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date palms

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Jose Cruz Frias a farm worker, a "palmero", and works in a grove of date palms. He climbs the trees on a ladder, and during this phase of the work, he sprays pollen from a small bottle onto the buds that will become the dates, and ties the bunch together with string. Once up in the tree he walks around on the fronds themselves. This is one of seven operations that must happen to the trees each year to get them to bear fruit. Cruz has been doing this work for 15 years. He originally came to the Coachella Valley from Irapuato, Guanajuato in Mexico.Copyright David Bacon

These photographs document the date palm workers, or "palmeros". They are a window into their lives, showing their living conditions and the pain of exploitation. They document families, homes, and the culture of indigenous Purepecha people from the Mexican state of Michoacan - the main indigenous group in the farm labor workforce of the Coachella Valley.

In the Coachella Valley, where the date farms are concentrated, the industry brings in $65 million a year. Despite this, many Coachella farm workers live in trailer parks in colonias, or informal settlements, near the fields under the valley's intense sun. There are not many "palmeros" - perhaps only two hundred. Outside of Arabia, Iraq and North Africa, date palms are only grown here.

The work is dangerous - the palms rise from twenty to sixty feet above the sandy desert floor of the Valley. The photographs show the work process in which workers climb into the trees on ladders, or in more recent years on cherry pickers - mechanical lifts - and then walk around the tree's crown on the palm fronds as they work. In the course of a year, a "palmero" has to go up into the palm trees seven times.

The first operation is depicted here - the pollenization. Date palm trees are dioecious - they come in sexes. The flowers of the male palm produce the pollen. It is the female tree that produces flowers that become the seeds, and which therefore bear the fruit.

These photographs are part of a larger body of images and oral histories that I began in Coachella in 1992, and which continues today. The archive of this work is in the Special Collections of the Green Library at Stanford University.

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Jose Cruz Frias a farm worker, a "palmero", and works in a grove of date palms.  He climbs the trees on a ladder, and during this phase of the work, he sprays pollen from a small bottle onto the buds that will become the dates, and ties the bunch together with string.  Once up in the tree he walks around on the fronds themselves.  This is one of seven operations that must happen to the trees each year to get them to bear fruit.  Cruz has been doing this work for 15 years.  He originally came to the Coachella Valley from Irapuato, Guanajuato in Mexico.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Jose Cruz Frias a farm worker, a "palmero", and works in a grove of date palms. He climbs the trees on a ladder, and during this phase of the work, he sprays pollen from a small bottle onto the buds that will become the dates, and ties the bunch together with string. Once up in the tree he walks around on the fronds themselves. This is one of seven operations that must happen to the trees each year to get them to bear fruit. Cruz has been doing this work for 15 years. He originally came to the Coachella Valley from Irapuato, Guanajuato in Mexico. Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Jose Cruz Frias a farm worker, a "palmero", and works in a grove of date palms.  He climbs the trees on a ladder, and during this phase of the work, he sprays pollen from a small bottle onto the buds that will become the dates, and ties the bunch together with string.  Once up in the tree he walks around on the fronds themselves.  This is one of seven operations that must happen to the trees each year to get them to bear fruit.  Cruz has been doing this work for 15 years.  He originally came to the Coachella Valley from Irapuato, Guanajuato in Mexico.  He points to scars on his hand from the knife and the spines of the tree.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Jose Cruz Frias a farm worker, a "palmero", and works in a grove of date palms. He climbs the trees on a ladder, and during this phase of the work, he sprays pollen from a small bottle onto the buds that will become the dates, and ties the bunch together with string. Once up in the tree he walks around on the fronds themselves. This is one of seven operations that must happen to the trees each year to get them to bear fruit. Cruz has been doing this work for 15 years. He originally came to the Coachella Valley from Irapuato, Guanajuato in Mexico. He points to scars on his hand from the knife and the spines of the tree. Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - Ana Sanchez lives in the St. Anthony's Trailer Park near Thermal, in the desert in Coachella Valley.  The water supply of the park in contaminated, and Sanchez and the other residents have to get their drinking water from a tank.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - Ana Sanchez lives in the St. Anthony's Trailer Park near Thermal, in the desert in Coachella Valley. The water supply of the park in contaminated, and Sanchez and the other residents have to get their drinking water from a tank. Copyright David Bacon

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COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - The St. Anthony's Trailer Park near Thermal, in the desert in Coachella Valley.  The water supply of the park in contaminated, and residents have to get their drinking water from a tank.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - The St. Anthony's Trailer Park near Thermal, in the desert in Coachella Valley. The water supply of the park in contaminated, and residents have to get their drinking water from a tank. Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - The St. Anthony's Trailer Park near Thermal, in the desert in Coachella Valley.  The water supply of the park in contaminated, and residents have to get their drinking water from a tank.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - The St. Anthony's Trailer Park near Thermal, in the desert in Coachella Valley. The water supply of the park in contaminated, and residents have to get their drinking water from a tank. Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Alberto Castro works as a palmero, in the date palm groves of Coachella Valley, and has worked over 15 years in the trees.  After work he sits in the shade of the trailer where he lives in a trailer park near Thermal. He holds the safety harness he is supposed to use when working, but it restricts his ability to work quickly, and he is paid by the piece rate, so he often doesn't use it.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Alberto Castro works as a palmero, in the date palm groves of Coachella Valley, and has worked over 15 years in the trees. After work he sits in the shade of the trailer where he lives in a trailer park near Thermal. He holds the safety harness he is supposed to use when working, but it restricts his ability to work quickly, and he is paid by the piece rate, so he often doesn't use it. Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Carlos Chavez works as a palmero, in the date palm groves of Coachella Valley, and has worked over 20 years in the trees.  After work he sits in the shade of the trailer where he live with his daughter Michelle, in a trailer park near Thermal.  Michelle is in high school, trying to win a scholarship so she can go to college.  Carlos took her to work with him one summer, but she didn't like it, and says it motivated her to study harder.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Carlos Chavez works as a palmero, in the date palm groves of Coachella Valley, and has worked over 20 years in the trees. After work he sits in the shade of the trailer where he live with his daughter Michelle, in a trailer park near Thermal. Michelle is in high school, trying to win a scholarship so she can go to college. Carlos took her to work with him one summer, but she didn't like it, and says it motivated her to study harder. Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - Meregildo Ortiz (l) is the president of the Purepecha community in the Coachella Valley.  Purepechas are the main indigenous group in the Mexican state of Michoacan.  Many Purepechas live in the Duros and Chicanitas trailer camps in the desert near the Salton Sea, on the Torres Martinez Reservation, and work as lemon pickers and farm workers in the fields of the Coachella Valley.  Seated with him are Max Ortiz and Julian Benito.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - Meregildo Ortiz (l) is the president of the Purepecha community in the Coachella Valley. Purepechas are the main indigenous group in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Many Purepechas live in the Duros and Chicanitas trailer camps in the desert near the Salton Sea, on the Torres Martinez Reservation, and work as lemon pickers and farm workers in the fields of the Coachella Valley. Seated with him are Max Ortiz and Julian Benito. Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Arturo Cordoba, an Artist in the Desert View Mobile Home ParkCopyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Arturo Cordoba, an Artist in the Desert View Mobile Home Park. Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - Members of the Purepecha community in the Coachella Valley gather at night to rehearse the Danza de Los Ancianos (the Dance of the Old People), preparing to perform it during a procession celebrating the Virgin de Guadalupe.  This is also an opportunity to teach children the dance and musci traditions of the community.  Purepechas are the main indigenous group in the Mexican state of Michoacan.  Many Purepechas live in the Duros and Chicanitas trailer camps in the desert near the Salton Sea, on the Torres Martinez Reservation, and work as farm workers in the fields of the Coachella Valley.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 6DECEMBER10 - Members of the Purepecha community in the Coachella Valley gather at night to rehearse the Danza de Los Ancianos (the Dance of the Old People), preparing to perform it during a procession celebrating the Virgin de Guadalupe. This is also an opportunity to teach children the dance and musci traditions of the community. Purepechas are the main indigenous group in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Many Purepechas live in the Duros and Chicanitas trailer camps in the desert near the Salton Sea, on the Torres Martinez Reservation, and work as farm workers in the fields of the Coachella Valley. Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Carlos Chavez works as a palmero, in the date palm groves of Coachella Valley, and has worked over 20 years in the trees.  His hands show the lines and creases of a lifetime of hard work in the trees.Copyright David Bacon

COACHELLA VALLEY, CA - 3APRIL17 - Carlos Chavez works as a palmero, in the date palm groves of Coachella Valley, and has worked over 20 years in the trees. His hands show the lines and creases of a lifetime of hard work in the trees. Copyright David Bacon

David Bacon
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David Bacon is a California writer and documentary photographer. A former union organizer, today he documents labor, the global economy, war and migration, and the struggle for human rights. His latest book, In the Fields of the North / En los campos del norte (COLEF / UC Press, 2017) includes over 300 photographs and 12 oral histories of farm workers. Other books include The Right to Stay Home (Beacon Press, 2013).and Illegal People (Beacon Press, 2008), which discuss alternatives to forced migration and the criminalization of migrants. Communities Without Borders (Cornell/ILR Press, 2006) includes over 100 photographs and 50 narraatives about transnational migrant communities, and The Children of NAFTA (UC Press, 2004) is an account of worker resistance on the US/Mexico border in the wake of NAFTA.