The Spanish word for neighborhood, “colonia” is used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to define specific regions along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. In 1990, the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act defined a colonia as any “identifiable community” within 150 miles of the border that lacks potable water, sewage systems, and decent housing.
There are 141 colonias in just the state of New Mexico…. Some date back to the 1800s and began as camps for Mexican workers; others began much more recently. New Mexico’s colonias also range in size: Beaverhead has seven residents, while, according to the 2010 Census, Chaparral has a population of 14,500. More than half of those who live in colonias in New Mexico are of Mexican ancestry and the language spoken in most of the homes in these communities is Spanish….
About fifteen miles east of Las Cruces is the exit for Vado, a colonia with fewer than two thousand residents. Two gas stations and two restaurants—one of them closed—occupy the corners of the intersection. A bit farther on is a Dollar General, a car wash, and a closed mechanic’s shop. Drive another mile or so, make a couple of turns, and you find yourself on McCrimon Road. This is where the pavement ends. It’s also where twenty-first-century America seems to end.
There are only three paved roads in Vado. Most roads are simply rutted, hard-packed sand. Others are covered with softer sand—tricky to drive on when they’re dry, often impossible when they’re wet. The residents of Vado live in old, rundown trailers. The median income is $20,333, well below the rest of New Mexico, and the poverty rate is nearly 40 percent. About a quarter of those over sixteen years of age are unemployed.