A few months ago, I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with state Representative Patricia Roybal Cabellero for a photo shoot. I was amazed at how comfortable she felt engaging people in her neighborhood. So when we at The Paper. were tossing around names of Westside community members to profile, Roybal Caballero was the one.
Roybal Caballero is old school, in a good way. She does more in a day than many half her age. Meeting after meeting, she is on the road literally all week. ”You can’t be a successful politician and community organizer by staying at home.”
That she is: the daughter of one of the last strong descendant ties to the Piro Manso Tiwa tribal lineage from southern New Mexico. Growing up down south, she worked as a community and labor organizer for many years, struggling alongside activists like Dolores Huerta in the ’60s and ’70s.
Roybal Caballero is one of the more outspoken state representatives. She doesn’t shy away from much. Whether it is being strong on immigrants’ rights or standing up to rushed development, Roybal Caballero lives in the heart of her district, in a nondescript mobile home park just off Central Ave.
The Paper.: Who are the communities you represent?
Patricia Roybal Caballero: Since 2007 District 13 represents the far SW area, which includes all of the Westgate area, both old and new. We are quite diverse; my district has a growing number of immigrants. Working-class, others still dealing with the fallout of the housing crisis, they were sold on these big, short sales and some were exploited to get housing. So many of them came to the United States, seeking the American dream. Get a job, earn enough money, buy your home, get educated, contribute to the community—you know, all of that American Dream stuff. And it isn’t that easy.
In the Latino culture and upbringing, we are taught we don’t have a homeless problem in the sense that we have people living out in the streets. We have multiple families living together, overcrowded, all contributing to pay the rent and utilities. And they have to live together in order to be able to make it. They’re living in the shadows of being stereotyped. But yet they’re paying taxes. You know, these are the very people that are taking the jobs no one else wants, and they have to work two and three jobs at a time.
Do you feel a major difference between resources and development north of I-40 versus south of I-40?
There is a difference in that South I-40 the homes are more working-class affordable, while north of I-40 the homes are more middle-class affordable. The parks are better maintained with more park amenities including for pets. The senior centers are higher quality and better maintained North I-40. Whereas Westgate has been waiting to get a new senior center forever. The same with medical care, libraries, business development, all with greater investments north of I-40.
The big box stores, are they looking at developing or building, or no? Do we have a movie theater in the area? No. Do we have any more pharmacies moving into the area? No. If they anticipate growth, they move in. And we don’t see that happening. Yet these housing projects like Santolina want us to invest in these massive developments. So, you know, it’s like Amazon; we’re doing a lot of porting, but we’ve yet to see big corporate investment. They come in and take advantage of the tax incentive packages, and then turn around and do not give back to the community to justify the huge tax incentives that we give away. I’m concerned with not being able to see an adequately justified 25- or even 40-year plan that shows how public services and public utilities and public rights of way and public tax is going to benefit the public. My area is in great need of investment in neighborhood grocery stores, more options to shop both for household items and more options for eating out. We still have streets that are unpaved, without streetlights and sidewalks.
There are people that I consider working-poor and working-class living south of I-40. We have little investment or interest in that area, and that’s why I gave examples. We don’t have the amenities that north of I-40 has. You can see the clear distinction in terms of just the affordability of homes. So there’s disinvestment when you have working-poor and working-class neighborhoods. People disinvest, and government disinvests. While on the other side, they continue to invest and incentivize and that’s what we continue to see.
Where do you see your community being in the next 10 years?
We have to recognize the fact that in my district, we have primarily Spanish-speaking students in the schools. So we need to make sure that we have proper bilingual education or language offerings. And we need to make sure that our working families have after-school opportunities for their children. We’re busting at the seams, and it can’t be solved with another portable building.
I wish people could see how much Southwest District 13 has grown. We have to be planning right now for the next 10 years. We need basic services that promote a sense of community and collective good. Connect small businesses and neighborhood businesses so they could adopt a school. Building communities: The community school concept really needs to be promoted, especially in my area. And that’s what I’d like to see. I’d like to see neighbors knowing each other’s names. People sharing and parenting at school and helping with the schools. We need to reconnect and build the community back into our neighborhoods. Make places where people can trust each other. We need to look after each other.
What do you love about the Westside?
I love the diversity in people, children running around and playing in neighborhoods. The unique character offered in local family-owned restaurants and small businesses with excellent customer service; the only area where there is fresh bread from panaderias, fresh-cut meats from carnicerias. And people actually know their neighbors by name. And it is the only area where extended families live close to each other in the same area. The SW area is an example for all of Albuquerque for happy family living!