TAMIU Researcher: Colonia Residents Have Limited Access to Services

In the midst of unpaved roads and muddy puddles, local colonia residents live in an economically marginalized place where impoverished consumers have limited access to standard products and services such as large grocery stores and medical services, a recent Texas A&M International University study found.

Dr. Jyotsna Mukherji, assistant professor of marketing, said conditions in the colonias are in some cases similar to conditions found in developing countries and that models for social marketing and social work applied to colonias could benefit from those in developing nations.

Dr. Mukherji's research was supported by a grant from the Texas Center Research Fellows Grant Program, part of the University's Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development. Findings were published in the Center's Border Research Reports, Volume 2: 2000-2001.

The research, conducted in Laredo area colonias with the assistance of bilingual, Hispanic field investigators, found that because a large number of residents lack medical insurance, access to preventive health services and pre-natal care is inadequate.

"The implications are that the colonias in particular and the border counties in general have high rates of hepatitis A, tuberculosis, measles and neural tube defects. This affects public health not only in the border region but of also the nation since microbes have no borders and infections can travel across borders and countries and spread disease," Mukherji explained.

In addition, because most businesses in the colonias are considered small businesses, banks dealing with those areas should consider adopting the concept of micro-lending or lending funds in small amounts without the requirement of an elaborate business plan or collateral, the research states.

"One such model is the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which specializes in micro-lending for small entrepreneurs," Mukherji said.

The assistance of non-governmental agencies and the incorporation of successful models such as the concept of promotoras, or neighbors helping neighbors, are also crucial in addressing substandard living conditions, the research states.

Dr. Mukherji, originally from India, said she became interested in her research topic partly because poverty is an issue in her country and because of her curiosity in the unintended effects of globalization and marketing activities such as advertising.

"In this research, I was interested in knowing the impoverished consumers' point of view," Dr. Mukherji said, "Also, I wanted to explore the effect of the global phenomenon of migration on consumers and cross cultural consumption issues."

During her study, Dr. Mukherji said she saw two contrasting worlds.

"One is the world I live in, which is Laredo, where we see manicured lawns and nicely maintained parks and the other are the colonias, where there are unpaved roads, potholes, puddles, half-finished houses, mobile homes, and curtains used as doors," she said, "I would venture to say that we have a third-world environment less than 20 miles away."

Living in Laredo, where the population majority is Hispanic, also makes it easier for Dr. Mukherji to delve into the study of Hispanic consumers' behavior, she said.

" Hispanics are the largest minority and this population is of interest to marketers," she said.

Dr. Mukherji, who will present her research at the August 2002 conference of the American Marketing Association in San Diego, Calif., said she hopes her research raises awareness.

"I'm conscious of the fact that I am an academic and all I can do is be interested, research and write. I hope that as more people read this research, they become sensitized to a world not characteristic of where they live. I believe that through awareness comes advocacy," she said.

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