The Diary of Joaquín Magón Entry 21
Coachella En El Corazón: Reflections on A Home Town
I am back home in the Coachella Valley. I drove last night through a California wet with rain, lettuce fields with mud, cows, the huge towering lights of Los Angeles, and the quiet darkness of empty space between Beaumont and home.
In the morning the sun rose and colored the snow-capped mountains purple, blue, white, brown; and the wind kicked up the smells of the land that has seen me grow.
I sip coffee and look at the Christmas paper and bows my mother has set out on the table and remember how so many things have changed in this valley, and how the things that stay the same bear the burden of holding a memory that transport us back in time — aging palm trees, colorful streets, and handmade tortillas; memories and reflections run through my mind like neglected photographs covered in dust.
But Coachella is a community that I have seen grow, lose many of its dunes in the name of prosperity that has since faltered. The properties gained were properties lost. As life propels me into a thousand tomorrows and I become more involved in social justice movements, the more I notice that for Coachella poverty is something so normal, like an old friend that we don’t even know it’s there; we didn’t notice it sleeping like a cat in every aspect of our being.
What amazes me about Coachella is how, in a sense, it sheltered me like a parent from what the world expected as “normal.” When I walked to school with my friend because neither of our mothers had a car, when we walked to the grocery store with my mom pushing the shopping cart with my brother in the seat – it didn’t bother us, it didn’t make us wonder why we didn’t have things that “normal” people had.
I didn’t know that this was the struggle that society gave us, the people, who crossed an international border because we could not live in our home country and this was what was sociologically sane….no. I just saw it as normal.
I can romanticize my youth and the beauty of my experiences here – playing baseball as a child, winning chess tournaments in middle school, playing guitar in high school with all my friends, exploring the natural beauty that surrounds us, playing soccer games in the 100-degree heat. I tried to sneak into Coachella Fest by going through a hole in the fence and running at full speed, only to realize that I snuck into the parking lot.
Here, I spent nights with friends talking because we didn’t have money to do anything else – but I run the danger of neglecting the fact that there is a serious injustice when people cannot live with their families and must cross an international border to survive. We continue to live in a community with gang issues, a place where ICE reins because there isn’t a united voice to stop them. It’s a place where the majority is marginalized in the east and many work for the west tidying up their golf courses.
Through my education, I learned that these experiences were not unique to me and that there is a tendency of blending our national cultures with our economic cultures and a cycle can come from that. A professor at College of the Desert shared his experiences of growing up in a migrant farm worker family of which he was the last child. He was the only one who had the opportunity to go to college. He told us of his struggle, where it was so normal for the Mexican community to grow up in poverty, that his desire to attend university was seen as wanting to be “white.” He didn’t stop being ashamed until he realized that his experience was shared by people that shared a common economic culture (urban blacks, Appalachian whites, etc.) and was not tied to any national culture.
But he said something that stuck with me. He said that, as painful as that experience was, he wished it upon us. Because that meant that we were breaking a cycle of poverty and changing the perceptions of what it means to be Latino.
As beautiful as my experience was growing up, it was only beautiful because my parents worked hard to keep me from seeing the reality and becoming part of that reality. I knew since high school that everything I learned must be used to help my community, be it in Coachella or Salinas or wherever.
That is how I learned, through life’s experiences, that I cannot be angry with Coachella for being the way that it is; nor can I defend it and justify its existence and pretend that that’s how our culture is supposed to be.
The more I travel, the more I know that I love the Coachella Valley and that it will always be part of me. But whatever the experience is that Coachella gave me, I cannot assume it’s inherited as part of our national culture. It’s something we inherit as part of an economic system, and we must work to change that system so that future generations do not need to share this same experience.
Being back home with my family, gathering memories on the kitchen table next to the tortillas, laughing, sipping coffee, starting a million sentences with “remember when,” I look forward in spite of the intertwined cycles of prosperity and poverty, clocks that turn and leaves that grow, die, and fly through a valley that still has roads cracked and unpaved, humans tattered and torn, broken hearts that fight to mend, and memories that shine like a galaxy in my mind.
“The Diary of Joaquín Magón” is written by Jesús E. Valenzuela Félix, a reporter from Coachella living in Salinas and working for the United Farm Workers Foundation. He contributes regularly to Coachella Unincorporated.