This song is also known as "Deportee" and more fully as "Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)" or "Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportees)." Guthrie's biographer Joe Klein said of its composition: "He was writing as many songs as ever, but few of any consequence. His children's songs continued to be charming... and his other songs remained perfunctory, with the notable exception of 'Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportees),' which he composed after reading, early in 1948, that a plane deporting migrant farm workers back to Mexico had crashed. It was the last great song he would write, a memorial to the nameless migrants 'all scattered like dry leaves' in Los Gatos Canyon, where the plane crashed... The song, as he wrote it, was virtually without music - Woody chanted the words - and wasn't performed publicly until a decade later when a schoolteacher named Martin Hoffman added a beautiful melody and Pete Seeger began singing it in concerts."
Seeger and Reiser added, "The plane was flying home a group of Mexican workers who had entered the United States illegally, prompted by promises of high-paying jobs from unscrupulous growers in the California orchards. The newspaper didn't bother listing the names of those killed. Like surplus crops, they were just to get rid of."
James Martin from Denver, ColoradoIt wasn't just about the papers. The bodies were buried in a mass grave with no identification except for the white pilots and stewardess. It wasn't until about a decade ago that someone moved my Woody's song took it upon himself to search out all the names of those who died and mounted an effort to create a fitting memorial at the gravesite listing all the names mentioned by Mark A sad commentary but it is good know we have actually come a long way in our national consciousness about race since the 1040's when we had no second thoughts about Mexicans and penned up our Japanese citizens in concentration camps.
Mark from San Pedro, CaWoody's poem (not written as a song) protested 1) anonymity of the workers that died, who by the way were in the US as part of a US government-sanctioned guest worker program, and were not illegal immigrants; and 2) US agricultural practices in which the US government paid farmers to destroy crops to keep the prices inflated, despite the fact that (obviously) hungry people could have eaten the food.
The names of the workers were recently found. Here they are, for the record:
Miguel Negrete Álvarez. Tomás Aviña de Gracia. Francisco Llamas Durán. Santiago García Elizondo. Rosalio Padilla Estrada. Tomás Padilla Márquez. Bernabé López Garcia. Salvador Sandoval Hernández. Severo Medina Lára. Elías Trujillo Macias. José Rodriguez Macias. Luis López Medina. Manuel Calderón Merino. Luis Cuevas Miranda. Martin Razo Navarro. Ignacio Pérez Navarro. Román Ochoa Ochoa. Ramón Paredes Gonzalez. Guadalupe Ramírez Lára. Apolonio Ramírez Placencia. Alberto Carlos Raygoza. Guadalupe Hernández Rodríguez. Maria Santana Rodríguez. Juan Valenzuela Ruiz. Wenceslao Flores Ruiz. José Valdívia Sánchez. Jesús Meza Santos. Baldomero Marcas Torres.
Gerard from Toulouse, FranceAs this song has been recorded and / or sung live by dozens of English-speaking and Spanish-speaking artists, it is rather logical to assume that a good many people have felt the lyrics convey something strong like, say, compassion for - and solidarity with - those who decide to leave their homeland and break the law somewhere else in order to survive or just raise their kids when harsh exploitation at home makes it difficult or impossible. Other people prefer to believe that employers of illegal immigrants are not to blame and only migrant workers are (see Alexander Baron , line 9 above). Sure! When a law is broken for material profit, make sure to always put the blame on the poor guy that gets the least and discharge the top cat that makes the most, as your representative or some big cheese in your capital city may have ordered the local chief of Police to turn a blind eye. You know what, Mr Baron? Runaway slaves in the US were indeed breaking the law, so when they were caught and had a foot cut off, it served them bloody well right, didn't it?
Joan from Galashiels, United KingdomAlexander Baron; You have your own opinion on whether a song is great or not, and I am not going to argue. However, although it is usual to hold back names of flight fatalities until relatives are informed, that was not the reason for the song, I don't think. It was the way the papaers referred to the crash victims as "JUST" deportees. Illegal or otherwise, human deaths are equally as tragic for these families as for some white US businessman on a vacation trip, say.
Joan from Galashiels, United KingdomIt was also sung beautifully by Julie Felix.