Wednesday, January 30, 2008


This is the sixtieth anniversary of a plane crash that inspired Woody Guthrie to write the song "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)." Many singers have covered the song, including the Kingston Trio, Hoyt Axton, Bruce Springsteen, and Los Super Seven. Here, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez perform the song in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The fire began in the left engine-driven fuel pump, and the plane crashed 20 miles west of Coalinga, California, on January 29, 1948. All 32 people on board died -- including 27 immigrants being deported to Mexico, who were buried in a mass grave in Fresno. The news accounts named the white Americans, and dismissed the others as "just deportees."

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

The anniversary falls in a hotly contested presidential campaign in which many candidates are stirring up fear and mistrust of immigrants, particularly Mexicans. These politicians are part of a longstanding American tradition of cowardly pandering for votes with xenophobia and racism, a tradition that has historically served them well. Someday we may put this tired old tradition to rest, and begin to recognize the humanity in immigrant workers -- regardless of documentation status -- and to respect their call for dignity and human rights.


Anonymous said...

Nice post, Bob. I may be one of the few vets who actually had Dylan and Baez albums in the field with me in Vietnam. Had a battery operated turntable. The ARVN's got a big kick out of it but the MI's called me in and questioned my loyalty because of it. Been a fan a long time and still am. I'm also very familiar with the Coalinga/Hanford area and most of the Central Valley.

Bob Rini said...

That's a great story, Expatbrian -- Baez and Dylan on a battery operated turntable in Vietnam. I can imagine some folks didn't know what to make of it! Now we're slogged down in a different war -- and they probably have iPods this time around. Thanks for the comment.