For those who live there, life at the wrong end of Avenue 54 in Southern California’s eastern Coachella Valley is a hot, rotting hell. As you head east, the “Bermuda shorts, putting greens and picture-window champagne dinners” found in abundance near the Arnold Palmer Golf Course give way to “arsenic-tainted water, frequent blackouts and raw sewage that backs up into the shower.”
With this unflinching look at the lives of those who barely survive in the Coachella region, California Watch reporter Patricia Leigh Brown does honor to the withered tradition of no-frills investigation into the condition of the American dispossessed—people who appear to have been forgotten by much of the nation during the course of the latest great neoliberal race to the top. —Alexander Reed Kelly
Israel and Fatima Gutierrez – the parents of Neftoli, 7, and Alexis, 5, and residents of the Rancho Garcia Mobile Home Park – live the nightmare daily.
The vinyl floors of their disintegrating trailer, which they rent, are dimpled with moisture. Plywood covers holes where windows once were, affixed with duct tape to walls in a slow state of collapse. Rats are a constant presence; sometimes, frogs make their way through the pipes. An extension cord leads from a single light bulb hanging from the bedroom ceiling to a socket with exposed wires.
“Sometimes, the niños shock themselves and scream,” Israel Gutierrez said.
In the tumbledown warrens of America’s pre-fab favelas – California’s Third World – the 20th century is a dim memory. Basic needs like potable water, safe and reliable electricity, rudimentary sanitation, and clean air can go unmet.
Brian Auer (CC-BY)
A decaying trailer is all that remains of an old RV park near the Salton Sea on the northern edge of the Coachella Valley. The writing on the rusted metal in the foreground reads: “Doomed in the Sea.”