This story is republished from Vida en el Valle by Juan Esparza Loera
Just as he crafted his book about the crash of a DC-3 over Los Gatos Canyon and the 32 lives that perished 69 years ago, Tim Z. Hernández brought ‘All They Will Call You’ alive with tales, music and photographs last Friday evening.
“This reminds us of how important it is to put up a recorder and ask questions of our ancestors,” said Hernández, whose book was officially released on the anniversary of the crash of the airplane as it was headed with 28 Mexican nationals from Oakland to El Centro.
Hernández, who was born in Dinuba and traveled throughout California and nearby states as his parents followed the crops, said the book was personal because it gave names to the Mexican nationals whose identities were ignored by the media.
From memory, Hernández kept a full crowd at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union hanging on as he began with a description of “a chilly, brisk,winter morning” in Burbank when pilot Frankie Atkinson got a telephone call from a freight air company to fly to Oakland to pick up some people who were being deported.
Because the stewardess called in sick that day, Atkinson asked his new bride, Bobbie, to accompany him on the flight. “We’ll be back in time for lunch or dinner,” he told her.
Her response: “If anything ever happened to Frankie, I want to be with him.”
Hernández, reading occasionally from his book, would let the audience peer into the story.
The experience of the pilot who once crash-landed a cargo of fine china while flying over the Himalayan Mountains without breaking a single plate.
The eye-witness account of a 10-year-old girl in Los Gatos Canyon who witnessed a wing fall off the airplane before it spiraled into the canyon.
Meeting Pete Seeger a few months before he died. Hernández traveled to New York to figure out how the legendary folk singer remembered about the song ‘Crash at Los Altos Canyon (Deportee).’
Exhausting research trying to locate the names of the Mexican nationals (27 men, 1 woman), and later spearheading a fund-raising effort to have the names engraved on the mass grave at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in West Fresno.
How a musician – Martin Hoffman – in Colorado came up with the tune for Guthrie’s poem.
How a needle-in-a-haystack search for relatives of the Mexican victims resulted in meeting the grandson and grand-nephew (Guillermo and Jaime Ramírez) of two victims in Fresno. “They found me, I didn’t find them,” quipped Hernández.
The two men accompanied Hernández on a trip to México to interview family members of some victims, including Casimira Navarro López, whose fiancee Luis Miranda Cueves was among the dead.
Hernández relied on more than just words and pictures to resurrect his story.
Raoul Hernández performed an emotional ‘México Lindo y Querido’ in front of giant photos of Navarro López and Miranda Cuevas. He had promised his bride-to-be that he would have a mariachi play at their wedding.
Chowchilla native John Boomer played ‘Plane Crash at Los Gatos Canyon (Deportee) for the first time in almost 50 years.
Lance Canales did his own version of the song, while Hernández read the names of the 32 crash victims.
Hernández focuses on the Guthrie song – which has been recorded by Bruce Springsteen, Dolly Parton and many others – because without the song, he doubts he would have set out to on his journey to find out more about the lives that were lost.
“To me, the song was about dignity; dignity that was denied the plane crash victims,” said Boomer in a panel discussion.