New headstone lists forgotten names of migrant workers killed in 1940s plane wreck.
By Samantha L. Alonso
The names of 28 Mexican deportees were erased from history, and one Texas author was determined to correct the mistake.
Writing a book to honor Mexican workers killed in a plane crash was difficult, and periods of time would go by without getting any information, the author of “All They Will Call You” told about 40 people at a book discussion hosted by the history program April 5 in the nursing complex.
Tim Z. Hernandez, a professor at The University of Texas at El Paso, discussed the journey he went through as he wrote his book.
The book tells a story of the families of 32 passengers who died in an airplane crash in California Jan. 28, 1948.
During World War II, the United States had an agreement with Mexico. While U.S. men were off fighting in the war, Mexican citizens were transported into the U.S. and granted work visas to do migrant work.
The Mexican workers were solely transported to the U.S. to work only for a short period and most of the time would not be paid for the work they did.
While the workers were being deported on a flight back to Mexico, the plane they were on experienced malfunctions. One of the wings went up in flames, and the other flew off the plane, leaving a big gap in the cabin causing passengers to fly out. The plane crashed in Los Gatos Canyon in Fresno County, Calif.
“All the pilot would have seen was sky, earth, sky, earth, sky, earth, sky — lights out,” Hernandez said.
Articles were written about the accident, but the names of the 28 Mexican workers were left out. They were only referred to as Mexican deportees. Media accounts only listed the names of the pilot, his wife, the co-pilot and an officer.
Woody Guthrie recorded a song called “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee),” which talked about the plane crash and the missing names of the Mexican deportees.
Hernandez wanted to write a book about the forgotten passengers, and it took years to track down names of the victims. He felt the deportees needed to be known as more than just deportees. They deserved names.
He went to Mexico to find living family members to get more information about some of the passengers and used news outlets to help him search for people who would have information.
When Hernandez got the names of all 28 Mexican workers, he raised money to erect a headstone with all the names of the passengers on the flight.
Lisa Ramos, Mexican-American studies coordinator, said Hernandez’s research demonstrated how historians sometimes distort the truth or omit important details.
“People who tell history can sometimes alter what happened, and that’s what he (Hernandez) learned, and that’s what I want students to get out of it,” Ramos said. “History has more than one version. It’s actually dynamic. It’s not set in stone. He discovered that when he went back and found out that these weren’t just random deportees. Each one had their individual story, and if you dig deep enough, if you’re curious enough, you can discover some amazing stories of your own.”
Hernandez says this has made him look at history in a different way because of all the investigating he had to do to uncover a piece of history that was omitted.
“This is the kind of story that has that power. That was one of the reasons why it was important to me to not look for just the 28 Mexican passengers’ stories, but all the passengers’ stories on this one ship hurtling towards a common fate like we all are,” Hernandez said.