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The Rev. Edouard Atangana of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church in Las Milpas.

LAS MILPAS, RGV – The Rev. Edouard Atangana of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church in south Pharr was joined by local residents as he blessed the newly paved roads in the Los Ebanos colonia on Saturday.

The residents say they have been asking for the roads to be repaved and repaired for going on 15 years. They finally achieved success, they say, by working with Rev. Atangana and Valley Interfaith to make their voices heard.

Monse Martinez., a community leader in the Los Ebanos colonia in Las Milpas.
Monse Martinez., a community leader in the Los Ebanos colonia in Las Milpas.

“I moved here five years ago and people told me the roads had not been repaired for ten or 15 years before that,” said community activist Monse Martinez. “The potholes were destroying our vehicles. But, we started to get organized. We started talking about it church, holding house meetings and demanding these roads got fixed. It worked. Now, everybody is happy.”

After a plan of action was agreed, local residents and Valley Interfaith leaders in Las Milpas visited City of Pharr officials. After making their voices heard, they said, city commissioners responded.

Now, the Los Ebanos colonia residents want more of their streets repaired, along with Anaya Road, which connects the colonia to Cage Boulevard. “When it comes to Las Milpas, the City of Pharr cannot just worry about Cage Boulevard and the industrial park. They have to worry about the community,” Martinez said.

Martinez pointed out that water bills from the City include a $35 charge to maintain streets. “We all pay this so we should get equal treatment,” Martinez said.

Rev. Atangana said the population of south Pharr, or Las Milpas as local residents have historically called the area, is almost half the entire population of Pharr. However, he said that historically Las Milpas has not had the same level of infrastructure investment as the northern part of Pharr.

“People can get discouraged when nothing gets done. But now, we can see that if you ask and keeping asking, and you dialogue and you participate, things happen. These roads have not been taken care of for many, many years. After many, many meetings the city officials decided to listen to the requests of the people here and paved the roads. So we are here to bless the work and encourage people to continue to participate in this type of dialogue,” Atangana said.

Along with setting up meetings with elected officials, local residents can also participate by voting, said Rev. Atangana. He was quick to add that the Catholic Church does not endorse candidates or political parties.

“We want people to participate. It is part of the Christian responsibility, to participate in the life of the community and they can do this by voting,” Atangana said.

“We want our people in this part of Pharr, especially, to vote. Our population is almost half of the entire city. A lot of people can vote. Our message is, please go out and vote. Fulfill your responsibility so that when we go to City Hall they know we exist. The best way to say we exist is to participate in the democratic process. I hope we have a large turnout this year. If we go out and vote we would have a significant influence.”

The Rev. Edouard Atangana of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church in Las Milpas.
The Rev. Edouard Atangana of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church in Las Milpas.

In addition to having more streets paved, the residents of the Los Ebanos colonia are also pushing for a recreation center and library.

“There is a great need for the recreation center. We need it for the children,” said Eddie Anaya, a Valley Interfaith leader in Las Milpas. “Over the years, we have been forgotten but we pay the same taxes as everybody else. We are the forgotten but not for long, not anymore. We have waited long enough.”

Anaya’s son, Aaron, was part of a youth delegation from Las Milpas that visited City Hall in September to push for a recreation center and a library. Aaron Anaya said they learned a lot from speaking in the public comment period of the city commission meeting.

“The closest recreation center is probably in Hidalgo. During the day and in the summertime, most kids do not have the transportation to get to Hidalgo or McAllen. We want a recreational center so that we have somewhere to hang out and have good times. There are a lot of kids living here. Some play basketball outside but you cannot do that when it is hot, or if it is raining and we have to cope with the mosquitos. We need a recreation center,” Aaron Anaya said.

Editor’s Note: The photos in the slide show were taken by Esmeralda Leal, special to the Rio Grande Guardian, and photojournalist Steve Taylor.