Introduction to "Deportee" by Tim McMullen (YouTube)
Tim McMullen performs "Deportee" (YouTube)
The agreement of 1947 [between Mexico and the U.S.]... contained a novel provision which established amnesty through deportation. Under its terms, undocumented Mexicans who were sent back across the border could return to the U.S. as temporary contract laborers; during the life of their contracts, they could not be again deported. In practice, employers often called Border Patrol stations to report their own undocumented employees, who were returned, momentarily, to border cities in Mexico, where they signed labor contracts with the same employers who had denounced them. This process became known as "drying out wetbacks" or "storm and drag immigration." "Drying out" provided a deportation-proof source of cheap seasonal labor...
Dick J. Reavis, Without Documents, New York, 1978, p. 39.
Joe Offer (Joe-Offer@msn.com) provided this info on rec.music.folk on Jan 29, 1997:
The New York Times of January 29, 1948 reported the wreck of a "charter plane carrying 28 Mexican farm workers from Oakland to the El Centro, CA, Deportation Center.... The crash occurred 20 miles west of Coalinga, 75 miles from Fresno."
I got out my California map book, and found a Los Gatos Road and Los Gatos Creek northwest of Coalinga, near the Fresno/San Benito county line. That's one of the most desolate areas of California, and I'm sure it was even more desolate in 1948.
In Summer, the hills there are brown and forbidding, and the heat oppressive. That's how I pictured the crash site.
However, the crash took place in January, and in January those hills west of Coalinga are a beautiful green, splendid with wildflowers. Perhaps it is some slight consolation that these poor people died in a place of breathtaking beauty.
May they rest in peace, and may we never forget them.
Milnsue (email@example.com) added the following personal recollections on rec.music.folk, Mon, Apr 21, 1997:
I was born and raised in Coalinga and can remember going to the crash site the day after the incident. My father, older sister, and I viewed the crash and even though I was about six years old at the time, I can remember it as if it happened yesterday. It was a cold and damp day and even though the reports were that the site had been cleaned up, this was not the case. The sadness of seeing the meager possessions of the passengers and the total lack of respect by those who had the task of removing the bodies, will be something I will never forget or forgive.
The first version of the song that I heard was by the Whiskey Hill Singers back in the late 50's or early 60's. They were a short lived group led by Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio...
He [WOODY GUTHRIE] 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 Hoffman1 added a beautiful melody and Pete Seeger began singing it in concerts....
Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie: A Life, London, 1981, pp. 349-350.
secret muse (firstname.lastname@example.org) supplied the following info on rec.music.folk, Wed, Apr 23, 1997:
I was just visiting with John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers... and he told me that at 'Folksong '58' (or '59, the Lomax concert-gala at Carnegie Hall, on the old UA LP) he wheeled Woody into the audience and sat with him as Seeger sang "Deportee"... known only as a poem by Woody... and Woody was quite enthralled as he mouthed the words along with the performance. From what John told me, this was an astounding concert and one that should be unearthed in its entirety.... The LP, now quite scarce, was only a shadow of the festivities....
The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps2;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back againCHORUS:My father's own father, he waded that river,
Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.
Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.
We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.
The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?
Deportee was a poem written by Woody. Years later (mid 50s?) it was put to music by Marty Hoffman, who, along with Dick Barker up here in Jackson Hole, were a strong influence on Judy Collins as she entered the folk realm.Michael Black (blackm00@CAM.ORG) asked:
Is Marty Hoffman the one Judy Collins sings about in "Song for Martin" on "True Stories and Other Dreams"?Mike Regenstreif (email@example.com) replied:
Yes he is.Ed Renehan (firstname.lastname@example.org ) added:
BTW, when I first knew Cathy Fink, about 1972 or '73 when she came to Montreal to study at McGill, she was singing a song that she had written about Martin Hoffman when she'd spent some time on the same Navajo reservation that Hoffman had been working at before he killed himself.
To fill in the last detail, I'll report something Pete Seeger told me a number of years ago. Unfortunately, a few years after composing the beautiful melody for "Plane Wreck," Martin Hoffman killed himself.
These practices were all started as part of the New Deal. Specifically, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) set production limits on a number of farm commodities in order to keep prices up-- farm prices were low *before* the 1929 crash and people were increasing production throughout the 1920s to keep their income steady. Wheat was especially a problem.
At any rate, one of the first AAA programs out the gate in 1933 was the concept of paying farmers *not* to farm, thus reducing supply and raising prices so farmers could afford to stay in business-- otherwise everyone would quit farming and there'd be widespread shortages.
People were paid not to plant, paid to dump milk, paid to slaughter pigs and destroy the pork, and of course paid to dump citrus crops also. The food had to be rendered inedible or the market-adjusting effect would be lost. It angered a lot of people in 1933 also. But some folks will argue that the AAA saved a large chunk of American agriculture as well. Some of those programs are still with us in varied forms today.
Bob Dylan and Joan Baez performing "Deportee" in 1976 (YouTube)