SOUTH VALLEY, N.M. — Unless there is a murder in the South Valley, local media doesn’t typically come here.
If you watch or read the local news, anytime you hear about the area bordering southwest Albuquerque, “it’s always because someone got shot or someone got robbed,” said Robert Ryan, who was born in New Mexico’s largest city and recently moved to this unincorporated area just outside the city limits in Bernalillo County.
“It’s not the wild west out here,” he said.
“But it’s not dangerous,” said his spouse, Arden Ryan. “That is a product of 24-hour news.”
A lot of public perceptions and media coverage of this place focus on crime, the presence of asylum seekers, or Dia de Los Muertos, residents said.
But the Ryans have had zero problems with their neighbors in the two years they’ve lived here.
The people of the South Valley are very stigmatized, said Sue Enriquez, a caregiver at an assisted living facility here.
“They’re always saying that there’s a lot of criminality going on, there’s a lot of deviancy going on, that our kids are deviant, all those things,” said Enriquez, who has lived here for 18 years after moving from Phoenix to get away from the heat and the crowds.
On Sunday, Enriquez and her family watched the 30th annual South Valley Pride parade from the back of her son Luis Moreno’s truck in their driveway.
They were joined by hundreds of their neighbors who flocked to see lowriders and catch candy thrown by students from Rio Grande High School, state lawmakers, and candidates for the local school and community college boards.
Dancers from Flamenco Albuquerque dance and wave to the parade crowd. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)
Enriquez said the parade made them feel special and acknowledged the South Valley. It reminded her there are a lot of programs for children here, including dance clubs, karate and baseball teams.
“Stop stigmatizing us, we’re not bad people,” Enriquez said.
A diverse, neglected community
Those perceptions discourage people from moving to the Valley and seeing it for what it truly is, said Moreno, a member of the New Mexico National Guard and service worker at a local bar and grill.
Various dialects of Spanish-speaking people live here, along with a more recent community of immigrants, and people with deep ties to the Pueblo of Isleta. It’s rich in agriculture, with some landowners building wealth on pockets of large farms.
The community is not incorporated into the city of Albuquerque, so many services like ambulances and fire fighting end at the Five Points intersection or Rio Bravo Boulevard.
What’s more, locals typically go into the city to shop, meaning the sales taxes they pay for goods and services do not go back into their community.
The patchwork of private and public lands in the nearby Pajarito Mesa has left many without utility connections or publicly maintained roads, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. The state’s constitution prohibits the government from building or maintaining roads that cross private land, because it would legally be considered a “donation” to those landowners.
(Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)
The federal government in 1990 passed the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act which defines a colonia as a community in Arizona, California, New Mexico, or Texas within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border and lacking a potable water supply, adequate sewage systems, and safe, clean housing.
The South Valley meets all of the substantive criteria of a colonia: it has exceedingly high rates of poverty, a large number of Mexican immigrants or their descendents, and is largely rural in nature.
However, it is technically too far away from the border to meet that formal designation, which would make the community eligible for infrastructure money, according to the Resource Center for Raza Planning at UNM.
A lot of the people living here live in trailers without utility connections, including many Mexican immigrants who bought subdivided lots on a real estate contract with no infrastructure, according to the New Mexico Law Review.
Princeton University’s Eviction Lab found the South Valley had some of the highest eviction rates in the state in 2016.
Arden Ryan, a prep chef originally from Los Lunas, moved to the South Valley in 2021 because rents are cheaper here.
“They need to come and see that we’re not actually bad, you know, and our kids are not actually that bad,” Enriquez said. “I mean, they’re kids! You know, some of them are more trouble than others but yeah, our kids, I think they’re pretty awesome.”
Better public transit would be more inclusive
Ryan, who uses a cane, said her biggest pet peeve about the South Valley is how dangerous it is to cross the intersection of 98th Street and Gibson Boulevard.
She wants to see the community be more walkable, and believes better public transportation would make the South Valley more inclusive for disabled people.
Even though the Ryans live within walking distance of their daughter’s charter school in the South Valley, she has had to drive to school because it is so dangerous to walk.
“There’s a good chance that she won’t be able to learn how to drive because of her special needs,” Ryan said. “How does she get around?”
There is only one bus that serves the Westgate Heights neighborhood, Robert Ryan said, while parts of Albuquerque have multiple buses per route.
Ryan wishes the public transportation system in the Albuquerque area was more reliable, specifically the Sun Van, which is for people who are either elderly or disabled.
Her daughter rode the van last year with success, but in 2022 her school schedule changed, and it was “impossible” to adjust her pickup time. To take the van, you must wait for 30 minutes before and after the scheduled pickup time.
“If you’re elderly, if you have special needs, that can be really hard,” Ryan said, “and if you don’t qualify for other services, like a home health worker, you’re doing that by yourself, and that makes it even harder.”
Enriquez said she would like to see the government help develop more local businesses. Moreno said the South Valley needs more schools and places for children to play.
“Someone can just take their time, visit the Valley and explore what it has to offer, not just go based on what people say about it,” Moreno said, “because every part of New Mexico has its good and bad sides.”
(Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)