Colonias Grant -- Brief History of the Organization
In Nueces County, there are thousands of poverty-stricken families living in third-world conditions commonly known as Colonias. They are modern-day indentured servants to the large land owners outside of Corpus Christi who actively exploit them. Politicians know about Colonias. On the rare occasion that the media covers a Colonias-related story, they are there to solemnly discuss the squalor that the residents live in. But that's where it stops. The conditions are not improved by city, county or state laws. The rights of these education-deprived workers are not matched to those listed in the Constitution.
However, all hope is not lost. There is one non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating the injustice that these people face daily. Lionel Lopez is a retired firefighter that set aside a life of comfortable retirement to work on behalf of Colonia residents. Founded in 2004, The South Texas Colonia Initiative (STCI) strives to break the cycle of poverty in Colonias by assisting residents to help themselves through education, cooperative and collaborative partnerships, and fostering respect and encouragement. Along with his wife, Juanita, and a handful of volunteers, Mr. Lopez travels the state and country to speak out against the health conditions, lack of basic water and sewage systems, and cardboard homes that families reside in.
The cycle of poverty for many of the Colonia residents began years ago when unscrupulous land owners sold useless, contaminated, and low-lying land without any infrastructure to families who aspired to achieve the American dream. These families used their meager incomes to purchase the land and were left vulnerable to floods, contaminated water and/or land, and other unsafe living conditions. And until recently, these Nueces County communities were not recognized, preventing Nueces County commissioners from regulating development by rural land owners.
Multiple federal and state agencies formally recognize the conditions that Colonia residents reside. Although the definitions vary slightly, all recognize the lack of infrastructure, the lack of access to safe and sanitary living conditions, and the economic distress that the individuals and families endure. For years, communities with these characteristics existed in Nueces County but were invisible to the state. As a result of STCI's persistent interactions with state officials, in December 2006 the state of Texas finally passed legislation which recognized communities within Nueces County as Colonias. State Senator Hinojosa credits Mr. Lopez with helping to pass legislation that prevents developers from taking advantage of prospective Colonia residents. Yet, recognizing those communities as Colonias does not ensure that the needs of the community members are met or even acknowledged. Therefore, STCI's continues to advocate for and assist Colonia residents.