Coachella, CA - Site Visit


Written by Sister Marge Clark, BVM

June 13, 2013

Mecca, California! The date capital of the Western World. Unfortunately, the dates are not yet ripe. But the farmworkers are busy with grapes and okra.

Celia and her family live in one of many trailer camps which are serviced with food and education by Sisters of many communities. Sister Carol Nolan, a Sister of Providence, one of these Sisters, organized this segment of the journey and arranged for us to talk with Celia, Lilian, Miguel and other residents of St. Anthony Trailer Park, "Duroville" which is being demolished, and Ave. 77 parks.

Across these three parks are about 280 trailers (fewer than 120 of which have permits); each is owned by a family. Lili told me that as soon as a family is about to move on, another is ready to purchase their trailer home.

In Duravlle, ICE has begun "hanging out" around a relief center. The people there feel threatened, not only by ICE. If they are not moved out by June 30, the Marshalls will evict them.

Celia has two sons; one is a U.S. citizen, the other is not. Celia lives in fear of her elder son being picked up by Border Patrol and delivered to ICE. Lilian described how the Border Patrol sits at the end of the road in the camp and will pick up one of the residents either walking to or from their car, and then take them to ICE. They are detained a few days, then deported in short order. These are not criminals, rather farmworkers, picking the food on which we depend.

Sister Gabi Williams, a Dominican, shared the horrifying story of St. Anthony Trailer Park owned by an absentee landlord, now in receivership. The new receiver of the nearly 100 trailers is working through the permit process for reconstruction and improvement of the park. Sister Gabi is waiting for the final work to be done on a learning center in Mountain View Estates built to replace the notoriously substandard Duroville.

Miguel, a Pastor and one of the elders, reminded us that these people work hard - and they are very poor. Lilian shared a friend's story of her community going out to pick okra, told they would be paid $12 a basket; yet at payment time being given just $10. Little wonder they are poor. They could go to the police, or a union and get redress. But, those without documents are subject to this wage theft - with no way to press for fair compensation.

With so much attention to Latinos, we sometimes forget that not all the immigrants in this area are farmworkers from Mexico or Central America. Sister Monessa told me of the thirteen pharmacists recruited from South Africa and brought to this area by CVS Drugstores. Some have left CVS, finding Walgreens and others to be better employers. They experience many of the same cruelties and fears as do the Latinos.

Good things are also happening. Hidden Harvest has an agreement with workers and residents in which they give some land to the people, and they allow gleaning of their fields. This food is then distributed through an organization called FIND. And, the people of the camps are positive, caring and giving – even to us. Celia, the wife of a picker, gifted us with a huge container of freshly picked green and purple grapes. They are the best I have e