The Forgotten Mesa

Without basic services, life on Pajarito Mesa is all about surviving.


"We always say, ‘If your car gets stolen, go look for it on Pajarito Mesa,’ " says Sandra Montes, nodding toward an abandoned van. Her SUV rumbles noisily down a nameless dirt road, littered with old tires, gutted appliances and stained mattresses. Dead animals and barrels of oil have been dumped out here, and Montes often comes across old chemical containers. "Whatever people don’t want, they bring to us," she says.

Illegal dumping is just one of the hardships that burden everyday life on Pajarito Mesa, an unincorporated rural community southwest of Albuquerque. Because it's more than 150 miles from the Mexican border, the community doesn’t meet the official federal definition of a colonia. But by all other standards — lack of access to drinking water, electricity, sewage systems and adequate housing — living conditions on the mesa are little different than those found in the hardscrabble settlements near the border.

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The health and safety issues posed by the mesa’s inadequate infrastructure are exacerbated by the ad hoc way in which the community has developed. Many homes are a couple of miles from the nearest neighbor, and all are accessed by illegal roads. Without street names and physical addresses, residents have to meet police, ambulances and fire trucks at the base of the mesa, seriously delaying emergency response times.

Despite all this, the mesa’s residents refuse to see themselves as victims. Montes, like most of her neighbors, moved to Pajarito Mesa because she couldn’t find affordable housing elsewhere. Since 2000, she has worked to bring basic services to the mesa. Progress has barely crept along, and Montes sometimes feels forgotten. Still, she keeps pushing. "We are survivors," she says. "We do everything ourselves."

Music by Au and Ilyas Ahmed

Additional sound by Dynamicell


Forgotten Mesa
Susan Canyon
Susan Canyon
Feb 09, 2010 03:38 PM
I feel compassion for these people, but there are many Americans who are struggling at this time. When services are contracted out the work is done by illegal immigrants who will work for less and depress wages, such as the meat packing industry. A poor example. Also, there is not a desire to learn English. Americans are struggling to pay taxes and support services for illegal immigrants are on the remaining middle class. Immigrants send money home that is not spent locally. I don't know the answer, but expressing my concerns and feeling of loss as the increase in population creeps into our wild and wonderful landscape.

The area they are living in may not have the resources to support a population let alone water in some areas of New Mexico where even the wealthy need to haul water a disappearing resource in the West.
Pajarito Mesa
Feb 10, 2010 09:23 AM
During these hard times the growth of unorganized developments will continue to spread in the US as the the kaos of Mexico (cartel wars) continues to grow and more people will be crossing the border (both legally or illegally) into the Southwest. Its a fact of life. Having lived in Europe for over 20 years you see the flight from the undeveloped countries and the number of Africans coming into Italy is enourmous. Developments like Pajarito Mesa are growing throughout southern Italy and the numbers are getting larger and many of these folks have turned to crime due to the lack of attention to the problem. Most are hard working good people but to look the other way and think Pajarito Mesa will go away is naive. The answer is education and development so that many of these people can be productive much like the 1930's and 1940's were to get the nation out of the great depression. They only want a better life for them and their families. My two cents we need to go back and look at history to better understand how best to work and make developments like Pajarito Mesa work for the greater Albuquerque community (hint Mayor Berry) versus let it just exist.
Pajarito Mesa issue
Carrie Starr
Carrie Starr
Feb 10, 2010 02:42 PM
I'm so sorry to see folks say that immigrants send their money back home and don't spend money or support services here.

It might be true that immigrants send some money back home. However:

1.Legal immigrants pay the same taxes as anyone else, and those taxes are what support our services.

2.At the level these folks are living, they hardly have much money to send "home". They're spending whatever money the earn to live on, and that means spending it here.

Please, please, let's not blame the victims of our current socioecomic setup--there have got to be abuses--we're dealing with humans here, but mostly, folks are trying to do the right thing and most of their money stays here.
Pajarito Mesa article
Karen Mangan
Karen Mangan
Feb 10, 2010 02:06 PM
I think moving to a barren mesa, then demanding the government provide services is more than a little ridiculous.
Pajarito mesa
Audrey R. Gallas
Audrey R. Gallas
Apr 16, 2010 04:36 PM
Last time I checked, the government was suppose to serve the people, not vice versa. These people pay taxes every payday, some of that money should be going to provide some basic level of services at the very least. What more worthy investment is there than in the lives of human beings?