Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)

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"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)"
Song by Woody Guthrie
Written 1948 (1948)
Genre Protest song
Composer(s) Martin Hoffman
Lyricist(s) Woody Guthrie

"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" is a protest song with lyrics by Woody Guthrie and music by Martin Hoffman detailing the January 28, 1948 crash of a plane near Los Gatos Canyon,[1] 20 miles (32 km) west of Coalinga in Fresno County, California, United States.[2][3] The crash occurred in Los Gatos Canyon and not in the town of Los Gatos itself, which is in Santa Clara County, approximately 150 miles away. Guthrie was inspired to write the song by what he considered the racist mistreatment of the passengers before and after the accident.[1] The crash resulted in the deaths of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported from California back to Mexico.[3]


The genesis of the song reportedly occurred when Guthrie was struck by the fact that radio and newspaper coverage of the Los Gatos plane crash did not give the victims' names, but instead referred to them merely as "deportees."[2] For example, none of the deportees' names were printed in the January 29, 1948, New York Times report, only those of the flight crew and the security guard.[3][4] However, The Fresno Bee covered the tragedy extensively and listed all of the known names of the deportees.[5] Guthrie, whose image was that of a train-hopping folk singer, actually lived in New York City at the time.[5] Not knowing about the extensive local coverage of the disaster,[5] Guthrie responded with a poem, which, when it was first written, featured only rudimentary musical accompaniment, with Guthrie chanting the song rather than singing it.[1] In the poem, Guthrie assigned symbolic names to the dead: "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita; adiós, mis amigos, Jesús y María..."[6] A decade later, Guthrie's poem was set to music and given a haunting melody by a schoolteacher named Martin Hoffman.[2] Shortly after, folk singer and friend of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, began performing the song at concerts and it was Seeger's rendition that popularized the song during this time.[2]

Woody Guthrie.

It has been suggested by the Three Rocks Research website that, in fact, "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" betrays Woody Guthrie's lack of understanding regarding the Bracero Program.[3] (Though arguably this is addressed in the lines "Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted, Our work contract's out and we have to move on.") The program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements created by the U.S. Congress in 1942, that permitted Mexican farm laborers (or braceros) to work in the United States due to the severe labor shortages caused by World War II. Under the terms of the program, the labor contractors were expected to provide transportation to and from the Mexican border, with the U.S. Immigration Service being required to repatriate the Mexican citizens if the contractor defaulted.[3] As such, the "deportation" of braceros in this fashion was simply a way of meeting the obligations of the program—although some newspapers, e.g., the New York Times, did refer to the braceros as "deportees".[3] However, it could be argued that Guthrie's song is less about the Bracero Program itself and more a comment on the attitude of American society and the media towards the Mexican farm laborers.

In addition to being a lament for the braceros killed in the crash, the opening lines of "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)":

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps."[6]

are another protest by Guthrie. At the time, government policies paid farmers to destroy their crops in order to keep farm production and prices high.[7] Guthrie felt that it was wrong to render food inedible by poisoning it in a world where hungry people lived.

"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" has been described by journalist Joe Klein as "the last great song he [Guthrie] would write, a memorial to the nameless migrants "all scattered like dry leaves" in Los Gatos Canyon."[1] The song has been recorded many times, often under a variety of other titles, including "Deportees", "Ballad of the Deportees", "Deportee Song", "Plane Crash at Los Gatos" and "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)".


The song has been recorded by many artists, including:


  1. ^ a b c d Klein, Joe. (1999). Woody Guthrie: A Life. Delta. ISBN 0-385-33385-4. 
  2. ^ a b c d "60th anniversary of "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)"". Indybay. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "DC3 Aircraft Crash Site in Los Gatos Canyon". Three Rocks Research. Archived from the original on 2014-03-20. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  4. ^ "Los Gatos Canyon Plane Crash, Fresno County, California". Eastern Mojave Vegetation. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  5. ^ a b c Kulczyk, David (2009). Death in California – The Bizarre, Freakish, and Just Curious Ways People Die in the Golden State. Fresno, CA: Craven Street Books. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-884995-57-6. 
  6. ^ a b "Deeportee (Plane Wreck at Los gatos) lyrics". The Official Woody Guthrie Website. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  7. ^ "Mark Hammond: Chapel Talk" (PDF). The Irene DuPont Library. Retrieved 2009-10-16. [dead link]
  8. ^ "Svensk mediedatabas". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  9. ^ from an interview on Americana Music Show #273, published November 17, 2015

External links

  • Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) song lyrics at
  • - The "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos" Canyon (includes full passenger and crew list)
  • All They Will Call You by Tim Z. Hernandez a book about the crash
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