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Pajarito Mesa is a community located in the southwest area of Bernalillo County in New Mexico. It is a community that lacks all essential public services including water service, electricity, sewage systems, gas lines, telephone lines and legally recognized roads. Although it is not within 150 miles of the border, for all intents and purposes it is a colonia. There are approximately 400 families with at least 1,400 people living in Pajarito Mesa, yet most people in the surrounding communities do not even know that it exists. The community has existed for at least 25 years.
Overall, our goal is to improve the living conditions in Pajarito Mesa by working with community members to create the changes they envision. We also hope to use this community as a model for change in other colonias.
Beginning in 2007, Center staff members worked extensively with residents of Pajarito Mesa, community organizers for the Southwest Organizing Project, and the Pajarito Mesa Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association in an effort to secure potable water for the community. The Center provided legal assistance and advocacy in this fight for access to safe drinking water.
Pajarito Mesa began its struggle for access to a clean, reliable source of water in 2000. After a decade of perseverance, with many setbacks and delays, in May of 2010 the community finally got a water station where residents can fill up their water tanks and then haul them back to their homes. Although water is not piped to the individual homes, residents can now access safe water near the entrance of the community rather than going all the way into Albuquerque. This is not ideal, nor should it be perceived as a final solution. It is merely the community’s first step in a larger plan to have water distributed to all homes in the near future.
Developing the full range of infrastructure on Pajarito Mesa is a daunting proposition. Because the community developed without any kind of comprehensive planning, the Mesa must be thoroughly mapped to determine how many people live exactly where. Then, land titles must be unraveled in order to determine who has legal authority to grant road and utility easements, which are needed in order to provide critical services to residents. A collateral benefit to mapping is that public safety services – police, fire and ambulance – would be able to readily locate people in need of assistance, something that is a real challenge at present.
None of these goals can be accomplished without resources and coordinated effort. While the Southern New Mexico colonias have been able to leverage federal and state colonias development dollars – however limited – to move forward on important infrastructure projects, Pajarito Mesa has been ineligible for such funding because it falls outside of the 150 mile legal definition. That may be changing.
In 2011, the Center began working with federal officials (from HUD and USDA) to seek grant funds for infrastructure development on the Mesa. We have brought together community representatives from the Pajarito Mesa Neighborhood Association and the Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association with the University of New Mexico’s Community and Regional Planning Department to develop a long-term plan to bring infrastructure to the community. There are many barriers to overcome, but the community has experience fighting long-term battles and is determined to persevere.
The Center has also initiated an ongoing outreach effort to get eligible families on the Mesa enrolled in public benefits program like SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and TANF (cash assistance). We make presentations at neighborhood association meetings and water association meetings, and have collaborated with nearby churches and schools to ensure that community members are informed about these programs. We have also conducted door-to-door outreach. In addition to getting this important information to families, we also use our interactions with community members as an opportunity to learn what barriers families are facing in accessing these programs and to gain insight into other legal issues that affect the community.
- In New Mexico, A Frugal Existence (NY Times, photos by Monica Almeida)
- Frontier of Grit: Photos of Pajarito Mesa By Toby Jorrin
- Pajarito Mesa’s Water Filling Station: Photos by the Albuquerque Journal
- On a Dusty Mesa, No Water or Electricity, But Boundless Space (NY Times, picked up from the Albuquerque Journal)