The Other Coachella: What You Won’t See at the Music Festival

The Other Coachella: What You Won’t See at the Music Festival

I recall the first time I heard someone in New York talk excitedly about plans to “go to Coachella.” What? I thought.

The Coachella I had known while growing up in the vicinity was a small desert town where irrigation made farming possible, and where the crops ranged from rows of vegetables to groves of citrus and date-palm trees. Under the blasting desert sun, its motto—“The City of Eternal Sunshine”—seemed a literally accurate description, except maybe for the nighttime hours. Every year the next-door town of Indio would hold the National Date Festival, where events included naming a Queen Scheherazade and her court. (That tradition continues: here’s the current queen, Keanna Garcia.) During Cesar Chavez’s heyday as an organizer, his United Farm Workers led a number of strikes and other actions among the mainly Latino work force in the area.

So to me, the name Coachella had always meant “date palms” and “farm-workers’ efforts.” But over the past 20 years, it has come to mean “Music Festival” to much of the world. In fact, the web address coachella.com takes you directly to festival information, rather than to a municipal site.

This tension—Coachella the real place, where struggles for economic and environmental progress have been waged for decades, versus Coachella the stylish venue toward which festival-goers are flocking right now—is the theme of an intriguing new “story map” produced by the novelist Susan Straight, the photographer Douglas McCulloh, and our friends* at the Esri corporation, of Redlands, California. The map is here, and a few details about it are after the jump.

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