Delfina Martínez and Sonia Baturoni are two Mexican mothers and fieldworkers who live in Thermal, California, an unincorporated community less than 10 miles from the Empire Polo Club, where Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is held every year. Their homes are near the Salton Sea, a decaying lake that’s been called “an ecological nightmare soup.” Thousands of fish die here every summer, and the smell of rot often creeps its way into Thermal.
The people in Thermal also breathe in pesticides and toxins wafting through the air from nearby palm tree farms; many of Martínez and Baturoni’s neighbors have asthma, skin rashes and other related allergies. And, despite the fact that Delfina and Sonia will both be working at Coachella this year for extra cash, few concertgoers will hear their story, or that of the community just minutes away from the festival.
Until now, that is. The national art collective CultureStrike met Martínez and Baturoni while spending time in the Coachella Valley this month for their new project #CSDisruptsCoachella. As the second weekend of the concert kicks off today, CultureStrike’s goal is to show the real side of Coachella. They are sharing stories of Latinx communities living near and working at the festival — in other words, giving visibility to the people that no one ever sees when throngs of flower crown-wearing partygoers make it into the desert valley.
“There’s a huge irony that only a five-minute drive outside of where Coachella happens, some of the most impoverished immigrant communities live that are really feeling the impacts of environmental racism,” CultureStrike said in a statement.
The festival is contentious even among nearby residents. While some see Coachella as an opportunity for more work, others question how beneficial it is for communities. CultureStrike highlighted the story of Olivia, an Indio native who has spent most of her life in Thermal. The festival, she explained in a video CultureStrike uploaded on Instagram, minimizes her realities in the valley.
“The way that it’s sold or marketed…it’s kind of like taking my home and selling it and advertising it as something else that’s not real. My voice should be out there and it shouldn’t be put out by other people trying to make profit. It’s not even going to help our community out,” Olivia said.
Over the next four to six months, CultureStrike will continue to tell the stories of residents in the Central and Coachella Valley. The collective hopes to show the resilience of the community through an eventual art series.
CultureStrike has been supporting immigrant and Latinx rights through art since 2011. They launched a powerful series of illustrations called “Visions From the Inside” in 2015 to tell the stories of mothers struggling to raise their children from Texas’ Karnes Detention Center. An expanded iteration of the project in 2016 included the experiences of other undocumented immigrants who had been detained, including transgender women who had suffered abuses in detention centers.
For more info on CultureStrike’s Coachella and Central Valley project, click here.