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Coachella Valley farmworkers’ lives seen in Riverside photo exhibit

Fifty-two images were shot in past 30 years by David Bacon

Jose Cruz Frias, a farm worker or “palmero,”  works in a Coachella Valley grove of date palms in 2017. He climbs the trees on a ladder and walks around on the fronds. Cruz, who has been doing the work for 15 years, came to the Coachella Valley from Irapuato, Guanajuato, in Mexico. (Courtesy of David Bacon)
Jose Cruz Frias, a farm worker or “palmero,” works in a Coachella Valley grove of date palms in 2017. He climbs the trees on a ladder and walks around on the fronds. Cruz, who has been doing the work for 15 years, came to the Coachella Valley from Irapuato, Guanajuato, in Mexico. (Courtesy of David Bacon)
Sarah Hofmann
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An in-depth look into the lives and communities of Inland Empire agricultural workers is on display in downtown Riverside.

“Working Coachella: Images of the farmworker community of the Coachella Valley” includes 52 photos selected from the project’s thousands of images, according to a news release from the , which is hosting the exhibit.

Behind the photos is David Bacon, a Bay Area photographer, writer and activist who began the project 30 years ago. Bacon, a factory worker and union organizer for about 20 years, said Monday, Jan. 15, that he came to the Coachella Valley while organizing for the United Farm Workers. He began working as a photographer in the 1980s, and tried to document the topics he knew about, including migration and the global economy’s impact on people.

  • Carlos Chavez, a palmero for more than 20 years, sits...

    Carlos Chavez, a palmero for more than 20 years, sits in the shade of the Coachella Valley trailer where he live with his daughter Michelle in 2017. Michelle was in high school trying to win a scholarship to go to college. Chavez took her to work with him one summer, but she didn’t like it and said the experience motivated her to study harder. (Courtesy of David Bacon)

  • Farmworker Aniceto Medina is among those picking and sorting green...

    Farmworker Aniceto Medina is among those picking and sorting green beans in a field near Thermal in 2019. Boxes of beans are then loaded onto trucks. (Courtesy of David Bacon)

  • Carlos Chavez, seen in 2017 in the Coachella Valley, worked...

    Carlos Chavez, seen in 2017 in the Coachella Valley, worked more than 20 years in the date palms. His hands show the lines and creases of a lifetime of labor in the trees. (Courtesy of David Bacon)

  • Members of the Purépecha community in the Coachella Valley gather...

    Members of the Purépecha community in the Coachella Valley gather in 2010 at night outside the Chicanitas trailer park to rehearse the Danza de Los Ancianos. Purépechas are the main Indigenous group in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Trailer park residents work in the fields. (Courtesy of David Bacon)

  • Pedro Gonzales, seen in 2006, was one of the first...

    Pedro Gonzales, seen in 2006, was one of the first Purépechas to work in the U.S. as a farmworker. He became a leader of the Purépecha community in the Coachella Valley. He lived with his family live in Duros, a farm labor trailer park. Most of the park’s residents were Indigenous Purépecha migrants from the Mexican state of Michoacán. (Courtesy of David Bacon)

  • Jose Cruz Frias, seen in the Coachella Valley in 2917,...

    Jose Cruz Frias, seen in the Coachella Valley in 2917, sprays pollen onto buds that will become dates, and ties the bunch together with string. It’s one of seven operations that must happen to the trees each year to get them to bear fruit. (Courtesy of David Bacon)

  • Jose and Ingracia Castillo, seen in Thermal in 1995, were...

    Jose and Ingracia Castillo, seen in Thermal in 1995, were strikers in the 1973 grape strike. After being blacklisted, they got a job with the only union table grape grower, David Freedman Co. They kept the flag with the union’s black eagle and hung it in their living room after the strike. (Courtesy of David Bacon)

  • Jose Cruz Frias, a farm worker or “palmero,” works in...

    Jose Cruz Frias, a farm worker or “palmero,” works in a Coachella Valley grove of date palms in 2017. He climbs the trees on a ladder and walks around on the fronds. Cruz, who has been doing the work for 15 years, came to the Coachella Valley from Irapuato, Guanajuato, in Mexico. (Courtesy of David Bacon)

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The project “makes visible the people who labor in the Coachella Valley’s fields, demonstrating who is responsible for producing the food we all eat,” Bacon’s artist statement reads. “But while the labor of Coachella farmworkers is essential, the rural poverty endemic in their communities (is) largely invisible.”

The photos illustrate economic hardship, he said, but also his subjects’ vibrant culture.

“The show has a number of images of the Pʼurhépecha community” who’ve immigrated from the Michoacán region of Mexico and now make up a significant portion of Coachella Valley’s workforce, he said. They maintain cultural traditions, such as the Danza de los Ancianos, or the Dance of the Old People, in the trailer parks the community calls home, Bacon said.

Other photos show the “environmental disaster” of the Salton Sea, which is drying and exposing locals to the resulting dust, which according to the can be hazardous when airborne.

The show’s goal, Bacon said, is to advocate for social justice for these communities.

The free exhibit, on display through April, will later be shown in Coachella. Bacon’s photos are also in Stanford University’s special collections.

IF YOU GO

What: “Working Coachella: Images of the farmworker community of the Coachella Valley” photo exhibit

When: Wednesdays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m., through April

Where: Civil Rights Institute of Southern California, 3933 Mission Inn Ave., Suite 103

Cost: Free

Information: 951-682-5307 or

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