Colonias

On November 16, 2014 · 1 Comments

I failed to mention a specific Milwaukee example in the recent I Before E Like in Milwaukie. That was intentional. I noticed a rather unusual reference included within the Geographic Names Information System that deserved further observation. It featured two adjoining neighborhoods that had the dubious distinction of sharing a name with a rather unpleasant beer that I’ve done my best to avoid since my college days.



Old Milwaukee East and West, Laredo, Texas

I was sure the names were coincidental, that Old Milwaukee East Colonia and Old Milwaukee West Colonia borrowed from the road of the same name that each of them flanked. The situation was unlike, say, the Old Milwaukee Lane in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (where Rexam Beverage Can Americas runs a factory). I’m sure the Laredo reference happened by chance. Someone from Wisconsin probably lived near the border in decades past and the name stuck.

What was a Colonia, though? The literal Spanish translation meant colony, although it could also represent community, neighborhood or settlement more generally. However it had a very specific context in the southern United States borderlands. The Texas Secretary of State defined it as, "a residential area along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing." The source provided additional statistics.

Colonias can be found in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, but Texas has both the largest number of colonias and the largest colonia population. Approximately 400,000 Texans live in colonias. Overall, the colonia population is predominately Hispanic; 64.4 percent of all colonia residents and 85 percent of those residents under 18 were born in the United States. There are more than 2,294 Texas colonias, located primarily along the state’s 1,248 mile border with Mexico.

The Attorney General of Texas provided a handy interactive map.


Colonias of El Paso Texas
Colonias Near El Paso, Texas, USA
via Attorney General of Texas Interactive Map of Colonia Communities

Colonias were developed in a predominantly predatory manner beginning in the mid-20th Century. People with little income needed places to live and speculators sold them undesirable scrub lands with little to no zoning or infrastructure at bargain prices. Purchasers often couldn’t obtain ordinary loans from banks because of their unreliable incomes so plots were sold to them in "contract for deed," arrangements, i.e., rent-to-own. People wouldn’t own the land until they paid every monthly installment to the speculator.

Residents didn’t generally build their homes all at one time either, so they built as they could when they had enough money to afford it. Maybe the foundation one year, then the framing and the roof, then later walls and interior work, all over a period of several years while living on the site the entire time. Structures were ramshackled in various stages of completion, perhaps with plumbing or electricity or not, or maybe eventually. It was an arrangement that seemed to work in an unusual sense. Speculators made tidy sums on rent-to-own arrangements; residents got a place they could call their own that they could improve over time, and generally free of pesky building regulations and government oversight. None of that erased the grinding poverty of many residents though, or the lack of basic necessities within numerous Colonias.

The interactive map contained color coding as defined by the state. The worst was red, and "Lack access to potable water, adequate wastewater disposal or are un-platted — greatest public health risk."


Cameron Park Texas Home
Cameron Park, Texas, USA
via Google Street View, May 2011

Cameron Park near Brownsville, Texas was held up as a negative example of a Colonia with problems identified by multiple sources. It sat along a lovely stretch of Spoil Banks Ditch. According to the United States Census Bureau, Cameron Park had a Hispanic/Latino population of 99.3%, a median household income of $24,851 per year, and a distressing 52.8% of residents living below the poverty line. Wikipedia claimed, "Cameron Park is the poorest community of its size or larger in the United States, and is among the 100 poorest places in the United States." Yet, Cameron Park was listed as yellow on the interactive map, leading one to wonder how much worse the conditions might have been in the ones listed as red.


dftmpMEMAOGMMtkkkkkkk--------
Modular Bathrooms by U.S. Department of Agriculture, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Significant academic, media and government attention have been focused on the issues of Colonias in recent years. Texas A&M University founded a Colonias Program to study issues and develop solutions. Major publications including the New York Times and CNN featured both problems and potential. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development created several programs, as did other Federal agencies such as the US Department of Agriculture plus individual states along the border. The Flickr image showed modular bathrooms built by the USDA’s Rural Development agency for a Colonia in southern Arizona on land of the Tohono O’odham Nation (it’s an issue for all disadvantaged people along the border). The Tohono O’odham Nation, some readers may recall, last appeared on 12MC in Overheard in México.

Fortunately the situation of Colonias has been improving slowly in recent years although there is still a long way to go.


Colonia, New Jersey



Colonia, New Jersey, USA

The community of Colonia, New Jersey appeared to be completely unrelated, just an instance of an unfortunate coincidental name.

Hardly Tropic

On September 14, 2014 · 1 Comments

Technically, the tropics would be an area hugging the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, between approximately 23°26′-or-so north and south. The two latitudes marked the extent the sun might appear directly overhead if only briefly on a single day, the summer solstice. Tropics also had a more widespread definition that included mild, lush areas in general. I could understand placenames in South Florida incorporating Tropic, Tropical or Tropicana, for example, because the Tropic of Cancer almost clipped it. Utah? Not so much.

Tropic, Utah


View near Tropic, Utah
View near Tropic, Utah by Texas Dreaming, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Yet, that’s what I noticed in the Twelve Mile Circle reader logs. The visitor arrived on the site from Tropic, Utah (map). I’m sure it was a fine town full of lovely people in a wonderful setting. I had no quarrel with the town although its name surprised me.

Tropic was a gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park. I’ve been to Bryce and it’s great, albeit not what most observers might consider tropical, geographically or stereotypically. It snows in Bryce Canyon. Roads close. Rangers lead snowshoe hikes. The park holds a winter carnival. That didn’t sound like The Tropics to me.(¹)

The Town of Tropic did its best to put a happy face on its inherent contradiction.

It was suggested by Andrew J. Hansen to call it "Tropic". To support the suggestion, he stated that people would come to their little valley where peaches, apples, grapes and other semi-tropical fruits would be found. The name Tropic was adopted; with the population of about 15 families.

The name appeared to be a late 19th Century marketing ploy. Town founders focused optimistically on the warmer months and ignored the rest of the year. That didn’t make it tropical though. For Tropic, Utah to be genuinely tropic it would need to be relocated to a latitude at the southern tip of México’s Baja Peninsula.

Let’s go ahead a flog that dead horse a bit longer because, honestly, I don’t have anything better to do this morning.


Tropic of Cancer Beach, The Bahamas



There were precious few places named for the magical lines that marked a tropical transition. One was Tropic of Cancer Beach on Little Exuma in The Bahamas (map). It was truth in advertising too. The Tropic of Cancer did indeed cross through the beach. A line marking the approximate location could be seen in the first few frames of the YouTube video I borrowed.

It might be ill-advised to draw a comparison between the name of the beach and the harmful effects of long-term overexposure to sunlight. Nonetheless I shall note that it was probably a better option than Melanoma Beach. Ignoring that inconvenient fact, its shimmering blue waters, white sand, and light breeze certainly seemed stereotypically tropical!


Hualien, Taiwan


Tropic of Cancer - Valley_01
Tropic of Cancer – Valley_01 by Vincent's Album, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Of course the world wasn’t filled solely with sandy beaches and there were plenty of tropical places that one didn’t necessary think of as meeting the palm tree and umbrella drink stereotype. For instance, the Tropic of Cancer cut through Taiwan, placing half of the island nation within the tropics. Taiwan recognized the line with several markers spread geographically across its landmass including a remarkable specimen in Hualien (map).

The most amusing notion of tropical latitude would be that the boundaries drift over time. Currently the lines are moving slightly towards the equator by a few feet each year as part of a complicated cycle. Any monument marking the actual Tropic of Cancer would become noticeably incorrect almost immediately unless it could be moved. That won’t work for the Taiwanese monument. It’s already on the wrong spot by definition.

However, it’s been done correctly along a highway in Mexico, Carretera 83, near Victoria (map) in the state of Tamaulipas.


America’s Most Spurious



Tropic, OHIO?!?

Utah may not be the tropics although it was still better than a considerably more confounding occurrence I discovered in the Geographic Names Information System: Tropic, Ohio. That was quite the oxymoron. A little additional research traced its name to a nearby coal mine. I guess they ran out of suitable names.


(¹) That’s not to say it never snows in the tropics as defined geographically. There are exceptions. If all these years of writing 12MC have taught me one thing, it’s that very few statements are absolutes.

Overheard in México

On August 5, 2014 · 0 Comments

A Wikipedia page caught my attention lately, an article on the Languages of México. Spanish naturally came to mind and the vast majority of its 120 million citizens do speak that. I figured there were probably a number of indigenous languages as well and that was likewise true. For example at least a million people speak Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec people, either as a primary or as a secondary language primarily in central México. 12MC focused on the other end of the scale and went straight down to the bottom of the list to examine the least spoken of the 68 nationally-recognized Mexican languages.

The bottom three languages each had less than two hundred Mexican speakers. Sources varied on the exact number although each would be considered threatened or moribund, and possibly in danger of extinction.

I discovered a website previously unknown to me in the process, Ethnologue – Languages of the World. The source listed information more than seven thousand living languages. It became a great resource during my search and I’m sure I will return to it in the future.


Mocho’



Motozintla de Mendoza, Chiapas, México

Mocho’ (alternately Motocintleco, Motozintleco, or Qato’k) is a Mayan language found in the Mexican state of Chiapas, practically on the border with Guatemala. Two distinct dialects existed, in Motozintla (map) and Tuzantán (map). Ethnologue noted that this language was extremely endangered. It would be highly unlikely to encounter someone speaking Mocho’ in either of those towns by happenstance; it was spoken by "older adults" in "home only." There were no known monolingual speakers of Mocho’ either.


Kumiai


Kumeyaay Plaque
Kumeyaay Plaque by Steve R, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Kumiai is a Yuman language spoken by the Kumeyaay (formerly Diegueño) people. Yuman languages occupied a relatively small geographic footprint even during its heyday, covering modern Baja California plus portions of adjacent California and Arizona on the US side of the border. As an historical footnote, these were the people who stood on the shore greeting Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo when he landed at San Diego Bay in 1542, the first European expedition to the west coast of the future United States. An exhibit recognizes the Kumeyaay contribution at Cabrillo National Monument on the southern tip of Point Loma (map)

Currently 13 bands of Kumeyaay live in the United States and 4 live in México. The southernmost grouping resides at La Huerta, "located on the edge of a remote mountain wilderness area about 70 miles south of the U.S.-Mexican border, and 30 miles east of Ensenada" (map). The Kumiai Community Museum in Tecate attempts to preserve some of their cultural heritage.

Ethnologue estimated about 370 Kumiai speakers spread across both sides of the border. None of them were monolingual. Kumiai was categorized as moribund although efforts are underway to teach it to new generations.


Tohono O’odham


Tribal Dancer
Tribal Dancer by Henri Louis Hirschfeld, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Tohono O’odham, a Uto-Aztecan language, didn’t have many speakers on the Mexican side of the border although there were at least 14,000 speakers in the United States including at least 180 monolinguals. That was enough to qualify it as "only" threatened rather than moribund, exhibiting "vigorous" usage by people of all ages. In México, however, there may be as few as a hundred speakers. These people were once known as the Papago — a name that lives on in objects as diverse as a moth, a park, and a US Navy ship. That name was discarded in favor of Tohono O’odham because Papago had been foisted upon them by outsiders.

Tohono O’odham occupied an historical range throughout the Sonoran Desert, roughly southeastern Arizona through northwestern México. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war between México and the United States in 1848 and then the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 established an international border directly through Tohono O’odham land. It wasn’t ever a problem until recently.

Initially, and for over one hundred years, the Tohono O’odham were able to pass freely over the border. However, in the mid-1980s the border was tightened in an effort by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Consequently, a barbed wire fence dividing the reservation in half and increased border patrol has made passing across the border difficult for tribal members. Entry anywhere but official check points is illegal and the entry points nearest to the reservation are 90 to 150 miles away.

The Tohono O’odham people never recognized a border and moved freely amongst themselves, making it possible for them to maintain family ties and participate in festivals such as the annual pilgrimage to to Magdalena de Kino (map) in Sonora: "we do not see ourselves as living in the borderlands. That is the view of people who look on a map but not at our lives. The border does not define us." Tohono O’odham extend as far as 90 miles south of the border into México.

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12 Mile Circle:
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