Henry's Songbook

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Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)

  • (Trad)

    Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita
    Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria
    You won't have your names when you ride the big aeroplane
    All they will call you is, deportees

    The crops are all in and the peaches are rottnin'
    The oranges are piled in their creosote dumps
    They're flying them back to the Mexican border
    To pay all their money to wade back again

    Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted
    Our work contract's out and we've got to move on
    It's six hundred miles to the Mexican border
    They chase us like outlaws, like rascals, like thieves

    The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos caynon
    A fireball of lightning, it shook all our hills
    Who are these good people all scattered like dry leaves
    The radio said they were just deportees

    Is this the best way we can harvest our orchards
    Is this the best way we can harvest our crops
    To die like dry leaves and to rot on the topsoil
    And be called by no name except, deportees

    (as sung by Alex Campbell)

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • english  [1948:] FRESNO, Calif., Jan. 28 (AP). A chartered Immigration Service plane crashed and burned in western Fresno County this morning, killing twenty-eight Mexican deportees, the crew of three and an Immigration guard. Irving F. Wixon, director of the Federal Immigration Service at San Francisco, said that the Mexicans were being flown to the deportation center at El Centro, Calif., for return to their country. The group included Mexican nationals who entered the United States Illegally, and others who stayed beyond duration of work contracts in California, he added. All were agricultural workers.
    The crew was identified as Frank Atkinson, 32 years old, of Long Beach, the pilot; Mrs. Bobbie Atkinson, his wife, stewardess, 28; and Marion Ewing of Balboa, copilot, 33. Long Beach airport officials said that Mr. Atkinson, formerly of Rochester, N.Y., had logged more than 1,700 hours flying time as a wartime member of the Air Transport Command. The guard was identified as Frank E. Chaffin of Berkeley.

    The plane, which was chartered from Airline Transport Carriers of Burbank, was southbound from the Oakland airport, when it crashed in view of some 100 road camp workers. Foreman Frank V. Johnson said that it "appeared to explode and a wing fell off" before it plummeted to the ground. A number of those in the plane appeared to jump or fall before the aircraft hit the earth, he added. The wreckage was enveloped in flames when the fuel tanks ignited. Not until the fire died down were rescuers able to get near the plane. By then, there was nothing to be done but to extricate the bodies. The scene of the crash is in the mountains about twenty miles west of Coalinga, seventy-five miles from here in the rough coastal area. (New York Times, Jan 29)

  • english  [1962:] A few years ago the newspapers reported the crash in Mexico [sic!] of a plane which was flying home a large group of Mexican "wetback" workers who had entered the United States illegally - induced by promises of good-paying jobs from unscrupulous agents of the large fruit orchards in California. Woody Guthrie immediately wrote this song. (Reprint Sing Out 4, 200)

  • german  [1977:] In diesem Lied wird die Problematik angesprochen, daß Arbeitskräfte ins Land geholt werden, die dort nur arbeiten sollen, selber keinerlei Rechte genießen und nach vollbrachter Arbeit sofort abgeschoben werden. Dabei ist besonders wichtig zu wissen, daß der gesamte heutige Südwesten der USA im mexikanisch-amerikanischen Krieg von 1846-1848 durch die USA annektiert wurde und so die Mexikaner in ihrem ehemaligen Land als Fremdarbeiter behandelt werden. (Liederkiste # 12)

  • english  [1980:] Woody's fortunes mirrored the times. [...] He was writing as many songs as ever, but few of any consequence. His children's songs continued to be charming (but less consistently so) 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, and with the memorable chorus [see above]. 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. (Klein, Woody Guthrie 348ff)

  • english  [1989:] Many of the best [political songs], surely, are those like Guthrie's Deportees that draw a general lesson from a particular incident. (Denselow, Music 12)



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