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September 10, 2013

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Illustration: Artist Jane Oriel created this poster to commemorate the memorial for migrants killed in a 1948 plane crash in Central California.
Artist Jane Oriel created this poster to commemorate the memorial for migrants killed in a 1948 plane crash in Central California.
Credit
Tim Z. Hernandez

Sixty Years After Fiery Plane Crash, Names Of Migrant Passengers Emerge

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In 2009, historian Tim Hernandez was looking up newspaper articles about migrant workers in Central California when he came across a 60-year-old headline: A Mexico-bound plane chartered by U.S. Immigration Services had crashed in the middle of the state.

The article said that on Jan. 28, 1948, four of the occupants were crew members and the remaining 28 were Mexican nationals whose work contracts were up or who had been apprehended while living in the country illegally. But wherever he looked, Hernandez could find only the names of the crew members and not the passengers, who were described merely as “Mexicans.”

In this conversation with host Dick Gordon, Hernandez tells the story of realizing the crash was the subject of the famous Woodie Guthrie song that protested their anonymity, “Plane Wreck At Los Gatos,” how he met relatives of some of the occupants, and how he and others set out to formally commemorate the names of each person who had died in the crash.

“It just didn’t sit well with me that their names suddenly vanished into thin air and no one knew about who they were or their history,” Hernandez says. “That was the question that provoked me to dig deeper.”

A new headstone was dedicated on Sept. 2.

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