Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday's Poetry: "Deportee"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Woody Guthrie, a seminal American folk singer, songwriter, and poet, was at the height of his talents in 1948 when he read about a plane crash that killed four United States citizens and twenty-eight Mexican nationals who were being deported back to Mexico.  Some of the Mexicans were "braceros" who were in the United States legally working on labor contracts, and some were in the country illegally.   (When braceros came into the country, the companies that recruited them were responsible for getting them back to Mexico when the crops were in, but when those companies did not provide that necessary service, the U.S. government stepped in and provided transportation as they "deported" the laborers.)

Many of these flights took place at night, prompting some of the passengers to refer to plane that transported them as "El Tecolote," or "The Owl."  The plane on that night in January of 1948 apparently caught fire in the air after developing an oil leak.

Guthrie, not one to abide racism, became angry when he read the news accounts of the plane crash because the American press listed the four U.S. citizens by name and anonymously lumped the Mexican citizens under the term "deportees."  He wrote the following poem, "Deportee" to express his outrage at that affront, considering it a racial slight.  He also used the piece to take a pot shot at the U.S. government for agricultural programs which paid farmers to destroy crops - when there were people starving across much of the world.  Later a school teacher, Martin Hoffman, put the poem to music, and since that time it has been recorded by numerous folksingers.

The Los Gatos Canyon Crash occurred in Fresno County, California, on the night of January 28th, 1948.  The four U.S. citizens aboard the plane as it left Oakland, California, on its final flight were the pilot, first officer, stewardess (who was the pilot's wife), and an immigration official.  There was apparently no attempt to identify the twenty-eight Mexicans (twenty-seven men and one woman), and they were buried in a mass grave at a Catholic Church in Fresno with just a simple bronze marker that stated they had been killed in a plane crash.

Last week while perusing the Los Angeles Times (a first rate newspaper that will go down the tubes quickly if the Koch brothers manage to get their slimy hands on it), I came across an article about the Los Gatos crash stating that all of the victims had finally been identified - thanks to some sharp detective work by a journalist with an assist from a church official where the deportees were buried.  The journalist has managed to collect enough money to fund a monument that will contain all thirty-two names, and it will be unveiled at the cemetery over Labor Day weekend.

This posting is respectfully dedicated to twenty-eight deceased individuals who finally have been identified.  May they and their families now be able to rest in peace.  The deportees were:

Miguel Negrete Alvarez, Tomas Avina de Gracis, Francisco Llamas Duran, Santiago Garcia Elizondo, Rosalio Padilla Estrada, Tomas Padilla Marquez, Bernabe Lopez Garcia, Salvador Sandoval Hernandez, Severo Medina Lara, Elias Trujillo Macias, Jose Rodriguez Macias, Luis Lopez Medina, Manuel Calderon Merino, Luis Cuevas Miranda, Martin Razo Navarro, Ignacio Perez Navarro, Roman Ochoa Ochoa, Ramon Paredes Gonzalez, Guadalupe Ramirez Lara, Apolonio Ramirez Placencia, Alberto Carlos Raygoze, Guadalupe Hernandez Rodriguez, Maria Santana Rodriguez, Juan Valenzuela Ruiz,Wenceslao Flores Ruiz, Jose Valdivia Sanchez, Jesus Meza Santos and Baldomera Marcas Torres.

Here is what Woody Guthrie had to say about them sixty-five years ago as he created names in order to give the sense that they were real people and more than just nameless "deportees."

Deportee  (a.k.a. Plane Crash at Los Gatos)
by Woody Guthrie

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

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