The legacy of the '48 plane crash in Los Gatos and the Bracero deportees
August 24, 2014 3:00 PM   Subscribe

In 1942, the US and Mexican governments created the Bracero Agreement, allowing Mexican agricultural workers to come into the United States for a limited time, to provide farm workers while the US was involved in World War II. The program was extended as a series of a series of laws and diplomatic agreements that finally ended in 1964. Probably the most famous popular memorial to the broad program was a poem by Woodie Guthrie, "the last great song he would write," after hearing about a plane crash in Los Gatos, which was reported as a flight full of nameless "deportees." A decade later, a young school teacher/folk singer named Martin (or Marty) Hoffman put the words to music, and Pete Seeger made the song popular, with numerous covers performed and recorded since. 65 years after the crash, those "deportees" were finally named, and that tombstone for "28 Mexican citizens" replaced with the names of those who died.

If you want to know about the Bracero program, the Bracero history archive (previously) is a great resource, as is The Farmworkers Website.

There's a good, long discussion about the poem and the song on Mudcat, with some memories of Hoffman, including the link made between Judy Collins' "Song for Martin" and Marty (WARNING: a memorial for a suicide victim)

Tim Z. Hernandez has written about his research and efforts associated with finding out more about the plane wreck at Los Gatos, with more in his blog. His efforts lead to the official naming Mexican nationals who died in the airplane crash, and the fundraiser for the updated headstone. You can watch a 7 minute clip about those efforts.
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for putting this together. This is a topic I've always had in the back of my mind post. You did a much better job than I would have!
posted by marxchivist at 3:02 PM on August 24, 2014

The program referred to was constructed by the US govt to make it easy for Mexicans to get passes to work the fields in the US and then to return to their homes. Today, workers more often than not come to the US illegally and remain. In both situations the people doing the hiring are looking for cheap labor. Recall that Guthrie, whose song about the Deportees is linked here, also wrote a narrative song about Grapes of Wrath--the Dus bowl Am workers .
posted by Postroad at 3:21 PM on August 24, 2014

posted by learnsome at 3:47 PM on August 24, 2014

Outernational covered the Guthrie song as well, featuring RATM's Tom Morello.

(Don't let Morello's presence dissuade's an accordion waltz, with nary a "come wit it now!" to be heard.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 5:28 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

My wife's grandfather was a Bracero for several years in the '50s, until the farm he usually worked in North Carolina offered to sponsor him for a real green card. He's a tough and charming man, 94 and still living independently (with some paid help daily), and a recognizable and respected character in his neighborhood (last month he got one of his grandkids' kids a job at his local McDonalds by vouching for him).

Last night he told us (in Spanish -- in 60 some years he hasn't learned the language. "His head's too hard," he says) about one of his afternoons at the park this week during which he met a younger woman (60s), and at some point she asked how old he was, after all, he sure gets around good. "How old do you think I am?"

"Maybe in your 80s?"

"My 80s? Hah. If I were still in my 80s I'd be chasing you all around the park."

"Oh! Haha."

"Yes. And if I were in my 70s, you'd be chasing me."

Anyway. Thanks for a great FPP! Lots to read and learn about that part of Apa's life.
posted by notyou at 6:08 PM on August 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Thanks for putting this together. This is a topic I've always had in the back of my mind post. You did a much better job than I would have!

You're welcome! I got into this topic via The Highwaymen's rendition of "Deportee," which that linked video informs me is actually Johnny Cash, Johnny Rodriguez and Willie Nelson. Here's a less than stellar quality video of Johnny Cash & Johnny Rodriguez as a solo guitar + two voice duet.

I wanted to know more about the story, and how The Highwaymen came to pick that song, as it seemed quite a strong statement for a country supergroup to include it on their first album together.

Then I found out about Woodie Guthrie writing it only as a poem, and then I read about the efforts to find out the names of the unnamed Mexican nationals who died in the crash. From there I saw the 7 minute news-type video clip, which added the history Bracero to the story, including this bilingual "Americanos todos, luchamos por la victoria" propaganda poster, which has a description that notes the start of the Bracero program and this particular poster was issued in 1943, around the same time as the Zoot Suit Riots. There's a lot of interesting history around this period.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:18 PM on August 24, 2014

Bracero, a 1966 song by Phil Ochs.
Oh, welcome to California
Where the friendly farmers will take care of you
When the weary night embraces
Sleep in shacks that could be cages
They will take it from your wages
posted by brokkr at 5:27 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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