This story also begins with the ring of a telephone:
I am on tour in Berkeley, California in May of this year and my phone rings. My colleague, folk-singer John McCutcheon, is on the end of the line.
He asks if I remember the Woody Guthrie song, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” about the immigrant farm laborers who were being deported from the US when their airplane crashed. Radio reports named the crew and white immigration workers who were killed, but only said the rest were, “deportees.”
I said of course I know that song.
He said, “If these people were being deported, then the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) had to have had their names written down somewhere. Some younger people, who were not alive when the crash happened, who only knew of the story from Woody’s song, had determined to find out the names of all of these victims and were seeking to create a memorial and funds were needed.”
“They found their names, and now they are raising funds to create the memorial in Fresno at the cemetary where the mass grave is. I think we, as folksingers, should support this project.”
Because of John’s instigation, members of my union, Local 1000 AFM (American Federation of Musicians), became the largest single financial supporters of this project, which was unveiled earlier this month on Labor Day.
John reflected, “It is the power of a folk song that kept this tragedy of this incident alive, long after all the participants and witnesses have died.”
The Fresno Bee has this article about the unveiling.
Almost everyday since Labor Day I have been singing Woody’s song, this time ending,
“Now we know your names when you rode the big airplane,
Now we won’t call you “deportee.”