May 18, 2023
Tim Z. Hernandez and Ana Saldaña presented “Searching for the Plane Wreck at Los Gatos: A Documentary Performance” last month, in a program sponsored by the University of Arizona Southwest Center. The full video of their performance is now available using this link. Above photo from the presentation: passengers boarding the plane that crashed in Los Gatos Canyon.
Hernandez took the audience on a journey from California to Mexico and back as he researched and wrote his book, All They Will Call You. Saldaña provided music inspired by Hernandez’s search for families in the United State and Mexico, and she closed the event with a beautiful rendition of the song “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee).”
All They Will Call You is the harrowing account of “the worst airplane disaster in California’s history,” which claimed the lives of thirty-two passengers, including twenty-eight Mexican citizens—farmworkers who were being deported by the U.S. government. Outraged that media reports omitted only the names of the Mexican passengers, American folk icon Woody Guthrie penned a poem that went on to become one of the most important protest songs of the twentieth century, “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee).” It was an attempt to restore the dignity of the anonymous lives whose unidentified remains were buried in an unmarked mass grave in California’s Central Valley. For nearly seven decades, the song’s message would be carried on by the greatest artists of our time, including Pete Seeger, Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez, yet the question posed in Guthrie’s lyrics, “Who are these friends all scattered like dry leaves?” would remain unanswered—until now.