With support from the California Endowment through the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Initiative, the California Institute for Rural Studies began collaborating with public health partners in the Eastern Coachella Valley (ECV) in 2011. CIRS was invited to form part of the Neighborhood Action Team, which worked alongside community members and community partners to inform county officials of infrastructure and development needs as well as ongoing environmental justice issues affecting the ECV. Our initial work within the ECV focused on environmental hazards that affect farmworker health. In collaboration with ECVBHC and UC Davis Center for Regional Change, a two year health study produced the report, “Revealing the Invisible Coachella Valley” (2013). Since this landmark report, CIRS has continued to build lasting relationships with community partners in ECV unincorporated communities.
This work included tracking and monitoring air quality, water quality, recording home conditions and existing housing types that was then compiled into data tools for the environmental justice policy campaign.
As the California Endowment’s ten year Building Healthy Communities initiative came to a close in 2020, CIRS was fortunate to continue collaborating on existing environmental issues with community-led organizations, such as Alianza Coachella Valley and Pueblo Unido, as well other statewide organizations working in the ECV like Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. This work continues to push for changes in environmental policies that continue to burden unincorporated ECV areas.
Led by researchers, Erika Ramirez Mayoral and Stephanie Serrato. CIRS’s Housing Justice Oral History Project centers community voices at the heart of housing justice work in the unincorporated areas of the Eastern Coachella Valley. This project uses oral history and testimonio as its primary methodology to support the development of an engaged community archive in partnership with the local community radio station and engaged community partners dedicated to housing justice work. This project supports long standing farmworker housing studies by engaging the narratives of communities who have navigated the dire housing and climate circumstances in rural areas. The goals of this project include: aligning community-led research projects with community needs and desires as well as supporting the existing knowledge and justice work that has been taking place in rural communities for the past three decades.
By shifting the historical lens to first person narratives, the oral histories of the communities who have worked on housing justice for disenfranchised communities, this project seeks to build power and collective ownership of community histories for community work.