Photography and Art Help Move the Coachella Valley Towards Equity

By Adriana Diaz-Ordaz

I moved to the Coachella Valley in April 2014, and shortly after my move, I experienced my first 120-degree summer. Coming from living in the city of Los Angeles, I wasn’t sure what to expect here in the desert.

It wasn’t long before I learned about the inequities that the east side of the Coachella Valley faces. Things like pavement, which I previously took for granted, were essential to improving the health of people living in mobile home parks located in the east valley. I quickly became aware of the divide between the eastern and western Coachella Valley. I simply could not close my eyes to the differences I saw when driving down Fred Waring in Palm Desert as opposed to what I saw driving down Highway 111 going to the community of Mecca.

Although systemic issues in the eastern Coachella Valley cause barriers to living a healthy life without toxic stress, the area is filled with beautiful people smiling and making the most with what they have. Many folks walk around with the hope of a better life gleaming from their eyes. Mothers prioritize activism in their families because they believe change can happen. Students come back from college to be the change they want to see in their community. “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” or “The people united cannot be defeated” resonates through the streets where historic marches have occurred. This is the heart of change and these are the people that make it happen.

Even though the residents in the east valley are rich in culture, art, entrepreneurship and activism, people in other parts of the Coachella Valley often look at our community with a deficit lens, meaning people only focus on what our community lacks. This is why I found it extremely important that local photographers from the east valley were able to showcase their work at the Palm Springs Art Museum. In partnership with Noé Montes, a photographer based in Los Angeles, young east valley photographers had a chance to document the community through their eyes and proudly display their work at the museum.

Photographers Esperanza Mendez and Noé Montes pose in front of a wall at the Pop Up Studio at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Springs, Calif. (Image: Courtesy of Adriana Diaz-Ordaz)

It’s not every day you see an institution like the Palm Springs Art Museum host and publicize the art of young people from the east valley. Seeing photographs of east valley community leaders in their homes and work place, wearing their everyday clothes, felt unapologetic and raw. Our community was not afraid to take up space and be seen.

Basking in the light where familiar brown faces glowed in the Hoover Gallery made my heart beat with joy and excitement. The sense of pride that everyone, from the photographers to the museum guests, wore that day glistened as if they were looking at their most prized possessions.

Images dispayed at the Noé Montes’ Pop Up Studio at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Springs, Calif. (Image: Courtesy of Adriana Diaz-Ordaz)

Given that we live in threatening and dangerous times, it is important that institutions do what is necessary to uplift the lived experiences of people of color in the Coachella Valley. Most importantly, we should all keep asking ourselves what do I need to do to act in solidarity? Marches and rallies are great, but they are not enough.

When I walked out of the Palm Springs Art Museum that evening I felt like, yes, this is how we begin to create One Coachella Valley.

If you are intersted in writing a Community Contribution story, email Amber Amaya, Coachella Uninc. Program Manager & Editor, at


This Community Contribution was authored by Adriana Diaz-Ordaz. Adriana identifies as a fat queer femme uplifting her experiences in order to provide opportunities for connection, community and co-creation. She has been a resident of Coachella for the past four years and is currently working with a collaborative that seeks to change the social and economic conditions of the Coachella Valley. Adriana was born and raised in Los Angeles County and is a proud advocate for all women of color.