Sharpening the Knife Blade

This book is more the work of a poet than a trained oral historian. My only real credentials for having written it were that I was native to its situation in nearly every way and had only to listen to hear my own world talking.

—Ronald Blythe, Akenfield

photo (7)

 

This quote from Ronald Blythe’s introduction to his seminal book Akenfield has been a mantra for me as I hammer away on this new manuscript surrounding the Los Gatos plane crash of 1948. In the same way Blythe’s book was heavily debated for its redefinition of oral history in the sixties, it’s possible that this book, All They Will Call You, sips from the same stream. At this point I have spent the better part of a year on the writing aspect of it and still have yet to put my finger on any one genre that it might be easily tethered to. I can hear my agent’s voice stressing to me, “What about plot? More plot!” Or a publisher cautioning, “We prefer there to be a clear distinction whether or not this is fiction or creative non-fiction.” Or my mentor’s voice saying, “Consider how the people who populate the book will receive it.” In the face of all this, there is a quiet hum in my skull whispering (dare I even say it) —hybrid.

At the start of working on this book, I had seriously considered that this might even turn out to be a collection of poetry, or even a long poem, taking its cue from Muriel Rukeyser’s Book of the Dead, or Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony—aka poet as witness. I had been excited about the recent book by David Mason, Ludlow, where he uses narrative verse to retell the incident of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, including pieces of actual testimony, newspaper accounts and other formal documents. My project seemed very much along these lines, at least in the beginning. And in a similar way, Mark Nowak’s work in Coal Mountain Elementary, or C.D. Wright’s One With Others, further opened up the possibilities to me. I figured my project would lend itself to this curious genre that I have sometimes heard referred to as Documentary Poetics, or even Investigative Poetics, as Ed Sander’s deemed it. The idea of taking fragments of this “found language” and organizing it in a way that looks and acts more like poetry than prose was appealing to me, as someone who spent five years chasing two writing degrees with an emphasis in poetry. 

After a little more than three years of research now, I have amassed dozens of files and documents, and more than 100 hours of audio and video interviews with everyone, from eyewitnesses of the crash to the families of the victims, and the musicians who brought the song, Deportees, to light. Between this and the fact that I had spent more of my own money than I care to admit, and at least as many hours researching this single incident, I could not allow myself to succumb to the self-serving lure that, for me, is and always has been poetry. It’s just not how I approach writing. I began writing across genres, not because I had some preconceived path of what my career might look like, but in truth, because I was trying my best to allow the story or idea to dictate the form. Some folks can set out to write a novel, and they do. Some set out to write a poem, and they do. For me writing happens something akin to how Steinbeck describes collecting creatures from a tide pool in the opening of his book “Cannery Row.” There are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter to the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle. 

A story, or spurt of language, or lightening thought arises, and my job is to be a good listener and observer. Awareness is my knife blade, and I do my best to keep it sharp. Sometimes the creature arrives as a blob of language, without direction or rationale. Sometimes it starts out as a poem then morphs into a story, or vice-versa. Still, other times it starts as a song lyric then slowly winds its way back toward a straight narrative. If I pay attention, which is to say, once the idea has squirmed its way onto my knife blade, then with slow and calculated precision, I do my best to guide it into the bottle, unbroken. And this is my approach with All They Will Call You.

*   *   *

 

 

All They Will Call You: An Excerpt

His home is tucked serenely within a dense green hillside just north of Manhattan. We ambled our way up the gravelly road to a clearing. A log cabin appeared, and next to it a house only slightly larger. All of it perched on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River. My good friend Anthony and myself stood there for several minutes before approaching the front door. After a few minutes Pete emerged and waved us over.     

“Tim Hernandez?” He asked, addressing Anthony.

“No, that’s Tim over there,” Anthony replied. He introduced himself and they shook hands.

I approached. “It’s an honor to meet you,” I said, to which Pete smiled and nodded.

His living room was an open space cluttered with all the details of a home that had been well lived-in for a few generations at least. Books were scattered on the dining table and shelved along the walls. Photos hung slightly eschewed, and in one corner hung an array of banjos and guitars. Large windows let in the natural light. It was almost noon, but the day was overcast. I sat down on a lounge chair and Pete took a seat across from me. Anthony stood near the kitchen table.

Three years after I first embarked on the search for the 28 passengers of the plane wreck at Los Gatos Canyon, who became known only as “Deportees,” there I was, sitting only a few feet away from the man who first launched that song into the world. A few days before I had jotted down two pages of questions, things I wanted to make sure I asked him, but in that moment it all went out the window. Something strange happens in those bare moments of clarity. It isn’t that I forget my notes. I’m aware of them, they’re usually in my shirt pocket. It’s that somehow those earlier thoughts, the minuscule agendas, are rendered meaningless when faced with the actual. Also, there’s a level of intuition that needs to be heeded. I trust that whatever I “need to know” in that instant will come on its own.

“I was just about to go chop wood,” Pete said.

“Need some help?”

He chuckled, then placed both of his hands on his kneecaps and leaned forward slightly, toward me. He was wearing a ball-cap, and his signature red turtleneck beneath a denim work shirt. He looked up at me with his grayish, green eyes, ready for my questions.

Just a few moments ago, while in the car on our way up here, Anthony had asked me if I was nervous. “I mean it’s Pete Seeger,” he said.

Before answering him I thought about it. “Yes I am,” I replied. “But I was more nervous when I first met Caritina Ramirez.”

“Who?”

“Caritina Ramirez. She was the ten-year old girl who lost her father, Ramon, in that plane crash.” And it was true. Meeting Caritina that first time, it felt like I was staring into the eyes of a child and breaking the news to her, as if for the first time, that her father was killed in a horrible accident.

Here I was now, thousands of miles away from the small oil town that is Coalinga, California. Further yet from Los Gatos Canyon. I turned my small digital recorder on and cleared my throat.

“Pete, in all the years that you’ve performed the Deportee song, did you ever once think that when you sang the words, Who are these friends all scattered like dry leaves…, it would actually be answered?”

* * *

In conversation, at the home of Pete Seeger.

In conversation, at the home of Pete Seeger. Photo credit, Anthony Cody

* * *

*This excerpt is only a draft.
It is from my book-in-progress, All They Will Call You…
Please do not use or quote without my permission.
Copyright Tim Z. Hernandez, 2013

To see the report done by ABCNews/ Univision Fusion TV click on this link

Deportee Memorial Commemorative Print

As some of you may know, since the start of this research project on the 28 Mexican brothers and sisters who died in the plane crash at Los Gatos Canyon I have been working with videographer, Ken Leija, documenting every step of the way. Presently, we have nearly a hundred hours of video and audio interviews, photographs, footage and rare documents (which will eventually need to be archived). The result of this footage will be a documentary about the search, not only for the 32 people who died aboard the plane, but a search for the facts of what happened that fateful day. However, in order to see this to fruition we need appeal to you, the community. Along the way, visual artists have been critical in making all of this happen. It is in this spirit that we present you with our latest opportunity to help this story live on.

 

Jane Oriel Art

 

Bay Area visual artist, Jane Oriel, has created this one-of-a-kind print specifically to commemorate the memorial and benefit the documentary fundraising effort.  This “Deportee Memorial Limited Edition Print” is Hand Silkscreened on Arches 140 lb. paper. 19 ¾’ x 13’ with a deckled edge border, and includes a poem by me along with all 28 names of the Mexican passengers. Each print is signed and numbered. Costs are:

Numbers 100-21, $40

Numbers 20-1, $60

If you are interested in purchasing a print please contact me at tzhernandez@yahoo.com. *Shipping costs will be included if print is to be mailed. We will also have these for sale at the Dinner & Conversation on Sunday, Sept. 1, 5pm, Ole Frijole in Fresno. Thank you for supporting!

 

 

The Memorial Headstone & Event

Hey friends, I thought you might like to see where your $10,000 are going! I’m so happy to report that the progress on the memorial ledger is now underway, and so many exciting developments are unfolding every day. Maybe some of you had a chance to finally meet Mr. Jaime Ramirez via the article that came out in the Los Angeles Times recently. His family’s story gets even more amazing and I can’t wait to share this with you in my book.

Below is a photo of me at the headstone that used to be at the gravesite, and below that is the foundation for the new headstone. You can see where they’ve imbedded the old headstone into the concrete, so that folks can see the history.

Right now the memorial event is being planned and I’ll be posting up a flyer-invitation very soon, but for now I can tell you that there’ll be a variety of music, ceremony, possibly some Aztec dancers, and of course, the unveiling of the beautifully finished memorial headstone. It’ll be both a time for contemplation and celebration.

Also, the day before the event, I’ll be hosting a rare opportunity for the community (YOU!) to share dinner and discussion with the circle of people who were directly involved in this historical incident. Guests will include the family of Frank & Bobbi Atkinson (the pilot and stewardess), the family and friends of Martin Hoffman  (the musician who composed the melody to the song we all know and love today), June Leigh Austin (daughter of the property owners and first responders), Deana McCloud (Executive of the Woody Guthrie Center), and the Ramirez-Paredes family (descendants of two of the Mexican passengers). Please email me directly for details.

Some of the media: The Los Angeles Times, Univision/ ABC, The Story with Dick Gordon on NPR, Telemundo, NPR Tell Me More with Michele Martin, The California Report (KQED), The Pilsen Portal, Tulsa World Newspaper, Univision/ Central Cal, KVPR Valley Public Radio, The Fresno Bee, The Victoria Advocate, and Vida En El Valle.

THE MEMORIAL EVENT: Monday September 2, 2013, 10 am, Holy Cross Cemetery, 2105 West Belmont Ave., Fresno, California 93728

Photos: Top Photo, Tim at old headstone, Bottom Photo, Credit: Lydia Z. Hernandez, 7/2013

The Answer to Woody’s Question…

When Woody Guthrie asked the question, “Who are these friends all scattered like dry leaves?” I wonder if he ever thought someone 65 years down the road would attempt to answer it? Or that the someone would be the grandson of migrant farmworkers from the same soil that the plane went down. I wanted you all to be the first to hear…I have in fact located surviving family members for two of the “deportee” passengers aboard the plane that crashed in Los Gatos Canyon. It only took the first conversation with Mr. Ramirez to realize that he and I have both been slogging our way through years of research (Mr. Ramirez more than I), intuitively working our way toward one another all this time. He is the grandson and nephew of Guadalupe Ramirez Lara and Ramon Paredes Gonzalez, both men who found themselves aboard that fateful flight on January 28, 1948. Since our first conversation, he and his family have been gracious and beyond cooperative in allowing me to interview them in person, and on camera/ audio for my book. To say they are excited about the effort to install the new headstone memorial on September 2 is an understatement. They’ve been waiting for this moment since 1948, and of course they’ll be present. I know many of you have been asking me if I have found any of the families, and while I’d like to save some of the mystery for my book, I will let you know that with the family’s consent we’ll be releasing this news to the wider public very soon.

But for now, I will offer this:

I recently took Mr. Ramirez, his wife and niece, to the crash sight in Los Gatos Canyon, to see the exact location where their relatives died. To add to the special occasion, Larry Haws, the grandson of O.D. “Happy” Gaston, who was among the first on the scene to help, was with us. And in a moment I thought might never happen, I found myself entering the canyon creek bed with the grandson of a first responder on my left, and the grandson of two “nameless” victims on my right. Both men linked by a single incident that had begun to shape their lives before they were even born. As you can see, Mr. Ramirez wore his father’s hat for the special occasion.

Mr. Ramirez, the grandson and nephew of two of the "Deportee" passengers aboard the plane stands at the foot of the Los Gatos Canyon creek bed, where the plane crashed.

(Copyright 2013, Tim Z. Hernandez) Mr. Ramirez, the grandson and nephew of two of the “Deportee” passengers aboard the plane in Los Gatos Canyon stands at the foot of the creek bed, staring down at the spot that the plane crashed.

Needless to say, my book has taken a major but fortuitous turn, and I am chipping away at it mercilessly. In the meantime, my videographer, Ken Leija, and I are going to be putting together a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the documentary portion of this journey. As many of you know, I’ve had a camera following throughout the research, and this is why. If you didn’t get a chance to donate to the headstone memorial, but would like to help make the documentary a reality, please keep an eye out for the campaign or contact me directly.

In the spirit of community,

Tim
E: tzhernandez@yahoo.com

We have reached our $10,000 goal!!

THANK YOU to all who have helped make the memorial headstone for the 28 Mexican brothers and sisters who have gone 65 years without a name on their headstone a reality. As you know, so many wonderful people have supported this effort, if not in monetary contributions then in sweat, art, and organizing. Holy Cross Cemetery and myself have begun discussions as to what the memorial event will look like and we will be excited to announce this as soon as we have it completed. For now, please mark your calendars for this wonderful event which will take place on Labor Day, September 2, 2013, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California. You can continue to follow my updates here for details as we get closer.

Also, I am working on putting together an opportunity for the community to meet and greet all those involved in my book, research, and the historical incident itself. Please check back with this page for details soon!

Sincerely,
Tim

Contact Tim Hernandez: tzhernandez@yahoo.com or 303-437-9435

UNIVISION & HISTORY MAKING

If you watched part 1, part 2, or part 3 of Univision’s Special Report “Tragedia Sin Nombre,” and then you found yourself sharing the story with others, then you are making history. If you are reading the Tulsa World article or listening to the California Report, or NPR’s Tell Me More, and then you turn around and mention this story to a friend, you are making history. If you are a teacher using this story to illustrate a subject or point in the classroom, you too are making history. The more we share this story the more it becomes an irremovable thread in our collective experience. Please share far and wide. My hope is that my book spills far out, off the pages and into the streets, kitchens, classrooms, road trips and intimate spaces, wherever there is a discussion about what it means to be human.

Lance Canales and myself, the memorial benefit concert, April 18, 2013

Lance Canales and myself, the memorial benefit concert, Fresno, California, April 18, 2013

NOTES ON PROCESS OF “ALL THEY WILL CALL YOU” THE BOOK

One of my earliest mentors once told me that in order to find a poem we must live in the “non-poem.” In other words, those little spaces, rhythms, failures, joys and triumphs, the stuff our lives are made up of is where we find poetry and stories. But we have to be in it, really in it. Makes sense, right? But I can’t tell you how easy it’s been for me to forget this simple truth lately. As I dive headlong into the writing of my Deportees book, people too easily become characters, lived stories sway to and away from fact, letters to loved ones read more like narrative peaks and valleys, such to the point that I frequently catch myself digging out a photograph from my research files, just to prove to myself that I didn’t make up the image in my mind’s eye. That it does, in fact, exist. This is a whole new realm for me. For the past 15 years that I’ve been writing seriously, I’ve grown accustomed to generating material from my own creative impulses, my own slippery ideas and fancy distortions. This time, for this piece, I’ve resigned myself to the role of witness. Just as this is a book of witnesses. What the children on the ground who lived in that Canyon witnessed. What the prisoners who got their hands dirty that morning witnessed. What the media witnessed. What the landscape itself witnessed. The mountain range, and the airplane, what they witnessed. What Woody and Martin, and those closest to them witnessed. What we are now witnessing. For the last two and a half years I’ve carried around a small, very small, digital recorder. So a lot of this process has been transcription. Also, some of what the Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardenal dubbed Documentary-poems, or Docu-poems, have been employed here. I guess Kerouac referred to a similar process he called “sketch-writing, or sketching.” Something like chronicling the found language and images as objectively as possible, quick and without too much thought. Free of all “fancy distortions.” Or in the words of Steinbeck, free of “my own authorial warp.” I’ve even dipped back into Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s “True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art,” because I see this approach to writing somewhat in line with his concept of “non-aggression,” or rather, a “non-aggressive art,” as in “all things a symbol of themselves.” I remember taking a workshop with Ruben Martinez, author of “El Otro Lado” way back in 1996, and he said something along the lines of “If you write about things as they are the metaphors are already there.” He might’ve been more poetic than that, I’m sure. But here I am now, doing my best to allow these voices, 65 years later, to speak on their own accord. And I cannot express to you how fantastic, challenging, and yet frightening this whole process is. As of right now, the book is shaping up to look like a textual documentary; language, interviews, photos and letters. I’ll try and post a few excerpts down the road.

Connectivity

The last few weeks of this fundraising campaign and the book research have been especially trying. Just when I think I’m close to discovering one of the surviving descendants of the deportee passengers I hit a roadblock. But then, from nowhere I get a phone call or an email from someone, telling me how they are connected to that flight. Or, to that day. Or, to the song. Or, to the land itself. Or, how they are an aviation expert or historian or geologist, and want to help. Connectivity is the word here. This incident, 65 years later, still carries weight. Even the donations, though a little slower than we had expected, have been coming in from all parts of the country. And they are typically accompanied with letters of encouragement. It’s inspiring to know that people in the world could feel so passionate about a group of “others” they never knew or met. Perhaps it’s because these are the same people who also believe in connectivity. The possibility that there really is no “other.” We are it.

photo (2)

Just last week I was back up in Los Gatos Canyon. Along the way we saw a snake crossing the road. We got off to move it back on the shoulder so that it didn’t get hit by a car. Just then I remembered this photo (above). The one of my parents, my uncle and aunt, and my grandparents, all working the sugar beet fields in Wyoming. When I was a child, my father (on the far left) used to wear me on his back while he hoed. Sometimes though, my mother (far back on the right) would set me on the warm soft earth and work around me, watchful of rattlesnakes. It’s taken me a long time to undo my fear of things I know so little about. So much goes untold in the conditioning.

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Growing List of Contributors to the Deportee Memorial Headstone

Ilan Stavans – Amherst, MA
Christine Murray dela Hofer – Fresno, CA
Luis Bravo – Fresno, CA
Shelly Catterson – Evergreen, CO
Cesar Chavez Foundation
Diane Vigeant – Colorado Springs, CO
(In Loving Memory of Jerry Davich and Martin Hoffman)
Bill Spence & Sue Edelstein – Carbondale, CO
(in memory of Martin Hoffman)
John McCutcheon – Smoke Rise, GA
Ronald Scudder – Livermore, CA
Joseph Offer – Applegate, CA
Barbara Davis – Witchita, KS
Armstrong-Hagen – Tehachapi, CA
Judith Major – Mars Hill, NC
Jacqueline Dwyer – Henrico, VA
Carol Giles-Straight – St. Louis, MO
Sylvia & Robert Ross – Lemon Cove, CA
Chris David Rosales – Denver, CO
Robert V. Hansman – New York, NY
Roberts Family – Fremont, CA
Berenice Guzman (and students of Dinuba High School)- Dinuba, CA
Riley Family – Newington, Ct
Aris & In-Sun Janigian – Los Angeles, CA
Rascon Family – Bakersfield, CA
Consuelo Romo – Visalia, CA
Holly Hisamoto – El Monte, CA
Richard Stone & Billey Adams – Fresno, CA
Tom & Linda Farrell – Indianapolis, IN
Dini Karasik – Kensington, MD
Darren De Leon — Oakland, CA
Shubin Family- Fresno, CA
Maceo Montoya – Woodland, CA
Carlos Francisco Jackson — Sacramento, CA
Camille T. Taiara — Oakland, CA
Malaquias Montoya – Elmira, CA
Javier O. Huerta — Berkeley, CA
Matt Espinoza Watson — Fresno, CA
Chuck McNally — Fresno, CA
K.A. Elias & S. Shena – Three Rivers, CA
Corrine Hales – Fresno, CA
Ester Hernandez – San Francisco, CA
Hallowell Family – Friant, CA
Daniel Sullivan- Walnut Creek, CA
Joseph Rios — Berkeley, CA
Mia Barraza Martinez — Fresno, CA
Jaime Montiel — Sacramento, CA
Nolan Family – Palm Desert, CA
Tim Hernandez & Dayanna Sevilla – Boulder, CO
St. Francis of Assisi Parish – Bakersfield, CA
Roth Crane – Fresno, CA
Berry Construction – Madera, CA
The Woody Guthrie Foundation – Bethel, NY
Conjunto Califas – Visalia, CA
Jemmy Bluestein Band – Fresno, CA
Lance Canales & The Flood – Fresno, CA
Melanie Cervantes – Oakland, CA
Jesus Barraza – Oakland, CA
Bezayiff Family – Sabillasville, MD
Rosenberg Family – Los Angeles, CA
Jonathan Segal – Menlo Park, CA
Abelino Bautista – Fresno, CA
Shannon Johnson – Fresno, CA
Diego Monterrubio – Lindsay, CA
Sylvia Savala – Fresno, CA
Ole Frijole – Fresno, CA
Donna Odierna – Oakland, CA
Jennifer Douglas-Larsson – Boulder, CO
John Sierra – Fresno, CA
Robert Marshall – Visalia, CA
Janet Flores – Fresno, CA
Catherine Campbell – Fresno, CA
Thomas Quinn – Fresno, CA
Alex Espinoza – Fresno, CA
Pedraza Family – Fresno, CA
Griggs Family — Fresno, CA
Herrick Family – Fresno, CA
Robin Wheeler – Belleville, IL
Arlene Biala – Sunnyvale, CA
Jane Oriel – Albany, CA
Allison Kosch – Palmdale, CA
Nora & Kenneth Albert – Northampton, MA
Fulton 55 – Fresno, CA
Bell Memorials – Clovis, CA

*If I have accidentally left out your name please inform me right away! We wouldn’t want to repeat history.

“(Deportee) Plane Wreck at Los Gatos” Memorial Needs Your Help

imageFor 65 years the remains of the 28 unnamed plane crash victims have been buried in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno with a small placard that simply reads “28 Mexican Nationals who died in a plane crash are buried here.” Now that we have the names of all 28 passengers our aim is to erect a new headstone listing their names and essentially putting back a piece of American history. But to make this memorial a reality we need to raise $10,000. Please consider making a donation. For your contribution your name will be listed on the program which will be handed out at the public event. This historical event will take place on September 2, 2013, Labor Day, and all are invited. Please consider ANY AMOUNT, big or small. This is truly a community endeavor, and it will require your generosity to make happen. Below are five easy ways you can support this project.

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1. To receive a personal thank you letter for your contribution, send a check to:
Tim Z. Hernandez,  ATTN: HOLY CROSS MEMORIAL,  302 Casper Drive, Lafayette, CO 80026  *ALL CHECKS should be made out to Saint Peter’s Cemetery. Be sure to write ATTN: HOLY CROSS MEMORIAL on the envelope and in the memo portion of your check

2. To purchase your copy of Lance Canales & The Flood’s version of the “Deportee” song with all 28 names being read click here on Amazon or CD Baby, or go to iTunes.
* All proceeds benefit the memorial headstone

3. To make your contribution via Paypal (safe & secure), please click here.

4. Attend the Memorial Concert Fundraiser which will be held in Fresno at Fulton 55 on April 18, 2013. Please check back here for more details soon.

5. You can also help by sharing this link with EVERYONE you know.

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MORE INFO:

 

For more information on the plane crash research, book, and memorial click here.

To listen to the radio interview on KVPR click here.

To contact Tim Hernandez directly: tzhernandez@yahoo.com