Familias Triunfadoras, Inc: Rebuilding El Paso County One Colonia At A Time
By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
Life-long Colonia resident Maria Ortiz said that she was so used to living in a Colonia that didn’t have potable water that she didn’t think much about it. However, on a blistering hot day in San Elizario, Texas, she was climbing a ladder to fill her air conditioning unit with water, when she fell and broke her leg. “That’s when I said – Enough!” She decided to get involved in helping other Colonia residents to not only obtain water, but, also natural gas and other amenities which other people take for granted.
Ortiz, now the executive director of Familias Triunfadoras, Inc. (Triumphant Families, Inc.), a program that helps to empower Colonia women, has worked tirelessly for more than 20 years, advocating to improve living conditions in impoverished areas of El Paso County, Texas. Colonias are communities along the U.S.-Mexico Border that lack basic infrastructure such as water, sewers, electricity, natural gas, and roads.
“That’s how I got started,” Ortiz said. “I had young children and I had to insure their safety and well-being. Our mission is to empower women and, thereby, their families by creating programs that address family strengthening, community unity, asset building, community development, and economic self-sufficiency.”
The agency is a 501C-3, non-profit whose Board of Directors is comprised of low-income Hispanic women who have lived in colonias all their lives. They include, Petra Luz Delgado, President; Cecilia Ibarra, Treasurer, and Isabel Marquez, Secretary. Other Board Members are Dora Solis, Sonia Avalos, and Sonia Macias. Ortiz has been honored by U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-El Paso) as an Outstanding Humanitarian, and was named Advocate of the Year in 2006 by the Border Fair Housing and Economic Justice Center of El Paso. She said her group – which consists of four employees and ten volunteers – now works in 100 of the 178 colonias scattered throughout El Paso County. She also has testified about living conditions before the El Paso County Commissioners Court, the Texas Secretary of State, and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Ortiz said her Colonia, Dalios Dos, is much improved. However, she doesn’t plan to stop there. “We’re thinking of expanding our services to Vinton, Texas, and to other communities where the needs are great. We are also working to improve conditions for those women who suffer from Domestic Violence. By educating them through GED and ESL classes, and by teaching them to be self-sufficient, they realize they don’t have to put up with such dangerous and damaging situations. Once they know they can make it on their own, they lose their fear.” But, that’s not all. Colonia children are also being taught about the importance of community service. They become engaged in such projects as Community Clean-Up Days, and assisting the elderly. Creative arts are included with children being taught to make traditional Mexican and regional crafts, such as piñatas and dolls and figurines made from corn husks.? Ortiz said that the agency gets its funding through private foundations and through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. “San Elizario is a beautiful place in which to live. But, we need to fix every home in the area that needs fixing. In the future we plan to focus on issues of Domestic Violence. We’re building apartments for these victims. Eventually, we hope to move them into private homes.”