CIRS Blog about Rural California
Noé Montes has photographed and interviewed people in the Eastern Coachella Valley for two and a half years as part of a photo documentary project (which can be found at https://coachellafarmworkers.com). Recently, he answered the Rural California Report's questions about what the work.
Rural California Report: What is the Coachella Valley Farm Workers project and how long have you been working on it?
Noé Montes: It is a photo documentary project about the community of farmworkers in the Eastern Coachella Valley. It focuses on the individuals that are working in various capacities to address the many social justice issues and issues of inequality that exist in the community. Most of the people photographed and interviewed have been farmworkers themselves or are the children of farmworkers. It is comprised of photography, writing and audio interviews. I started working on this in January of 2015.
Photo of Castulo Estrada by Noé Montes
RCR: What inspired you to pick the Coachella Valley? Why did you want to photograph farmworkers and other community members there?
NM: One of the main reasons I wanted to photograph and interview farmworkers is that I myself come from family of farmworkers and I know that there is a lot of value on the community. There is a lot to learn from about how to develop our communities in a positive way. A lot of the previous work done about farmworkers focuses on the problems in the community and often farmworkers are depicted very simply, either as examples of inequality or to illustrate some social justice issue. I wanted to add to the conversation and our understanding of this community and see what we can all learn from them.
I picked the Coachella Valley because it is a good representative example of a rural farmworker community in California. It is a microcosm that contains all the elements present in many rural American communities. Logistically it also worked in that it is close enough to where I live (Los Angeles) that I was able to travel there regularly and often.
Despite one of the most severe droughts in California history, the Coachella Valley's overall consumption of water largely held steady during much of this year.
A review of water agencies' data by The Desert Sun has found that the total amount of groundwater pumped during the first eight months of 2014 was down only about 0.8 percent compared to the same period last year.
The data show the area has made some progress in conserving water during the past five years: It used 5.5 percent less water in 2013 than it did in 2009. But the total amount pumped by all users — including water agencies, golf courses, farms and others — has actually increased since reaching a low in 2010 and has remained about the same since 2011.
From January through August this year, despite the drought, the area's total use of groundwater was up 3.9 percent as compared to 2010.
THERMAL — Fed up with the lack of water and sewer service in their rural communities, a group of Latino voters is demanding that the Coachella Valley Water District change its election system to give them greater influence on an elected board that doesn’t have a single Latino member.
Civil rights lawyers Robert Rubin and Megan Beaman, who represent the group of several voters, told the water board’s president in a letter on Monday that they believe the agency’s at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and “dilutes the ability of Latino constituents to elect candidates of their choice.”
The letter, the first step toward a possible civil rights lawsuit, highlights wide disparities between income and influence in the predominantly Latino eastern portion of the Coachella Valley and the predominantly white and wealthier west valley.