Plane wreck at Los Gatos
On Januaray 29, 1948, the New York Times reported an airplane crash over the Los Gatos canyon (1). The airplane held twenty-eight Mexican bracero farm workers who were being flown from Oakland, California, to the El Centro, California deportation center.
Woody Guthrie, an American poet, singer, and songwriter, read the news article about the wreck that supposedly did not give the names of the victims, only referred to them as deportees (illegal immigrants in the process of deportation). One news spokesperson stated that the deaths were unimportant because all were deportees except for the pilot. Perceiving the incident as racial injustice, Guthrie wrote a poem he called "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)," in which he assigned symbolic names to the nameless Mexicans. Later on, a song was created using the words of his poem.
1. Woody Guthrie, "Deportee," The Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives, 1948.
Lyrics to Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
By Woodie 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
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" ?