I have heard Woody’s song “Deportee” many times over the years. The lyrics talk about the crash of a plane over Los Gatos canyon. Rather than listing the names of the victims as is usually done when a plane crashes the radio news account simply noted that they were deportees. Woody Guthrie did not know the victims but he knew that they must have had names.
When I heard the song last night I was struck by how Woody made poetry with the Spanish names and phrases:
Goodbye to my Juan, farewell Roselita
Adios mes amigos, Jesus e Maria
You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be deportee.
I don’t think Woody ever studied Spanish in school. The knowledge of Spanish reflected in the above verse must have come from his encounters with Mexicans as he traveled around. They were fellow workers in some of the hard-scrabble jobs he held. They also were traveling around looking for whatever job they could find. From his lyrics we can tell that Woody thought of them as people like himself and did not like them being exploited and treated differently because of their illegal status.
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can raise our good crops?
To fall like dry leaves and rot on out topsoil
And be known by no name except "deportee."
We would do well to remember Woody’s point as we debate immigration policy. The “illegal immigrants” we are discussing are people with names.