CVIndependent

Sun05272018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

The 11th Annual Desert Smash delivered a day full of expected humor and generosity—as well as some unexpected last-minute program changes—on Tuesday, March 10.

World No. 1 ATP pro Novak Djokovic, who has contributed to the hilarity and star power in previous years, was a no-show. Instead, No. 20-ranked John Isner stepped into the program, joining No. 31-ranked Fernando Verdasco in the final match of the day. Earlier No. 43-ranked Sam Querrey, a repeat volunteer himself, partnered with pro Mardy Fish to deliver the most entertaining real tennis of the day, as they took on the No. 1-ranked doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan.

On the women’s side, WTA No. 7 Genie Bouchard was unexpectedly joined by No. 47-ranked Daniela Hantuchova in the opening singles match, which offered the most purely competitive tennis display.

In the middle two matches, comedy moved to center court at the La Quinta Resort as host Will Ferrell (who suffered a muscle strain in the morning’s VIP Pro-Am competition—the tape job for which he proudly displayed) moved into the role of chair umpire to supervise a surprise treat of a match featuring Justin Bieber, actor/comedian Kevin Hart and talk-show host Billy Bush.

Throughout the afternoon, spectators enjoyed themselves as cocktails and champagne contributed to high spirits and generous support of multiple impromptu donation challenges directed toward Cancer for College’s fundraising for the college educations of cancer survivors.

See pictures from the event, at the La Quinta Resort, below.

Hardcore tennis fans arrived early on Monday, March 9, to take advantage of the free-entry policy in effect during the first and second days of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. While there was a lot of tennis action for them to enjoy, not much of it involved the sport’s big names.

Some of the game’s stars—like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Serena Williams—have not yet appeared to prep for the tournament, which begins main-draw play on Wednesday, March 11. The big names who had arrived—including Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantukova—worked out on the main stage of Stadium 1 surrounded by thousands of empty seats, because the doors to that court were locked all day, while thousands of diehard fans roamed the pathways nearby.

In an email, the Independent asked J. Fred Sidhu, of the BNP Paribas Open media relations team, why this area was kept off limits.

“The main stadium is open to fans at the start of main draw play,” Sidhu said via email. “It is something that has always worked for the tournament. There is really no official reason. Fans have plenty of opportunities to watch practice on the outside courts.”

Fair enough … but it was unfortunate that most of the top-flight players practiced out of sight of the fans who admire them so.

As the temperatures rose past 90 degrees, the WTA women’s qualifying draw completed first-round action in the battle for unseeded players to grab a spot in the final qualifying draw. Women’s play continued today, while men’s qualifying action got under way.

However, the biggest news of the day came when tournament officials announced that top-ranged Serena Williams would end her 14-year absence from Indian Wells when she takes to the Stadium 1 court at 7 p.m. this Friday, March 13, to begin her quest for a third BNP Paribas Open women’s singles championship.

In 2000, Riverside County agreed to a settle a dispute with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development which was triggered after 24 Coachella Valley families filed complaints. According to HUD archives, the complaints stated “that Riverside County had targeted Hispanic-owned and -occupied mobile home parks for selective and discriminatory enforcement of its health and safety code and regulations.”

"The enforcement agreement is a major victory for a largely disenfranchised population, compensating victims of housing discrimination and resulting in a multi-million-dollar cooperative effort to build housing and provide needed services to farmworkers throughout the area for years to come," said Ilene Jacobs, then the director of litigation for California Rural Legal Assistance, which represented the farmworkers in the case. (The statement came from a HUD news release.)

Today—a decade and a half later—the county is still working on upholding its end of the settlement.

In December, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, by a vote of 4-0, approved an agreement with the Galilee Center—an organization that works to fill the needs of the underprivileged and disadvantaged—to construct and operate a facility in downtown Mecca that will provide permanent shower, restroom and laundry services for migrant farmworkers in the eastern Coachella Valley.

Such a facility was one of numerous mandated remedies to be undertaken by Riverside County as part of that 2000 HUD settlement.

“We call it Plaza Esperanza,” Galilee Center president and founder Gloria Gomez said recently. “It’s for the farmworkers, but anybody will able to use it, especially the people who are in the streets. … ‘Esperanza’ means ‘hope’ in English, because the people have been waiting so many years for these showers and laundry facilities.”

Riverside County District 4 Supervisor John Benoit said he has worked for years to find the right strategy to bring this facility to fruition.

“For some years, we have had a horrible facility that offered some of these comfort services, but it was quite a way outside of downtown Mecca,” Benoit said. “Then a few years ago, some people I know who have been involved in great nonprofit human health and services experiences in the valley decided to open up the Galilee Center in Mecca. … So I went to them and said, ‘This potentially could be a great cooperative effort where instead of spending the money to build a completely new facility and figure out how to manage it, we could work together.’

“I’m very pleased that notion has come to fruition and is nearly operational. They’re going to offer a lot of amenities that we could never have offered at just a simple shower and cleanliness facility. Certainly, it will be an asset to the community.”

Gomez elaborated on the Galilee Center’s plans.

“We’re going to have 12 showers for men and 12 showers for women,” she said. “The shower and laundry areas are being paid for by the Riverside County funds. We’re fundraising to build a large family community room where we’ll have televisions for the people and computer stations to help them search for jobs on the Internet. Also, we want to have classes to help give instruction to people who don’t know how to write their names.”

A December press release from Benoit’s office mentioned that $1.2 million in funds were designated for the comfort-station construction. Gomez said that won’t quite cover all costs.

“We’re bringing in extensions for the gas, water and sewer lines from Second Street,” Gomez said. “That’s pretty far away, so it’s expensive to bring those utilities to our site.”

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has also agreed to provide $75,000 per year in operational funding for the new facility, which is slated to open May 18. Will that prove sufficient?

“We will be open November through March and again May through July,” said Gomez. “And during those months, our daily hours will be Monday through Friday from 1 to 7 p.m., while Saturdays and Sundays will be from noon to 6 p.m.

“During the other months, we will have the community room open and available. This first year of operations, we will find out exactly what the costs will be—especially during the hottest summer months, since the facility is going to be air-conditioned.”

Benoit praised all the work the Galilee Center has done and continues to do. “I think it’s great when you see the government able to work with these walking saints like Gloria Gomez and (Galilee Center CFO and co-founder) Claudia Castorena, because they’re trying to do the right thing for their community.”

Even after the HUD settlement and other initiatives over the past 15 years, the quality of life for our valley’s migrant-worker community needs improvement.

“There is an ongoing need for food. Right now, every Thursday, we have between 300 and 500 families who come to get food staples for the week,” Gomez said. “An even bigger need is health issues. Mental health is a big issue on this side of the valley. Our people need rental assistance and utility assistance. Some of the farmworkers work hard their entire lives to put food on our tables, but now they’re retired and receive no government assistance, because they’ve been undocumented. We encounter so many different problems and situations with this population. We can only do so much.”

If you’d like to contribute to the success of Plaza Esperanza—the Galilee Center is in special need of shampoo, soaps and towels (white towels are preferred because they’re easier to wash), as well as toothbrushes, toothpaste and small bottles of mouthwash—call the Galilee Center at 760-396-9100, or visit galileecenter.org.

It’s been a long road home for Coachella boxer Randy Caballero.

The International Boxing Federation’s world bantamweight champion has been fighting in faraway places for more than a year now. The twisting road led him first to Sunrise, Fla., then to Kobe, Japan, and then finally to Monte Carlo, Monaco, where he seized the world title he’s wanted since he was 8 years old, when he first began boxing under the tutelage of Lee Espinoza, director of the Coachella Valley Boxing Club (pictured to the right).

But Caballero is now home, and the first defense of his title will happen in the friendly confines of the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino’s Events Center, on Friday, Feb. 27.

The Independent spent time with him at the Coachella Valley Boxing Club gym, on Douma Street in Coachella. We asked him how it feels to be a world champion.

“It feels good, but it feels the same,” replied Caballero, 24. “The title hasn’t changed me. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, the belt changed you.’ I’m the same person. I’ve still got to wake up in the morning and go run, and come to the gym and train hard every single day. You’ve got to train extra-hard to make sure you keep that title and not let it go anywhere.

“But other than that, I’m the same. My family’s the same. We all hang out still and have barbecues. We’re all the same people. We’re never going to change.”

Caballero’s nuclear family and support group includes his wife, Yaniva; their three children; father, Marcos Caballero (also his trainer and manager); and mom, Stephanie. And unquestionably, one of the strongest presences in Caballero’s life is Lee Espinoza.

Commonly referred to as the “godfather of local boxing” in the valley, Espinoza comes across as a guardian angel, of sorts, for the local kids who enter his club’s doors in search of a lifestyle that keeps them off tough neighborhood streets. For more than three decades, he’s been teaching valuable life skills and, on several occasions, grooming world champions.

“Lee has been a big part of my career and my life—my dad’s life, too,” Randy Caballero said. “My dad, when he came from Nicaragua at a very young age, he ended up walking into a boxing gym, which I believe was on Sixth Street in Coachella, in the old fire station. I got to visit it when I was little, but I never fought there, since I was too little. Lee trained my dad; he’s always been with us, and we’ve always had him in my corner. … It’s a learning sport, and Lee’s been around it for so long that he can tell us what to do or not to do.”

The traveling that Randy Caballero has done has not always included Espinoza: The coach hates to fly, so he skipped the trips to Japan and Monte Carlo.

“I got to witness that when we went to Miami; he was really bad on that plane,” Randy Caballero said. “But it’s nice to know we have him when we’re here. He’s opened the doors and his arms to us here at the Coachella Valley Boxing Club gym since we were little. It’s my second home here.”

For Espinoza, there’s no place he’d rather be, either. “It’s like something you get hooked on,” Espinoza said with a big smile. “It’s something almost like drugs. I can’t be at the house no more. I don’t know what I’m going to do there. So I come here and do this, because what we’ve done is, like, amazing. Everywhere in the world we go, they recognize us and me.

“Six kids from this little gym have fought for world titles, and four won. Pancho Segura won twice. Julio Diaz won twice. Sandra Yard got a title, and now Randy Caballero. So that’s it—I’m hooked. They ask me, ‘When are you going to retire?’ And I say when I die. I’m not leaving here.”

Meanwhile, Caballero is happy to be back home.

“It’s been over a year since I fought here,” Caballero said. “So it feels good to be back in my hometown, and I finally get to fight in front of my fans, family and friends. It will be good to walk into the arena and hear people cheering for me instead of the other guy.”

Is there added pressure to do well in front of that hometown crowd?

“Having to go to Miami, to Japan and to Monte Carlo—being in different arenas and in some one else’s hometown—kind of taught me that no matter where you’re at around the world, once you’re in that ring, it’s just you and that guy, and nobody else,” Caballero said. “… Once that bell rings, it’s like everything just goes ‘swoosh’ and closes in. I just can hear me and the guy breathing, and then I just hear my dad, and my brothers and my wife and my mom. That’s just about it.”

What kind of fight does he expect in his first title defense, against Mexico’s Alberto Guevara?

“I’m expecting a really tough fight,” Caballero said. “This guy’s brother just won a world boxing title, so in this guy’s mind, he’s thinking, ‘OK, this is my chance to win a world title, too.’ So I know he’s going to come in and give it a hard fight. This might be his last opportunity to win a world title.

“Like I’ve said, I’ve trained hard. I train hard every single day, and whenever they put a fighter in front of me, I train 100 percent. Whether it’s someone with a bunch of losses, or someone who has the best record in the sport of boxing, you never take anyone lightly. I’m going to make sure that I dictate the fight from Round 1 on. I’m ready to put on a good show for my fans out here at Fantasy Springs, and it should be a great fight.”

For more information, or to purchase tickets ($35 to $105), visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

The 2015 Humana Challenge Championship was still up for grabs as the last group, containing the sole leader, Bill Haas, came down the 18th fairway on the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West in La Quinta.

Waiting, watching and keeping loose on the driving range were five players, including Idyllwild’s Brendan Steele, who had finished their rounds tied at 21 under par—one shot behind Haas.

“The tournament’s definitely not over from my perspective,” Steele said as he waited for more than an hour to see if his 21-under total would get him into a playoff. “With the water on the last couple holes, anybody can make a bad swing at any time, so you just kind of hang out and see what’s happening. I can’t act like, ‘Hey, I did a good job, but it’s not enough, and I’m going to go home.’ I’ve got to be ready, just in case anything does happen.”

However, the jailbreak playoff was not to be, as Haas battled to a final-hole par and took home the $1 million-plus paycheck.

Meanwhile, fan favorite Phil Mickelson finished in a tie for 24th place, 7 shots off the lead—and it seemed the weekend was just what he needed. As he wound his way around the three courses, he seemed relaxed and unconcerned. For the first three days, he played a convivial and charming host to the amateur players in his group. Whether regaling them with amusing anecdotes or generously offering helpful tips, Mickelson seemed to be at ease.

“I’ve got some things to improve on, but it was a good week to kind of build a foundation (and) work on my game,” Mickelson told the media after his last round. “We had great weather. That allows you to work on the fundamentals and get the swing basics down without having to fight the elements, without getting into bad habits.”

How does the 2015 season ahead look to these two players?

“I’ve been feeling really, really good, shooting good scores at home,” Steele shared. “I know that doesn’t always translate, but I’m just seeing a big difference in my game.”

Meanwhile, Mickelson said he was excited for the upcoming year.

“I feel I’m ready to go, ready to get started,” he said. “It was a good week to get the year started. Now we’ll see the next two weeks if I can get that fine-tuning done and shoot the low scores I need.”

Scroll down to see several photos from the Humana Challenge.

On Thursday and Friday, Jan. 22 and 23, the crowds grew in size and fervor at the 56th Annual Humana Challenge—and for local fans, there was an unusual bonus, as several local PGA Tour pros were in pursuit of the winner’s payday of $1,026,000.

La Quinta resident Scott McCarron and Palm Desert’s Byron Smith were hovering near par after two days, well behind the leaders. However, Brendan Steele of Idyllwild finished Friday’s round at 9 under par, six shots behind leader Matt Kuchar.

“I’m happy with how I’ve been playing,” Steele told the Independent after Friday’s solid round. “I was a little disappointed with the last six holes today, but overall, I’m really happy with every part of my game.”

Although he and his wife are staying in a condo near the courses this week to cut down the commuting time, he recognized a lot of familiar faces behind the ropes. “The whole town of Idyllwild is showing up, and that’s always fun,” he said with a smile. “It’s a nice way to start the year.”

Each day, as the sun begins to set, many in the early-arriving crowd begin to move away from the fairways of PGA West’s Palmer Private Course and Nicklaus Private Course toward the watering holes and food-truck bonanza at the centrally located Bob Hope Square. There, they find refreshment of all sorts, and can watch the remaining action on multiple big screens. Also, for the first time this year, they can take a stroll down Charity Row to get a close-up look at the many Coachella Valley organizations that benefit directly from the dollars raised through ticket sales and concessions at the tournament.

“More than 80,000 fans enter the grounds through this walkway over the weekend,” said Chrissy Ormond, the client services manager at the Humana Challenge, who works for Desert Classic Charities, “and we just thought this would be a great way to promote many of the 40 recipient charities in the desert and let people get to know who they are.”

While the basic daily grounds pass costs $40 this year, fans might feel better about paying that sum if they understand that much of that money goes to directly to local charities.

“The biggest thing for me is to help the fans understand that while we are a professional golf tournament, we are really positively impacting lives in the Coachella Valley as well,” she said.

Scroll down to see some pictures from the first two days of the Humana Challenge.

As the Hollywood A-listers began arriving at Palm Springs Convention Center for the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival's Awards Gala on Saturday, Jan. 3, hopes ran high among the fans gathered along the sidewalks across from the red-carpeted entryway.

Whether the fans were locals or visitors to the Coachella Valley, they all had favorites they were hoping to see.

Palm Springs resident Diana Doyle has joined the crowd for three years running. “I’m one of those people now,” she said. “I’m hooked!”

Has she had luck meeting celebrities in the past?

“Last year, I had a great picture taken with Bradley Cooper, and it went into the Los Angeles Times, and now it’s my screensaver,” she laughed. This year, her good luck continued as she got a chance to grab “selfies” with Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell.

For Connie Hale of Palm Desert, this was her eighth year of braving the crowd.

“We got her about 12 noon today,” she said. “I’ve met lots of celebrities over the years, and this is the spot to do it. I’ve met Brad Pitt and Robert Downey Jr. already, but this year, I’d like to meet any of the stars coming.”

At one point, Hale found herself face-to-face with Michael Keaton—but the moment passed without her getting the autograph she wanted.

KESQ/CBS Local 2 meteorologist Rob Bradley and fiancée Kristina Guckenberger were among the fortunate fans who obtained access to the grandstand seating area next to the red-carpet entrance.

“I’ve had to work in the studio the last two years doing weather updates during down time in our Awards Gala red-carpet live special coverage, so this is my first time being here at the event,” Bradley said.

Did they have any favorites they wanted to see up close this evening? “My mom said I should meet Robert Downey Jr. and Brad Pitt. And for my dad, Reese Witherspoon,” Guckenberger said. Unfortunately, neither Downey nor Pitt appeared out front to greet fans.

Still, the crowd’s mood remained festive as the almost-full moon rose and the temperature dropped, before the fans dispersed as the awards dinner got under way inside.

Scroll down to see some pictures from the red carpet.

The film Selma is one of the most acclaimed movies heading into awards season. It’s nominated for four Golden Globes, including Best Drama, even though it doesn’t open in wide release until Jan. 9.

A week before that opening date, the film was the star attraction as the official opening night screening of the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, at Palm Springs High School, on Friday, Jan. 2.

On the unusually crowded red carpet, director Ava DuVernay and two of the film’s actors, David Oyelowo and Common, graciously posed for photographers and spoke with news crews and reporters about the controversy stirred by the powerful film.

“We couldn’t have prepared for this. I’m just thankful that we made a truthful enough film that it is meeting this moment in a real and potent way,” said Oyelowo, who portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the film, referring to current tension happening after the deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement officers in Ferguson, Mo., and many other areas across the nation.

“Seven years ago when I first read this script, I felt God tell me that I was going to play this role,” Oyelowo continued. “There were very frustrating moments along the road where the film just wouldn’t get made, so to look at this divine timing of it coming out now, for me, I don’t think it’s an accident at all. I just feel very honored and humbled to be at the center of it.”

Scroll down to see some photos from the red carpet.

In 2003 and 2004, an ambitious group of young Latino community organizers and activists, all raised in the eastern Coachella Valley, returned home after earning college degrees.

They were known as over-achievers in their hometowns, and they searched each other out, they say, because they were determined to make a difference. They wanted to improve the lives of their friends and loved ones in the barrios and farm fields of the eastern valley, in part by gaining power via the political process.

A decade later, it’s clear: These organizers and activists, all Democrats, are making a mark and attaining many of their lofty goals.

V. Manuel Perez recently was elected to the Coachella City Council after three terms in the State Assembly. Eduardo Garcia swapped places with Perez, sort of: He just joined the State Assembly after serving as Coachella’s mayor. Maria Machuca is the president of the Coachella Valley Unified School District Board. Most notably, Dr. Raúl Ruiz is beginning his second term representing the Coachella Valley in Congress.

We talked to these young leaders about how they attained their current success—and what they have in mind for the future.


“I grew up in Cochelita, which was one of the toughest areas in Coachella Valley at the time, and we saw the injustices at an early age,” recalled V. Manuel Perez, who successfully ran for a Coachella City Council seat this year after a failed bid for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. (He was term-limited out of the Assembly.) “Why was it that in my barrio, there weren’t any parks, so we had to play football and tag in the middle of our street, where drive-by shootings were ongoing? And why was it that my parents would come home from work as farmworkers late in the day, only to go to work early the next day so that they were too tired to help me with my homework? And why, whenever I had a toothache, did we have to wait until the end of the week to go to Mexicali to see the dentist, because we didn’t have health insurance?”

Garcia was first elected to the Coachella City Council in 2004 and became mayor two years later, not too long after finishing college. “What I remember quite vividly is that there was a group of us who happened to be returning to the Coachella Valley from other endeavors,” Garcia said. “In my case, I was returning from finishing my undergraduate work at UC Riverside. Manny (Perez) had been organizing and working in the central and Northern California areas (after his graduation from UC Riverside and Harvard University post-graduate work), and a few others were returning from college. We all got together and really started organizing community events in and around the cultural and art arena, with a specific objective to raise consciousness about issues affecting our community.”

Machuca (right) graduated from Coachella Valley High School and continued on to Cal State San Bernardino. “And I always said that my goal after getting a college degree was to come back home regardless,” she said.

Josseth Mota, the current community services coordinator for the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, introduced Machuca to the group of young men, including Perez and Garcia, who had started meeting regularly to launch a community-service organization that could make a difference in their hometowns. She was already doing work with the Fair Housing Council and the Mecca Community Council.

“They told me they’d really like to get some women involved in their group, because then, it was a whole bunch of guys,” she recalled. “They said, ‘We need mujeres (women), because when a movement is going on, it’s pretty much the mujeres who move things forward. So I was interested, but I was going to be the only girl in this group with these guys who I’d only heard of back in high school.

“I knew Eddie Garcia, because he was a year ahead of me at Coachella Valley High School. Victor Manuel (Perez), I had heard about when I was in elementary school, because he was the guy who went to Harvard, and that was huge for us. And Raúl Ruiz, I knew because when we were in high school, some of us wanted to start an Aztec dancing club, and Joe Mota said he knew this guy who could teach us how to do the Aztec sun dance. The problem was that this guy was waiting to hear if he would be accepted at UCLA to go to medical school. … Back then, really, nobody from our background made it to that kind of college.”

After teaching several lessons, Ruiz indeed went off to medical school. “The next time I saw him was when he came back after he’d gotten his medical degrees. He was working at Eisenhower Medical Center, and he joined our Raices meetings,” she said. (More on those meetings later.)

Perez has known Ruiz—whose office did not respond to an interview request for this story—since he was a kid.

“Raúl and I grew up together and played Little League ball together,” Perez said. “We were in high school for four years together, and he was always president, and I was his secretary, treasurer and director of assemblies. When he went to UCLA, I was at UC Riverside, where I was an organizer, and he was organizing at UCLA. So we would have lots of discussions, but once he went off to Harvard Medical School, I kept strong ties here locally. Then I went out to Harvard as well, and Raúl and I were roommates there for a short time. So we would talk about these issues, but as far as the strategy to run for office and build a political infrastructure in Coachella Valley, that began in 2003-2004. When Raul came home, that’s when he began to engage. That was in 2008, and that’s when he decided to run for office as well.”

By the time Ruiz returned to the valley, Perez, Garcia, Machuca and others had already started building what they called their Raices infrastructure.

“Its emphasis was to educate politically, perform community outreach, and find individuals who we can transition from the conscious to the critical consciousness—so that perhaps they recognize their self-power, their self-agency, so that they can say, ‘You know what? There are things that we can change here. There are things we can transform,’” Perez said.

However, Perez was quick to point out that Raices also stemmed from the efforts of leaders from generations before, “from the Coachella Valley Voters League organization, whose members really put an emphasis on building political capital in the eastern Coachella Valley, to the movement of Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers, in which many of our parents were engaged.”

Perez was the president of Raices when it was founded in 2004.

“I always felt while organizing that we have to hold ourselves accountable to each other, and the best way to do that is by having an infrastructure, an organization that has a mission,” he said. “Because what I’ve learned through organizing in other areas throughout California is that if you identify someone who should run for office, and if these individuals are not accountable to an entity larger than themselves, they stop working with the collective and for its goals.

“We felt we had to form an organization that would do three things. First was to build and develop the political voice of the eastern Coachella Valley; second was to develop and create access to healthier communities; and the last was to utilize the cultural arts for social activism. Those were the three points of emphasis for Raices that exist to this day.”

Machuca said the development of Raices into a fully formed nonprofit organization was the organic result of the group’s shared aspirations.

“When we started meeting around founding Raices, it was weird how we had known of each other years ago, but now we were connecting to do something for our communities,” Machuca said. “So it felt genuine; it felt real; it felt like we were going to make a difference for the generations that came after us and give them something that we couldn’t have, and didn’t have. We were meeting once a week, and then it became twice a week, and then it became almost every night, because we were that passionate about putting this organization together and getting it off the ground.”

The group was initially called Youth for Change, but the members eventually decided the movement needed to involve everyone, not just young people.

“It was at one of those meetings that we came up with the name Raices,” she said. “It was supposed to be an acronym for something, but we never came to an agreement on what those words would be.”


Garcia said a key moment in Raices’ history came when the group screened a documentary by Antonio Gonzalez Vasquez called Living on the Dime: A View of the World From Along the I-10.

“This video had to do with the growth and development of the Inland Empire and the impact of building the Interstate 10 freeway right through those communities,” he explained. “And by impact, I mean how the I-10 divided communities into east/west/north/south, how it brought about different socio-economic groups in the region, and how the political structure began to govern in a way that gave us a division between the haves and the have-nots.

“We showcased the film at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Coachella with the idea of beginning a conversation among the residents about the importance of growth and development in Coachella and the eastern end of the Coachella Valley. This was at a time when we were just beginning to see all the development and building activity that was going to occur. So that was our first real ‘action’ that triggered the discussion about responsible growth and development strategies for the city of Coachella, and whether areas of the city were being planned out responsibly to benefit both existing residents and the new residents in terms of developing public amenities like city parks and community centers.

“From there, members of the group moved on to discussions of direct involvement and representation of our Latino citizens at the government level. So, I’m simplifying things here, but that really was the first action that led ultimately to several of us running for public office.”

In 2004, Perez ran for the CVUSD school board, while Garcia ran for the Coachella City Council. Their campaigns did not go off without a hitch.

“As we started organizing some of the campaign events and actions, we began to feel the division between us and some of the elders in the community,” Machuca said. “We wanted to work with them, but it seemed that they saw us either as young and naïve, or as being in over our heads, as we were trying to change our world. At first it, it wasn’t too bad, but then as people began declaring that they were going to run for so many local positions, the division became a reality. It became: ‘How dare you disrespect us elders by running against us!’ Although it was never really said in so many words, it felt that way.”

Still, Perez and Garcia went on to win their races.

“We bonded even more during the real grassroots effort of those campaigns,” Machuca said. “We learned so much about the dos and the don’ts of campaigning and just how dirty things can get. We tried to play nice, because at the end of the day, we didn’t want the community to be divided. And we had a lot of community support, which showed in the results of the elections. We were young, had new ideas, and we grew up there. Some of the opposition ran their campaigns on platforms criticizing the fact that we left our communities to get college degrees. … But we came back!”

Despite the political wins, some of the people within Raices did not like the political direction in which the group was going. “They wanted to stick only with the arts, culture and community-building aspects of our mission,” Machuca said.

Ultimately, those dissenting members prevailed, as the original organization has been transformed into Raices Cultura.

“Today, Raices is focused on its nonprofit work and bringing about opportunities for Latino youth by utilizing our indigenous art and culture as the anchor,” Garcia said. “But everything is done with a community focus to create a critical consciousness in our youth to look at ways to improve their lives and the lives of others in their community, despite the barriers and challenges that many times exist in communities like ours. That is the focus of Raices today.”

While Perez may see more of a link between the nonprofit and the development of future eastern Coachella Valley community leaders than Garcia does, he perceived a change in direction as well.

“It’s morphed over the years,” Perez said. “When we first started, we recognized that we needed to continue to think of ways we could change things politically and change the institutions of power. But at the same time, we knew that as we grew older, eventually, the next generation will need to take the lead. So back in the day, what we would do, for example, is bring in computers and provide tutorial services on how to access higher education in the hope that afterward, they’d come back home. Now it’s more about offering instruction concerning cultural identity, and for that matter, self-love. A lot of courses are based on spirituality and the teachings of the Aztecs and the Mayans, a lot of indigenous culture … .

“Also, there’s an emphasis on trying to influence individuals toward self-love as opposed to self-hate. What we’ve seen for years is youth violence—youth-on-youth shootings, and gangs, drug abuse and domestic violence. A lot of that comes from the anger that develops in a person because of the oppression that they’ve had to endure for so many years. So the teaching that goes on today is helping to develop individuals with more positivity in their lives. That spirituality piece is really, really important.”


What’s in store for the political arm of this heavily Latino community-service collective? Perez said there’s a lot of work left to do.

“We identified people over the years who have engaged in our campaigns,” he said. “In the Ruiz campaigns and also in mine, you’d see a lot of youth out knocking on doors, passing out literature and phone-banking. So that’s kind of a training ground where the young people get to see up close what we as candidates go through. … Some of these youngsters have gone on to higher education and are now leaders with organizations that are registering people to vote, like Voto Latino, or for that matter, are doing organizing work with UFW (United Farm Workers).”

Perez said he always made it a point to offer internships to youths who wanted to learn about the policy-making process.

“What does it really mean when you work on an issue, and then pass a policy?” he asked. “How do you connect those dots? For instance, what does it mean if we pass legislation on a safe route to school that has some funding attached, but in Coachella or Mecca or Thermal, there’s a lack of sidewalks? … It’s not about an individual; it’s about a collective, a movement. And ultimately, it’s about achieving social justice through policy, organizing and developing the human being’s capacity as social capital, and to finally turn our community around in ways that are very positive.”

To accomplish those ends, the policy-making representatives of these eastern valley communities need to maintain their political presence. Garcia envisions a solidification of power in a more formal organization informed by the Raices Cultura ideals.

“The question is: Will Raices Cultura programs and participants influence the development of a democratic political structure that weighs in on issues of local, state and national significance? The answer is yes,” Garcia said. “It happens by natural progression, and I think what’s missing here is the actual organization of an official Democratic club which attributes its beginnings to the formation of Raices 10 years ago, and is a political organization and framework … able to lead the charge on issues of policy and importance to our community. I think we’re getting there, and will very soon create an organization from the eastern Coachella Valley that is strictly political and on the Democratic side of the spectrum.”

Below: Eduardo Garcia: “I think what’s missing here is the actual organization of an official Democratic club which attributes its beginnings to the formation of Raices 10 years ago, and is a political organization and framework … able to lead the charge on issues of policy and importance to our community.” PHOTO BY KEVIN FITZGERALD

The 2014 holiday season has officially arrived, and while many of us are busily planning schedules around parties and shopping, more and more of our neighbors are facing formidable food and resource shortages.

“Over the last 24 months, we’ve seen the monthly average number of people served meals in our region increase from 80,000 per month to 90,000-plus,” said Chantel Schuering, community relations director for the FIND Food Bank. “We get those numbers directly from each organization that partners with FIND to acquire food resources, and then we aggregate them here.”

Those partner organizations include almost all of the agencies who provide meals on a regular basis to those in need of food assistance. One such partner is The Well in the Desert, based in Palm Springs.

“I wish we had fewer customers, but we don’t, unfortunately,” remarked Arlene Rosenthal, president of the board at The Well. “And around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we get a lot of people who don’t use our services regularly, but at the holidays, find it difficult to provide totally for themselves.”

While the realities of life can be discouraging this time of year—especially to those working to lessen the impact of hunger on a daily basis—the holidays can be a time of happiness and encouragement as well.

“We usually get about 1,500 people on Christmas Day, and these are a combination of the working poor, seniors on fixed incomes and the homeless,” Rosenthal said. “We open the doors at noon, and we have hundreds of people waiting to attend. They walk down this aisle formed by volunteers on each side who are shaking hands and high-fivin’ with the kids and seniors and the homeless. I’ve seen people in tears. It just brings out the best in everybody, and it’s become my favorite event.”

At Martha’s Village and Kitchen in Indio, the demand for holiday assistance increases as well.

“We certainly do see a huge, huge increase of folks coming on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Since they don’t have families or others to go to, they utilize our services,” said K. Magdalena Andrasevits, the president and CEO. “That’s why it’s so important that the community comes together, as they always have. So I always say thank you, thank you, thank you to the community for helping us to do what we can to help our neighbors in need.”

However, Andrasevits points out that hunger and a need for help aren’t just seasonal issues. “I probably echo every other service provider when I say that the need isn’t just at the holiday season; it is year-round.”

For Mike Thompson, executive director of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs (which also operates the NestEggg Food Bank), one focus of his organization’s holiday assistance is on people’s emotional and psychological needs.

“What I would like to call attention to is our mental-health program, and specifically, our low-to-no-cost counseling services for older adults,” Thompson said. “The holiday season can be stressful times for those living alone who might feel isolated, so we’d like to highlight this counseling program and make sure that people understand this help is available.”

Thompson also mentioned specific holiday-time events that are being held by The Center. “We’ve got a ‘Paws and Claus’ event where people can bring their pet to see Santa Claus, and that takes place (in December). These events are designed to bring people together.”

How tough is it for assistance organizations to attract needed funds today?

“You know nonprofits are always in need of funding support, whether that be in-kind donations, volunteer time or financial resources,” Thompson said. “As people begin to think about their end-of-the-year tax-giving, we like to remind them that The Center is here, and remind them of the programs we have here that benefit the valley’s LGBT community, and ask that they consider supporting us.”

We asked Schuering of FIND how concerned she and her colleagues are about the increasing demand for services.

“It’s a constant state of concern,” she said. “But when you feed 90,000-plus people a month, no single donation will make or break your effort. When demand goes up, as we’ve seen recently, we’re always trying to connect people with other resources so that food doesn’t have to be the thing they give up in their lives. We do a lot of work connecting people with the food-stamp program, for instance. Some of the crazy rumors people hear are just horrible, and it’s enough to keep them from applying for funds that are set aside for them to use for food.”

In closing, Schuering offered this sobering holiday thought. “Every month, there are tens of thousands of Coachella Valley residents going hungry. Every month. We only have 440,000 residents year-around, so if 90,000 of them are hungry every month, that’s one out of every five of our neighbors. Those are numbers that you cannot ignore.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO HELP:

FIND Food Bank: 760-775-3663; www.findfoodbank.org

The Well in the Desert: 760-327-8577; www.wellinthedesert.org

Martha’s Village and Kitchen: 760-347-4741; marthasvillage.org

LGBT Community Center of the Desert: 760-416-7790; www.thecenterps.org