VideoCabeza de Vaca: Hidalgo County Precinct One has almost 1,000 colonias/subdivisions to look after

Hidalgo County Commissioner David Fuentes’ assistant chief of staff says 150,000 people live outside the city limits in Precinct One.

SAN JUAN, Texas – In a recent Rio Grande Guardian interview, ARISE’s civic engagement director, Imelda Luna, she said colonias were growing fast north of Edinburg and Alamo.

Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, assistant chief of staff for Hidalgo County Commissioner David Fuentes, said he can top that.

“Donna, Weslaco, Edcouch, Elsa, they (colonias) are growing everywhere,” Cabeza de Vaca said. 

Cabeza de Vaca and the rest of the staff in Fuentes’ team should know. Precinct One has more colonias than any other precinct in Hidalgo County – by some distance. 

Cabeza de Vaca said the State of Texas does not like to refer to colonias as colonias any more. Any development outside of a city limit is now officially classified as a rural subdivision. Cabeza de Vaca goes along with this classification.

“So the term colonias is what, from 1990 back. From then on it’s just subdivisions. So yeah, there’s a lot,” he said. “Actually, Hidalgo County Precinct One has 250 colonias. And then we have about 600 to 700 subdivisions. So, almost 1,000 subdivisions and colonias outside of the city limits.”

Having this many people to take care of puts enormous pressure on Fuentes’ staff.

“You know, at the end of the day, if they (colonia and rural subdivision residents) go ahead and organize and they tell us what their needs are, and we are able to do it, we’re going to do it,” Cabeza de Vaca said.

“The thing is, sometimes they have specific things that we cannot do because we have a constraint of time. We also have a constraint of people that work for us. You know, only eight eight hours a day and a budget. So everything depends on that. But, we always try to help as much as we can.”

Asked what the population is within the colonias and rural subdivisions of Precinct One, Cabeza de Vaca said: 

“I’m going to venture to say about 150,000 people more or less. There are certain precincts in Hidalgo County where most of their population is inside the city limits. So, they have to take care of a smaller population. But, in the case of Precinct One, it is the reverse. There is more population outside the city limits than inside the city limits.”

Ironically, however, Precinct One also has more cities than the other precinct in Hidalgo County. 

“Out of 22 cities in Hidalgo County, Precinct One holds 11 of them. Half of the cities in Hidalgo County lie in Precinct One,” Cabeza de Vaca said. 

“So the challenge is there. We get the same amount of budget as the rest of the precincts because everything is divided by population. I can understand this in a way. But, the challenge is a lot greater on our end.”

Cabeza de Vaca gave an exclusive video interview to the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service at a recent community forum hosted by ARISE Adelante. He said community groups such as ARISE, Proyecto Azteca, and La Unión del Pueblo Entero are invaluable.

The Guardian asked Cabeza de Vaca what he thought of recent remarks by Manny Vela, president of Texas A&M McAllen, at a Futuro RGV forum. The forum was held to highlight the work of the Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force, which was set up by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez to address poverty in the region. A&M’s Vela urged those in the audience to visit a colonia to see first hand the challenges the residents face.

Cabeza de Vaca responded by explaining what used to happen and what happens now.

“So, what happened in the past is that developers used to get a big chunk of land, pennies on the dollar, and put a street in the middle. From here to here, one lot. From here to here, another lot. No infrastructure, no lights, no drainage, no nothing. So what happened? Well, they would sell the lots and then hand the problem over to the county,” Cabeza de Vaca said.

A few years ago, he explained, state lawmakers introduced Model Subdivision Rules that place more responsibility on the developer.

“Now, there are a minimum number of things that the developers need to do in those subdivisions that they want to develop. So, we don’t have these kind of problems (of no infrastructure, lighting or drainage). But, we are in catch-up mode. We have tried to catch up with drainage and public lights and stuff like that. There’s a lot more that we need to do but we are getting there. It’s going to take some time, but we’re working on it.”

Asked for any wrap-up remarks, Cabeza de Vaca said he appreciated what the Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force is doing in addressing poverty.

“More than a handout to the community it is a hand up. When we educate them (colonia and rural subdivision residents) about being productive and educating themselves, instead of waiting for the government to give them something, they are becoming better citizens, a better community. Everybody wins.”

Editor’s Note: The above video is the fifth in a five-part series on the work of ARISE Adelante. Click here to watch Part One. Click here to watch Part Two. Click here to watch Part Three. Click here to watch Part Four.

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