In Spanish, "Las Palmeras" means place of the date palms. At first glance, the small, southern New Mexican community of the same name seems far removed from that idyllic description. In summertime a hot sun beats relentlessly down on old mobile home trailers and treeless corners. Windstorms kick up dust and sprinkle passersby with specks of sand. But here, only 30 minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border, neighbors are realizing their own vision of paradise.
Roberto Cornejo, a six-year resident of the unincorporated community known as a colonia, reflected on how his participation in a community development project helped him cope with personal depression. Cornejo, a roofer and construction worker by trade, was among community members who pitched in their labor to install a new water and sewer system for the 35 or 40 low-income families who inhabit Las Palmeras. Many survive by working in nearby onion and chile pepper fields. "I feel so great like this. I feel something real helping people," said Cornejo.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than one million people live in colonias in the border region. Like countless others, Las Palmeras lacked, or still lacks, paved roads, running water, utility services, and schools. What sets the New Mexican colonia apart from many others is that Las Palmeras' neighbors have organized to take charge of their own destiny and collectively improve their common lot in life.