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poverty in the palms

David Bacon | CA, United States

THERMAL, CA - 1992 - A worker in a crew of immigrant Mexican palmeros moves a tall ladder to a new tree in a grove in Thermal, in California's Coachella Valley.

These photographs document the lives of date palm workers, or palmeros.  They show 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. 

Most palmeros live in trailer parks in colonias, or informal settlements, near the fields under the valley’s intense sun.  There are not many, 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.  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 trees seven times.  The first operation is depicted here - the pollenization.  Palm trees come in sexes, and it is the female tree which produces flowers and bears 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.


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