Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon

A DC-3, contracted with the United States Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS), on the morning of 28 January 1948, ignited over the hills east of Coalinga, California. It was overloaded by weight, and by passengers and past time for a required, safety inspection.

A long trail of vapor escaped from the left engine followed by flames and separation of wing and then a fiery crash and explosion into Los Gatos Canyon , immediately east of a Fresno County prison camp.

Woody Guthrie read the accounts in the papers and was disturbed that the Mexicans were listed only as deportees. To him, it was as if, it was a parting final insult. Guthrie composed a poem:

Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)

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"}} [these lines sung as chorus]
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"?

Ten years later Martin Hoffman, a school teacher, supplied a tune and Pete Seeger began singing it in concert. After that it went into the folk song repertoire and was recorded by several national folk and folk friendly artists, including Judy Collins and recently Joan Baez; another sweet, sad, ballade lament plaintively addressing the heart. The song told something, that was internally and eternally true, that is still true today.

The sympathy that Guthrie felt in the '40s towards the Mexicans is more apropos today. At that time, government bureaucracy allowed foreign seasonal workers into the US much, more simply than today. And the Mexicans were not so demonized as a bogeyman by the xenophobic and racist, lunatic vanguard. They were targets of injustice and bigotry, yes, but they were not an existential terror. Today, the government is building a wall/fence/barrier on the border. The US and the american polemicists used to excoriate the russian communists over the Berlin Wall. Who complains of the California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas Walls?

Coalinga is, probably, neither spanish nor indian, but Coaling A station for steam locomotives. It is in remote and thinly populated central California where, in the period of annexation/separation, gold mining took place and law was questionable. Desperadoes, including the 5 Joaquins were active in the area. A Joaquin Murietta may have blended into the stories of Zorro. Californo and yanqui of 1850 became mexican and american today.

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