Monday, April 23, 2012

The two Coachellas 2012

This weekend, 225 thousand music fans converged in Indio, CA (near Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley) for the annual Coachella Music Festival, considered one of the world’s premiere music festivals. The western part of Coachella Valley--now one of the fastest growing areas in the country--has been a resort haven for millionaire movie stars & retired presidents since the 1920s & a haven for retired northerners (“snowbirds”) during the winter months.  Only 25 miles away, Eastern Coachella Valley is an agricultural area drawing 15,000 migrant farm workers during the growing season. Because no housing is provided for migrant workers, homelessness is a major problem with most forced to live out of their cars, on the streets, or in makeshift housing. Hundreds of illegal, unregulated trailer parks built on the cheap provide squalid housing for permanent residents & some migrants. Built on county lands (called unincorporated communities), these trailer parks lack sewage systems, clean drinking water, storm drains, trash pickup, & even power. As a result, residents are plagued by contaminated water & raw sewage backing up in the shower, overflowing in the streets every time it rains, sitting in stagnant pools in their yards. Children play in this raw sewage with rat, mosquito, & cockroach infestations. Residents attempt to treat these problems which the state ignores by flushing sewage into septic tanks & cesspools (which overflow regularly), by pouring bleach into sewage pools, by digging private sewage pits, but suffer from many public health problems including gastrointestinal illness, respiratory disease, skin infections, & other health problems in an area not served by public health facilities. This racist neglect by the state also means dozens of crops sold around the country are grown in surrounding fields fertilized by untreated sewage. Certainly the most disgusting of all the environmental outrages in the area is what has been termed “Mt. San Diego”, a 50-foot high pile of human poop dumped by San Diego on nearby Indian tribal land from 1989 until 1994, when a federal court ordered an end to the racist practice. Particulates from the massive heap of feces are dispersed by desert winds to the dozens of communities just a few miles away & emit a noxious stench impossible to shut out. Although the labor of migrant workers generates the enormous agricultural wealth of California, their conditions of life have been in this bereft & squalid state for generations, existing right next door to lavish wealth. In Coachella Valley, one has to drive through upscale golf courses where celebrity tournaments are played to get to these impoverished hell holes where mostly Latino Californians & migrant workers live. If the stench was near enough to affect the golf games, that pile of human manure would be removed forthwith by the state. In the bottom photo (by Max Whittaker), a 7-year old child plays in raw sewage flowing from the trailer park where he lives to the adjoining agricultural fields; the top photo is of the Coachella Music Festival 2012 (by Arkasha Stevenson/LA Times). Two venues only miles, yet worlds apart.

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