This Is the Coachella Most Californians Don't See

28 min
Photographer, reporter and farmworker Bryan Mendez's coworker in the fields, Antonio Magana, who often offers Mendez advice about life and school. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)

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or many Californians, their only reference point for the Coachella Valley is the annual music festival which kicks off this week, where tens of thousands of concert-goers from around the world gather to see big-name headliners and party in the desert. But there’s another side to Coachella — the one the locals see.

Thousands of acres of date palms. Early morning dew on the grape vines. A thriving indigenous community. The backyard concerts where local artists have created their own music scene.

And also, high asthma rates. The decaying Salton Sea.

“I want people to know what it's really like, and the issues we're facing. Because it's something that I face, too,” said 24-year-old Bryan Mendez, a reporter with Coachella Unincorporated, where young people write and document the stories of this valley.

Bryan Mendez is a filmmaker and farmworker from the Eastern Coachella Valley. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)

Mendez grew up picking grapes with his parents. He still does farm work and construction to pay the bills. But he’s also a talented photographer and filmmaker.

The California Report Magazine's host Sasha Khokha teamed up with Mendez to take a tour of his Coachella Valley, from the orchard where his mom takes a lift 60 feet up in the air to harvest dates, to the local joint where you can eat homemade ice cream made from Mexican pastries.

Take a look at a few of Mendez’s photos:

The trailer where Mendez grew up in the Eastern Coachella Valley. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
Cruzito, a farmworker who works with Mendez in the vines. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
Before working the palms, Jose was a carpenter in Michoacán. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
A family owned and operated farm in the Coachella Valley. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
Palm leaves are lifted with cranes to work the dates. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
Farmers harvesting spinach during the rainy season in Oasis, CA. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
Yellow ponchos are known to be uncomfortable for female workers. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
Yisel Ibarra plays soccer at Desert Mirage High School, which became the first school in the Coachella Valley to win a state title this year. Before this year the team had hardly won any games. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
A young speaker at The Women's March in Coachella Valley, 2018. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
Desert flowers in the Coachella Valley. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
Palm trees in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
Palm trees in the Eastern Coachella Valley. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
Date palms have become a growing industry for local families. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
The Salton Sea is one of the world's largest inland seas, but the water is toxic, and might be causing respiratory illnesses throughout the Eastern Coachella Valley community. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)
The Coachella Valley at sunset. (Courtesy of Bryan Mendez)

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