Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)
|Date||January 28, 1948|
|Summary||Fire, originating in the left engine-driven fuel pump|
|Site||Diablo mountains, west of Coalinga, Fresno County, California, United States|
|Aircraft type||C-47B-40-DK Skytrain|
|Operator||Airline Transport Carriers
(under INS contract)
"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" is a protest song with lyrics by Woody Guthrie detailing the January 28, 1948 crash of a plane near Los Gatos Canyon, 20 miles (32 km) west of Coalinga in Fresno County, California, United States. The crash occurred in Los Gatos Canyon and not in the town of Los Gatos itself, which is in Santa Clara County, approximately 150 miles away. Guthrie was inspired to write the song by what he considered the racist mistreatment of the passengers before and after the accident. The crash resulted in the deaths of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported from California back to Mexico.
On January 28, 1948, a Douglas DC-3 aircraft, owned by Airline Transport Carriers of Burbank, California, was chartered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to fly twenty-eight Mexican citizens, who were being deported to the INS Deportation Center in El Centro, California. For reasons never explained, pilot Frank Atkinson and co-pilot Marion Ewing took the wrong airplane for the flight, with the plane that they were supposed to fly being a DC-3 that was certified to carry thirty-two passengers. They instead took a DC-3 that had seats for only twenty-six passengers and was seven hours overdue for a routine and required safety inspection. Arriving in Oakland, California after a routine flight, the crew was joined by INS guard, Frank Chaffin. The flight was to first land in Burbank, California to refuel before it went on to El Centro.
At approximately 10:30am, workers at the Fresno County Industrial Road Camp, located twenty-one miles northwest of Coalinga, California, noticed the DC-3 trailing white smoke from its port engine. The left wing suddenly ripped off, spilling nine passengers out of the gaping hole in the fuselage. The plane caught fire and spiraled to the ground, exploding in a ball of fire. The investigation by the Civil Aeronautics Authority discovered that a fuel leak in the port engine's fuel pump ignited the fire and the extremely fast-moving in-flight air current fed the flames to a white hot intensity, which then acted like an oxyacetylene torch, burning through the wingspar and causing the crash. The Mexican victims of the accident were placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California. There were 27 men and one woman, with only 12 of the victims ever being identified. The grave is 84 feet by 7 feet with two rows of caskets and not all of the bodies were buried the first day, but the caskets at the site did have an overnight guard.
The genesis of the song "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" reportedly occurred when Guthrie was struck by the fact that radio and newspaper coverage of the event did not give the victims' names, but instead referred to them merely as "deportees." For example, none of the deportees' names were printed in the January 29, 1948 New York Times report, only those of the flight crew and the security guard. However, The Fresno Bee covered the tragedy extensively and listed all of the known names of the deportees. Guthrie, whose image was that of a train-hopping folk singer, actually lived in New York City at the time. Not knowing about the extensive local coverage of the disaster, Guthrie responded with a poem, which, when it was first written, featured only rudimentary musical accompaniment, with Guthrie chanting the song rather than singing it. In the poem, Guthrie assigned symbolic names to the dead: "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita; adiós, mis amigos, Jesús y María..." A decade later, Guthrie's poem was set to music and given a haunting melody by a schoolteacher named Martin Hoffman. Shortly after, folk singer and friend of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, began performing the song at concerts and it was Seeger's rendition that popularized the song during this time.
It has been suggested by the Three Rocks Research website that, in fact, "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" betrays Woody Guthrie's lack of understanding regarding the Bracero Program. The program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements created by the U.S. Congress in 1942, that permitted Mexican farm laborers (or braceros) to work in the United States due to the severe labor shortages caused by World War II. Under the terms of the program, the labor contractors were expected to provide transportation to and from the Mexican border, with the U.S. Immigration Service being required to repatriate the Mexican citizens if the contractor defaulted. As such, the "deportation" of braceros in this fashion was simply a way of meeting the obligations of the program. However, it could be argued that Guthrie's song is less about the Bracero Program itself and more a comment on the attitude of American society and the media towards the Mexican farm laborers.
In addition to being a lament for the braceros killed in the crash, the opening lines of "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)":
are another protest by Guthrie. At the time, government policies paid farmers to destroy their crops in order to keep farm production and prices high. Guthrie felt that it was wrong to render food inedible by poisoning it in a world where hungry people lived.
"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" has been described by journalist Joe Klein as "the last great song he [Guthrie] would write, a memorial to the nameless migrants "all scattered like dry leaves" in Los Gatos Canyon." The song has been covered many times, often under a variety of alternate titles, including "Deportees", "Ballad of the Deportees", "Deportee Song" and "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)".
On July 9, 2013, Los Angeles Times reporter, Diana Marcum, reported of successful efforts by Tim Z. Hernandez to identify the migrant workers and erect a memorial at their burial site. On Labor Day, September 2, 2013, a Deportee Memorial Headstone was unveiled in the Holy Cross cemetery in Fresno to more than 600 citizens in attendance. The Memorial includes all twenty-eight names of the Mexican nationals that were formerly known as "deportees".
The song has been covered by many artists, including:
- Dave Guard and the Whiskey Hill Singers (featuring Judy Henske) on Dave Guard and the Whiskey Hill Singers (1962).
- The Kingston Trio on Time To Think (1963).
- Cisco Houston on Cisco Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie (1963).
- Judy Collins on Judy Collins #3 (1964).
- Odetta on album Odetta Sings of Many Things (1964).
- The Brothers Four on Sing of Our Times (1964)
- The Byrds on the Ballad of Easy Rider (1969).
- Joan Baez on Blessed Are... (1971) and live on Bowery Songs (2004).
- The Bergerfolk on The Bergerfolk Sing For Joy, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (1973).
- Arlo Guthrie on Arlo Guthrie (1974) and with Pete Seeger on Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger: Together in Concert (1975).
- Bob Dylan and Joan Baez during the 2nd Part of the Rolling Thunder Revue (1976).
- David Carradine on Bound for Glory (motion picture soundtrack) (1976).
- Dolly Parton on 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs (1980).
- Sweet Honey in the Rock on The Other Side (1985).
- Christy Moore on, Spirit of Freedom (1985).
- The Highwaymen, with Johnny Rodriguez, on Highwayman (1985).
- Christina Lindberg on Stanna stanna (1985), in as "Flyktingarna" ("The Refugees") with lyrics by Martin Hoffman.
- Hoyt Axton on Hard Travelin' (1986).
- Gene Clark on So Rebellious a Lover (1987), with Carla Olson.
- Peter, Paul and Mary on Lifelines (1995) and Lifelines Live (1996).
- Concrete Blonde on Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals (1997).
- Nanci Griffith with an ensemble including Lucinda Williams, Tish Hinojosa, Odetta, Steve Earle, and John Stewart on Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful) (1998).
- Los Super Seven on Los Super Seven (1998).
- Svante Karlsson on American Songs as "Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos/Goodbye Juan)" (1999).
- Bruce Springsteen on 'Til We Outnumber 'Em (2000).
- Ox on Dust Bowl Revival (2003).
- Paddy Reilly on The Very Best Of Paddy Reilly: 30 of His Finest Performances (2003).
- Barbara Dane on Classic Folk Music From Smithsonian Folkways (2004).
- Derek Warfield and the Wolfe Tones on 50 Great Irish Rebel Songs and Ballads (2005).
- The Battlefield Band on The Road of Tears (2006).
- Billy Bragg on Talking with the Taxman about Poetry extended edition (2006).
- Roy Brown Ramírez, Tito Auger, and Tao Rodríguez-Seeger on Que Vaya Bien (2006; in Spanish).
- Richard Shindell on, South of Delia (2007).
- Old Crow Medicine Show on Song of America (2007).
- John Stewart "Illegals/Deportee Medley" on Secret Tapes 1984-87 (2009).
- Dan Bern on Live in New York (2011).
- Outernational and Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman on Todos Somos Ilegales (2011)
- KT Tunstall as part of ONE's agit8 campaign (2013).
- Marcum, Diana (9 July 2013). "Names emerge from shadows of 1948 crash". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Klein, Joe. (1999). Woody Guthrie: A Life. Delta. ISBN 0-385-33385-4.
- "60th anniversary of "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)"". Indybay. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- "DC3 Aircraft Crash Site in Los Gatos Canyon". Three Rocks Research. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- Kulczyk, David (2009). Death in California – The Bizarre, Freakish, and Just Curious Ways People Die in the Golden State. Fresno, CA: Craven Street Books. p. 77. ISBN 978-1-884995-57-6.
- Fresno Bee (Fresno, California), 1 February 1948
- "Los Gatos Canyon Plane Crash, Fresno County, California". Eastern Mojave Vegetation. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- Kulczyk, David (2009). Death in California – The Bizarre, Freakish, and Just Curious Ways People Die in the Golden State. Fresno, CA: Craven Street Books. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-884995-57-6.
- "Deeportee (Plane Wreck at Los gatos) lyrics". The Official Woody Guthrie Website. Retrieved 2009-09-27.
- "Mark Hammond: Chapel Talk". The Irene DuPont Library. Retrieved 2009-10-16.[dead link]
- Marcum, Diana (2013-07-09). "Names emerge from shadows of 1948 crash". LA Times. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
- Orozco, Ron. "Fresno memorial unveiled with ‘deportee’ names from 1948 crash".
- "Svensk mediedatabas". Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) song lyrics at woodyguthrie.org
- Check-Six.com - The "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos" Canyon (includes full passenger and crew list)
- A description of the DC3 aircraft crash site at picacho.org (includes text of The New York Times article)
- Newspaper report on the crash from The New York Times