LAMONT, Calif. (KERO) — Hispanic Heritage Month is drawing to a close, and one Kern County author is trying to bring closure to the families of 28 men who lost their lives in pursuit of the American Dream in 1948.
Names hold so much of a person’s story, and when 32 people died in a plane crash carrying 28 Mexican farmworkers who were returning home, those people were only called “deportees.”
Leaving them nameless struck a chord with many. Woody Guthrie’s song “Deportees,” covered by bands like Lance Canales & The Flood, highlight the impact of the news coverage and officials removing the identities of these people. All of the farmworkers were grouped together under the term “deportees,” while the pilot and crew on board had their names printed in the news and their families notified.
“The name, I thought, is just symbolic of who they are, so as a writer, I wanted to know their stories, and that is what I have gone searching for,” said author Tim Hernandez, born to farmworkers in the Central Valley, who felt the need to give the victims their identities.
“It was always an open wound. They didn’t know,” said Hernandez. The victims of the plane crash had been buried en masse without any markers in what had been at the time the largest mass grave in the state’s history.
For 70 years, no one had known who the people buried in that grave were. When the crash happened, Hernandez and his family were living near the crash site.
“We ended up installing a memorial headstone at the gravesite in Fresno in 2013 listing all of the names of the passengers,” said Hernandez.
That was just the beginning. Hernandez has since found the stories about 14 of the 32 people killed in the crash, including the pilot, crew, and immigration officer. He wrote about them all in a book titled, “All They Will Call You.”
One of the families with a member in Hernandez’ book lives in Bakersfield. Hernandez shares the story of this family, noting that the families touched by this event have unresolved grief that can be passed on for generations.
“In Luis’ case,” Hernandez says, speaking about the family, “he said his mother said, ‘My father, your grandfather, died in a plane crash in California. We don’t know what happened after that.’”
Hernandez has written about the families he has already met, but is now looking to share the impact their descendants have made in our community.
“Their descendants are immigration attorneys, and that is where the story is going now,” Hernandez said. This part of his mission is to show that these people were much more than just “deportees.”
Beyond sharing their stories, Hernandez says for him, it’s about righting wrongs and showing we are all more alike than different.
“At that time, they were called deportees,” said Hernandez. “Today, we give them other generalizations. Immigrants, illegals, all of these other labels, that only strip away the humanity of who the individual is.”
If you know anyone who may be related to the crash in 1948, you can reach out to Hernandez with your story via his website.