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Immortalized by Woody Guthrie, Mexican ‘Deportees’ Who Died in Plane Crash Are Nameless No Longer

Sasha Khokha - KQED
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July 15, 2017

So many artists — from Bruce Springsteen to Bob Dylan — have recorded Woody Guthrie’s famous ballad “Deportee,” about one of the worst airplane disasters in California history. But a big piece of the story was missing. Until now.

One cold winter morning in January 1948, 32 passengers were killed when a plane crashed in Los Gatos Canyon, near the Central Valley town of Coalinga.

The dead included 28 Mexican workers in the process of being deported by the U.S. government. Guthrie was outraged that newspaper accounts of the crash omitted the names of the Mexican passengers, simply calling them “deportees.” So he penned a song, giving symbolic names to the dead:

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”

For seven decades, the real names of those deportees were unknown, their bodies buried in a mass grave in Fresno. Until Tim Z. Hernandez — a previous winner of the American Book Award for poetry — spent years investigating in both Mexico and the U.S., interviewing families and unearthing records.

The band Lance Canales and the Flood play a version of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” with author Tim Z. Hernandez whispering the names of those who died in the 1948 plane crash.

Hernandez’s new book, “All They Will Call You” explores his journey uncovering their stories.

Read the rest at KQED

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