US, into a state of emergency. Corn and beans in Chihuahua were almost literally wiped out in 2011. The chile crop has also suffered.

Many fewer fields of chile were planted, he said, and red chile picking was already coming to a stop for a lot of workers in October. It used to last till December or January, even February sometimes

"It's a bad harvest," he said. "There'll be six months without work."

 

Because so many people from Palomas are working in Colonia Victoria, this drought is affecting them, too.

My rambling interviews weren't anything like a formal survey, so I'm not sure what town wins the hunger race. Probably the honor goes to Colonia Modelo. But it's clear there's a more-than-average need for food donations this year, if not a crisis.

I feel I did a disservice to Palomas last year by being too optimistic about Mayor Chacon's claim that possibly three factories were going to open up soon. There still isn't even one. I'm afraid there were probably fewer donations last year than usual.

I hope people can chip in as much as they can to organizations that have food projects. Please donate generously this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 

To help the needy in Palomas, contact these organizations:

Border Partners — 406 S. Granite St., Deming, NM 88030, (575) 546-1083, (715) 292-9557 (cell), info@borderpartners.org, www.borderpartners.org

 

Casa de Amor Para Ninos — (House of Love for Children), The Light at Mission Viejo, c/o Jim Noble, 4601 Mission Bend, Santa Fe, NM 87507, (505) 466-0237, info@casadeamorparaninos.org, www.casadeamorparaninos.org

 

La Luz de La Esperanza — Palomas Outreach, PO Box 38, Columbus, NM 88029, US: (575) 536-9726, childrenofpalomas@yahoo.com, Mexico: 011-521-656-341-4195, Palomas_Outreach@yahoo.com

 

Our Lady of Palomas — PO Box 622, Columbus, NM 88029, (575) 531-1101, ourladyoflaspalomas.org/palomas_hunger_project.html

 

 

Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.



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