Las Colonias: The Housing of Poverty in Modern Americas


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


American Studies


Scholarly and popular accounts of the US-Mexico border, one of the most contentious geopolitical divides, often depict nearby communities as caught between clashing nations. Yet, such framing obscures both countries’ far-reaching policy collaborations that have structured vast inequality as a condition of local life. This project historicizes the thousands of chronically under-resourced Texas border communities (las colonias) where today a half-million people live in one of the greatest concentrations of American poverty. Through property records, oral histories, and government archives, it explores how mid-twentieth-century landowners devised extra-legal schemes targeting Mexican migrant workers. It further contends that over the several decades when the once-small migrant settlements transformed into ready-made housing markets, the United States and Mexico initiated broad economic liberalization policies that accelerated colonia construction. Ultimately, the project explains how workers, landowners, and state actors made the Texas colonias a transnational institution of poverty and profit in the modern US-Mexico borderlands.