Respected design firm buildingcommunityWORKSHOP worked with local Conjunto musicians in Edinburg, TX on a project called Sonido del Agua to equip and mobilize residents in the Rio Grande Valley floodplain to tackle flood-related public health issues. They have commissioned songs inspired by residents’ stories that have been performed at colonia events.
From We Shall Overcome to Give Peace a Chance, songs have long been used as a means of protest or to bring attention to social inequities. The Black Freedom Movement is one classic example of how music can be used as a vehicle for change: activists replaced the lyrics of popular hymns and other songs to draw attention to their issues. These are tunes with lyrics that inspire listeners – and the singers themselves – to action.
In South Texas, Hidalgo County experiences some of the worst flooding in the Rio Grande Valley and has more colonias (substandard subdivisions) than any county in the United States. The colonias in the Lower Rio Grande Valley right on the border between Texas and Mexico are unincorporated, often rural subdivisions that were formed by Mexican migrants in the 1960s and 1970s. Developers divided and sold cheap, low-value land to these workers with the promise that basic services would soon arrive -- but for many colonias, water, electricity, sewage, and other infrastructures wouldn’t come without intense struggle. Community organizing groups called attention to the dire conditions and throughout that decade, a series of legislation was passed to bring necessary infrastructure to the colonias. Yet problems persist even today. Substandard homes which violate codes still cannot connect to those hard-won services.
In response, a coalition of community organizers realized that flooding, basic rights, and song have more in common than you might think. Now, colonia residents are using traditional Conjunto music to raise awareness about their current drainage and infrastructure issues.
In their Creativity Lives Here video, join Valeria Landeros from BC Workshop, Martha Sanchez from Lupe and Laura Guerra of ARISE as they show us around the colonias and talk about the flooding that adversely affects residents. The power of song in community organizing is alive and well in South Texas.
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