The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is held on a polo field lined by palm trees that are surrounded by rolling desert hills that reflect the warm sunset every evening. But a short drive from the festival is East Coachella, one of the most profitable farming regions in the nation. There, some of the richest people in the country live just a few miles from people struggling with poverty.
Permanent and migrant farmworkers pick dates, strawberries and even mangos in the East Coachella Valley. But there isn’t enough housing and as a result there’s more trailer homes that have been erected than actual single-family homes. In fact, there are so many illegal trailer homes no one knows how many exist.
“I was like, really? This is California. This is the United States? This is the same state as Beverly Hills and Palm Springs,” said Eduardo Guevara, who works with Promotores Comunitarios Del Desierto, a group working on the environmental conditions in the Coachella Valley.
The farmworkers sometimes rent space from trailer parks that don’t have electricity, water or sewage systems. Some resort to renting trailers on land that doesn’t even have the proper housing permits from the county.
“Its very clear and apparent when you’re here in May and June that there’s an amazing amount of individuals here working really hard in the hot sun who have very little options for where to live,” explained Nadia Villagran, of the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition. “So they sleep under trees and in their cars and they share public bathing facilities just to get by while they’re working here.”
Fusion correspondent Annie Rose Ramos spent the day with a young boy named Diego Ceja, 12, who lives in St. Anthony's Trailer Park. His parents are afraid of letting him drink from filtered water fountains because water in the past has tested positive for unsafe levels of arsenic.
“The reality is that there is a huge need for affordable housing here in the Coachella Valley,” said Nadia Villagran of the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition.
Villagran says families are left with no other choice but “to make decisions that would be hard for us to imagine, like living in environments such as St. Anthony’s.”
During the summer harvest months farms require the most labor. Migrant farm workers follow the crops and California Rural Legal Assistance estimates close to 15,000 additional laborers will come to work in the Coachella Valley, doubling the population and worsening the problems.
Jorge Rivas is the national affairs correspondent at Fusion. He follows the national conversation through the lens of racial, sexual, and political identity.