Book Names Deportees in 1948 Plane Crash
In his new book, “All They Will Call You,” Tim Z. Hernandez writes poignantly about 28 Mexican migrant farmworkers who died on Jan. 28, 1948, after the DC-3 airplane flying them home exploded over Los Gatos Canyon in California's central San Joaquin Valley.
The tragedy made headlines across the United States, but newspapers only named the pilot, flight attendant, first officer and immigration officer who were also on board and referred to the rest of the passengers as ‘deportees.’
“It’s easier to generalize people with words like ‘deportee’ or ‘immigrant’ instead of using their real names,” said Hernandez, a creative writing assistant professor at UTEP. “But I feel that when we use words like that, whether it’s in the past, or now, or in the future, what we’re really doing is making them unidentifiable. We’re stripping away their faces so we don’t have to look directly into the eyes of the people that we treat poorly.”
For six years, Hernandez searched for information about the migrants whose remains were buried in an unmarked mass grave at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Fresno, California.
After comparing their death certificates to the misspelled names on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno’s church register, Hernandez identified the 27 men and one woman and raised funds to have their names engraved on a memorial at the gravesite.
Hernandez also located the families of seven of the farmworkers. In 2015, the award-winning novelist and poet traveled to Mexico to interview relatives of three of the victims.
“All They Will Call You” was released in January 2017 on the 69th anniversary of the plane crash. Hernandez borrowed the title from lyrics in the Woody Guthrie song, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” Guthrie wrote it to protest the media’s disregard for the Mexican laborers.
Jaime Ramirez’ maternal grandfather, Ramon Paredes Gonzales, and his great-uncle, Guadalupe Ramirez Lara, were passengers on the flight.
“I hope people at least now know exactly what happened and how they were forgotten,” said Ramirez, whose grandfather and great-uncle’s stories are part of the book. “My satisfaction is they have a stone with all their names. They may get some peace now.”
- Laura L. Acosta