With the November 6 election fast approaching, there has been a deafening silence on the part of the two major presidential candidates ringing out across the nation in the area of poverty. As someone recently relocated from Southern California to Southern New Mexico, I was sadly surprised to learn that there are numerous rural American communities along the border with Mexico that lack the basic types of infrastructure, such as electricity, clean water, and sewage, that most Americans take for granted. These communities also contain some of the most deeply impoverished individuals and families in the United States.
These invisible communities, known as "Colonias," occupy a region within about 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico Border, across the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. While the number of communities recognized as "Colonias" appears to vary slightly by source, there appear to be minimally 1,500+ communities designated as such by the governmental and non-governmental entities that keep track of this issue. The number of people impacted is likely in the hundreds of thousands. The story of how these areas came into being is a complex and frustrating one, since the issue has received little major media attention over the years. The number of Americans having more than $100 million in assets in 2011 was a mere 2,928 people, yet they have arguably received the lion's share of attention in the media, and among major political candidates.
What is most surprising here is how an issue that impacts the lives of so many people has escaped discussion by either major presidential candidate. We have heard much discussion of job creation, job loss due to "outsourcing," foreign policy, "terrorism," and a number of other issues, but the subject of poverty in the United States has not been a major topic of discussion for either candidate. The people living in the "Colonias" tend to lack the kind of political or social influence that garners the attention of politicians or media. There are number of reasons for this, with their lack of economic resources and lack of visibility being most likely chief among them.
While there are honest and well-meaning efforts being undertaken to address the lack of infrastructure, and to a smaller extent, develop avenues of economic opportunities for the people living in the Colonias, the lack of political and media attention has allowed the pace of development move very slowly. Add to that the understanding that the largest majority of people living in the Colonias are Hispanic and Indigenous peoples, and one can begin to fully appreciate the complexity and adversities inherent to the situation. While any event impacting Wall Street brings lots of media attention, the ongoing lack of basic necessities of life for hundreds of thousands of people barely gets a mention by media outlets outside the Southwestern United States.
The ongoing question for those of us concerned about this crushing poverty is fairly straightforward and simple: Are either of the presidential candidates going to do anything to address the situation? Given the fact that neither of them even appears to be interested in taking this situation on as an issue in their campaigns, the outlook is not overly hopeful. Both candidates seem willing to discuss the safety of diplomats living in dangerous regions of the world, and protecting the interests of business around the world, yet they seem to be less inspired to publicly address an issue that is impacting a large number of residents within the very borders of this nation.
Few people see the impact of poverty as "urgent." Yet, (and at the risk of raising some ire among readers), when a hurricane strikes a heavily populated region of the United States causing death, injury, temporary loss of power, clean water, and sanitation to many, a cry rightfully goes out to address that situation immediately. Hundreds of thousands of people live without power, safe water, or sanitation, as an ongoing reality. Unfortunately, no similar cries for immediate action arise. The actual number of people suffering extreme consequences as a result of the lack of such basic services is very hard to measure. A child that dies of disease contracted from lack of safe water, lack of sewage treatment, or lack of adequate medical care is not normally seen as having died because of "poverty." As a result, we really do not have any notion of how many people suffer extreme consequences, perhaps even death, owing to living in poverty in the Colonias, or any other poverty stricken areas of the nation for that matter.
As we enter the last days before the presidential election, please take the time to learn more about the plight of those living in the Colonias. You can learn more from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which also has a list of organizations addressing the problem. Contact these organizations, learn what you can, and offer whatever assistance you can. Anyone looking for additional resources can contact myself. As well, please contact both President Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney, and let them both know that this issue matters to you, and that it will impact the way you vote. Unless pressure is brought to bear on those who are responsible for addressing these issues, the people living in the Colonias will remain invisible. They will live like refugees or natural disaster victims perpetually, in one of the richest nations on Earth. This is not only unacceptable, it is immoral.