If you have traveled west on Interstate 10 from anywhere in New Mexico, you have passed through Lordsburg in Hidalgo County. More than likely, you stopped for fuel, food or just took a break from the road, as it is the last stop before you cross over into Arizona. Truckstops at either end of town and the restaurants at the middle exit are what most people visit when passing through. You just might have been forced to stop due to dust storms from the wind kicking up the dry earth that surrounds the town in the summer, or because of the limited visibility and ice-covered freeway in the winter.
Lordsburg was once a bustling railroad-, highway- and mining town. When travelers do venture down the old highway through town, they are struck by the aged disrepair of the boarded-up buildings that once held busy restaurants, bars and motels. Over the years, as industries pulled out and businesses shut down, most workers left and took their families. Businesses closed, schools shrank and services dwindled. Those who stayed either have lived in the area for generations, do not have the resources or ability to go, or have returned to care for their aging parents. Houses and businesses left untended have begun to disintegrate, along with the town’s infrastructure. For those who remain, life is much more complicated than it was before.
Families in the area, and especially single mothers and widows on fixed incomes, are impoverished, isolated and underserved. Transportation is usually the biggest barrier to accessing services, especially for those who live in the county, outside of Lordsburg. For services such as employment, orthodontics and vision, or domestic violence support, families must travel to Silver City, Las Cruces or even El Paso, Texas. If they live in Animas, the shortest trip to such services is 100 miles each way. With no public transportation, it might as well be 1,000 miles, unless they have a car and enough money to pay for fuel.
Women living in these conditions naturally come together to counter feelings of isolation and lack of power. They offer to pick up each other’s kids from school, shop for each other at Walmart, carpool to doctors’ appointments, and pitch in with food items for fundraisers for families in need, because they have needed, or know they will need, someone’s help somewhere along the way. Programs that succeed in these areas build on that natural tendency to come together.
The Hidalgo Women’s Cooperative, sponsored by SPIRIT of Hidalgo and NewMexicoWomen.org, provides resources that allow women the flexibility to earn an income while caring for their families and supporting each other. This group has four core members who work together to sell handmade goods at events all around Hidalgo County. Others have come and gone, but four mothers have worked together over the past five years, and when one can’t make it to an event, the others take her goods along and sell them for her. These events have also become their social hours, like a book club, for these now very close friends.
When considering developing programs to increase economic security for women and girls, the last thing we want to do is to create fear or uncertainty or a sense of being even more powerless. Programs like the Hidalgo Women’s Cooperative allow for a support system of local women to give new participants a sense of security and sisterhood. They certainly don’t happen overnight. It takes time to nurture the network and for a natural leader to arise. The key to sustainability is that foundation and a group that works together.
Cory Sprott is development director of SPIRIT in Lordsburg, New Mexico.