This Friday, Bad Bunny will make history as the first Latin American headliner at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. On one hand, local residents — nearly 70% of whom are Latine — are thrilled. On the other, their relationship to the world-famous event remains complicated.
“It’s just so convoluted that you have a Latine headliner who’s literally singing about disparities,” Isabel, a 27-year-old born and raised in the city of Coachella, tells Refinery29 Somos. “It’ll be fantastic for us to hear, but it hits home in a negative way.”
The Coachella Valley is overwhelmingly Latine, but its namesake city is even more so. According to the 2022 US Census, 96.6 percent of residents are of Latin American descent. Forty percent were born in another country. Beyond the festival, the area is best known for its massive population of farmworkers.
“It’s like two different worlds,” says Kaitlyn, a 22-year-old living in La Quinta, another city in the Valley. “I was born and raised in the city of Coachella, so I can see how much it’s grown to be a safer, better city, but it could definitely be better.” The first step toward improvement? Accountability from Goldenvoice, the festival’s production company. “They could provide some of the funding they get from the festival to actually put it into the city.”
“It’s like two different worlds."
Though the festival takes its name from the city of Coachella, it actually takes place at the Empire Polo Club in Indio. One end of the grounds borders Coachella, where the median household income is $40,688. The other end reaches Indian Wells, an overwhelmingly white, non-Latine city with a median household income of $120,680.
“You have the very rich who love that they get this little playground in their backyard on one side,” Isabel says. “On the other side, it’s literally migrant farmworkers who upkeep and maintain the grounds, who provide food across the nation.”
That doesn’t stop Latine locals from enjoying the festival when they can afford to. “I’ve gone probably 7 years in a row,” Kaitlyn says. But with tickets starting at $549, it’s far from an accessible activity. “A lot of people I know can barely afford to go,” she says. “The price of a ticket plus everything else could be rent.”
Isabel has attended Coachella for 10 years. “Weekend 2 is for the locals,” she notes. “It’s like everyone from the Valley is getting back together.”
“Weekend 2 is for the locals. It’s like everyone from the Valley is getting back together.”
Like most Latines in the Valley, Kaitlyn and Isabel are of Mexican descent. Still, they feel Coachella’s Puerto Rican headliner is a win for the entire Latin American and Caribbean diaspora. “By reaching this level of popularity, Bad Bunny created a space of representation for Latin people that many of us didn’t imagine back maybe five years,” says Kaitlyn, who feels his outspoken support for the LGBTQIA+ community makes his presence even more powerful.
“It’s exciting to see not just one of us, but someone who is singing in Spanish,” Isabel adds — but Bad Bunny’s music also reminds her of her community’s struggles. “He has the song ‘El Apagón’ [‘The Blackout’]. That’s something the eastern side of the Coachella Valley struggles with. The utility company would have the power out for two to three weeks at a time saying they didn’t have the resources to fix it. If it happened in Indian Wells, it would be fixed the same day. It’s the same utility company.”
"He has the song ‘El Apagón’ [‘The Blackout’]. That’s something the eastern side of the Coachella Valley struggles with."
Goldenvoice has spearheaded some community initiatives in Coachella Valley, like a contract with local artists group Raices Cultura, through which high school students are provided stipends to create art for the festival grounds. The festival also presents performances by a handful of local musicians each year.
In 2018, Goldenvoice inked a deal with the Coachella Valley Unified School District. Now, they pay $585,000 annually to use school lots for festival parking. That may sound like a massive contribution, but Isabel, who works as a CVUSD substitute teacher, says it’s unclear where the money is going. “All of our schools surround the festival grounds, and they’re all Title 1 schools, the poorest of the poor schools,” she says. “We have all these issues and the school board just says they don’t have the budget to help us put in metal detectors when we have gun scares. They don’t have the money to get us clean water.”
Kaitlyn wishes the festival did more for the Valley’s farmworkers. “They don’t get a lot of support or income,” she says. “People could use their platforms to thank the farmworkers and bring awareness to how we could make their lives better. My grandma used to work in the fields here — I’m also speaking for her. ”
Above all, Coachella residents want you to know they’re more than a music festival. “It would be great for people to know about the real Coachella,” Isabel says. “They should go into our city, eat the amazing food, walk through our little parks, go through our little old town and get the best pan from the panadería that’s been there for over a decade.”