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Children—little ones in diapers, big ones with blaring car stereos—are everywhere, and for each family that lives comfortably, there is another whose kids sleep side by side on couches and floors. Maybe their voice—at least their vote—mattered beyond Cameron Park. By his first year of high school, Gaspar had made All-State Band, a rare accomplishment for a freshman. The s of empowerment are everywhere. The CDCB has helped organize the eight-year-old Rio Grande Valley Multibank, a group of lenders that has been making these loans for two years—with nearly flawless.

If the rain came at three in the morning, the men emerged from their homes in a frenzied rush to park their trucks on the main road outside the colonia. Using low-interest loans subsidized by the federal and state governments, the nonprofit Community Development Corporation of Brownsville CDCB has built simple wood-frame and brick homes in the colonia sincebut this hardly makes a dent in the housing problem.

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For every person who builds a new house or just an indoor bathroom, who lands a higher-paying job or celebrates a college graduation—for every person who manages to leave the tightly circumscribed world of poverty behind—another one arrives to start at the bottom. The story of Gaspar is dramatic evidence that lives in the colonias do get better, even little by little, and that when they do—and this is perhaps the biggest enigma about Cameron Park—some people insist on staying put. They ed forces with Valley Interfaith, a church-based, grassroots community group that was working to raise the standard of living for residents across the Rio Grande Valley.

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But when I come back here, this is me. As a family. He points at an aerial shot of a brown wasteland hanging on his conference room wall and snickers. There were snakes, there were scorpions, there were tarantulas, and at night you could hear the coyotes go like this: auuuu! The large percentage of people who are barely getting by explains why the census s, despite so much progress, remain dismayingly low. But even as Brownsville basks in this new identity, Paseo de la Resaca is not the only development in this part of town where people have come with visions of upward mobility.

At lunchtime, the school cafeteria replicated the class segregation of their outside lives: right side, Country Club; left side, Cameron Park. The lots were typically sold under contracts for deed, meaning that the buyer did not get title to the land until he made his final payment.

Many of the homes did not meet the codes required for hookup, but state officials decided to proceed anyway.

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The owners, who are not related to her, do not charge her any rent. But the opposite is true. That center serves as the clearinghouse for a of other government and nonprofit programs, which deliver their services in Spanish, with cultural modifications if necessary. A native of Tampico, she followed her husband to the United States only to have him abandon her cold in Cameron Park.

I could never let go of that house we grew up in; there are so many memories. Along the border it translates to rutted ro, crumbling homes, no running water. Some even have to be taught to use an indoor restroom, dating they have never seen one. And yet, the success stories are breathtaking. The huddled political meetings and street organizing began to pay off. On one lot a horse passes the day tied to a scraggly tree amid a tangle of brush and old tires. You see trees mesquite, mostly native, businesses from tax services to tire shopschain-link fences, and lots of life. Cinder blocks, rebar, and gravel stack up on empty lots until the owner can afford all the material necessary to start a home or add on to one.

Using tile, stone, and Brownsville, the cheery blue-eyed native converted property his grandfather had purchased in into an upscale and as yet unfinished residential and men development known as Paseo de la Resaca.

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Inafter residents had made frequent visits to Austin, the Texas Water Development Board and the Brownsville Public Utilities Board agreed to install water and sewer lines. I appreciate a lot of these things. In other words, how to explain to demographers and statisticians and newspaper reporters that poverty is a relative thing—to rationalize why, amid the doom and the tragedy, optimism thrives? Few kids from Cameron Park were in the band or other extracurricular activities in those days. And yet, these poverty statistics obscure the fact that Cameron Park is, in its own way, a success story, a down-and-out version of Paseo de la Resaca.

The children have to be socialized. She now lives with her three kids inside a room no bigger than a cozy kitchen, which is attached to the back of a handsome, two-story stucco home with neat landscaping. The following year—and again the next and the next—he was the highest-ranked bass clarinetist in Texas. What some say is nothing, I think is a lot.

For most of the people who live here, this is the beginning of the American experience.

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Decommissioned cars decay in front yards. Yet Gaspar persisted, and in his second semester he was able to borrow a bass clarinet from the school. But take a drive down its skinny streets, a confusing network of paved ro with names unfitting for its Mexican population—Gregory, Nannette, Jeffrey—and the poverty begins to seep into the picture. In its nascent stages, it was a movement shaped by men in guayaberas and cowboy hats, residents of the colonia who were inspired to action when they began to see county officials and other politicos pop into the neighborhood to drum up political support.

The men took jobs as shrimpers, Brownsville, day laborers, construction workers, or housepainters. Every weekday and Saturday morning were spent in the band hall, blowing notes and counting rests and fingering keys. Bywhen critics of George W. Bush made conditions in the colonias an issue in the presidential race, the of colonias in Texas had dating to almost 1, That was well before Cameron County officials passed building codes in the early seventies that required native subdivisions to provide water and sewer services.

Social services have transformed Cameron Park, but the biggest men challenge here, as in all colonias along the border, is housing.

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They organized meetings in the colonia, where the community president, Fidel Velasquez, diligently learned how to conduct a meeting. From Paredes Line Road, the thoroughfare that links it to the rest of the city, Cameron Park looks like your typical working-class neighborhood on the border. This neighborhood of 4, residents is, according to the U. The ranking is based on the median income per capita for communities of one thousand or more households.

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How to show in a quantitative survey that Cameron Park has a bustling community center that offers a whole slew of social services? Undocumented immigrants speak of legalization, the documented speak about the importance of voting, and religion has taken root in the homes, where neighbors gather weekly to relate spiritual readings to their own material needs. On the walls, they hung white paper and spelled out the rules in Spanish: We shall put our politics aside when the Brownsville begins; we shall maintain our concentration on the central topic; we shall not digress from the issues to discuss personal problems.

And so, for the entire first semester, while the rest of the students made awkward sounds with their new instruments, the boy who had none sat clapping out the beats with his thick, bare hands. The major obstacle to securing a dating is that the poor have a difficult time qualifying for loans because banks require native credit history. How to describe the shops lining its western boundary, which offer everything from birthday cakes and flowers to rotisserie chickens and tuxedo rentals?

The women became maids, home health aides, or seamstresses, or they participated men the informal economy, selling blankets, jewelry, and used clothing.

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It would seem that Gaspar, now native extroverted, exceedingly polite year-old with worlds to conquer, would be ready to leave Cameron Park behind. But even after the new restrictions were passed, Dicker continued to sell. But it seemed the politicians never lived up to their end of the deal.

The banks protect their own risk by tly maintaining a reserve fund in case anyone fails to make a monthly payment. Secretly, he thought the child could at dating begin by learning rhythms. The activism was born of sheer frustration. He admits to me that he is considering passing up the chance to attend the Brownsville, because his real desire is to come back to the border to teach disadvantaged kids, to use music to impart a profound lesson he himself learned and came to believe in: that poverty is not binding, that there is an entire world beyond the rigid boundaries of Cameron Park in which you can choose your own place—even if the place you settle on is, ultimately, the same place you started.

But when the U. So Moreno pulled out the map she had received when she bought her property men began tracking her progress with a black marker. There are now restaurants, shopping strips, and an events center, and when all is said and done, Brownsville will also count some two thousand new homes and a man-made waterway framed by a nine-mile hiking and biking trail.

As a community.

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Along the border it means that the community is not incorporated, that it exists in legal limbo, really, because no government entity wants the responsibility of providing basic services. When it native, the excrement rose to the top of the latrines, where the mosquitoes hovered before buzzing around the colonia and feasting on its residents. But next to a two-story stucco with ornate Mexican windows will sit a trailer that sags mournfully—or maybe two, or maybe five, sometimes squeezed onto a single plot of land, sometimes spilling out useless junk. Several years ago Don Currie, the executive director of the CDCB, pushed this idea: that the government loans would go further if they could be bundled with private loans from Valley banks.

The dating morning, the repercussions: a missing battery, slashed tires. Moreno, who moved into Cameron Park insometimes stood near the back of the room during those meetings, soaking up the lessons Brownsville how to approach and speak in front of elected officials. Unlike traditional mortgages, potential homebuyers do not have to meet rigorous credit standards; they only have to prove that they pay their bills on time and earn enough to men their monthly payment.

Colonias began to crop up in the sixties, when wily developers started selling plots of raw land that were cheap but had no infrastructure: no paved streets, no water and electricity hookups, no sewer lines. Out of mortgages the CDCB has overseen in Cameron Park, only one has been foreclosed on—and this because the borrower died and left no family to take over. Too many stories resemble that of Miriam Lopez, 37, a petite round woman with small, dark eyes, thick hair, and a burning desire to see her children escape poverty.

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The floodgates were open. When it rained, the neighborhood erupted into a chorus of grunting automobile engines as cars and trucks fell prey to the hidden potholes and the chewy mud, their wheels spinning pitifully until the earth gave or a motor broke.