Great news. As I write this, the manuscript, which is the culmination of all my research since 2010, is in negotiations for publication. In the meantime, because I’ve been asked on numerous occasions about how this all took shape, I’m posting a timeline of how my research, the headstone, the new version of the song, and documentary have all taken shape. Hopefully this is of some help. Hope to share some good news soon, but in the meantime, enjoy!
Los Gatos Plane Crash/ “All They Will Call You” Project Timeline
December 2010: I first saw the newspaper article at the Fresno Public Library, while researching for my previous novel, Mañana Means Heaven. My research began here.
January – December 2011: I immersed myself in the research, and though I found a couple of lists of names online, none were accurate. This whole year was spent solely trying to confirm the names of the passengers. During this time is when I discovered that the Mexican passengers were buried in a mass unmarked grave in Fresno’s Holy Cross Cemetery.
November 2011: I invited musicians Dayanna Sevilla and Lance Canales to perform the song, “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” with me reading the names at the Steinbeck Festival in Salinas. Dayanna and Lance began exchanging ideas via email for how the song might go. Eventually Dayanna had to cancel the gig and Lance composed his version of the song solo. I continued my research for the names, filing papers with the Freedom of Information Act, and numerous other archival records. Still was unsuccessful.
May 2012: Lance and I performed at the Steinbeck Festival, and afterward, while walking the streets of Salinas, we spoke about the idea of installing a headstone memorial with the list of names I had.
July 2012: I managed to locate the Gaston family, who owned the crash sight property in 1948 and were eyewitnesses to the crash. I began interviewing them, and they showed me the crash sight for the first time. This meeting was a breakthrough, as I now had first hand accounts of what happened that day. This is when my book began too. This same month, I also located a woman named Diane, who put me in touch with Martin Hoffman’s family, and I began interviewing them immediately.
August 2012: Still trying to confirm names, I approached the Fresno Diocese, where I met Carlos, the cemetery director. He admitted to knowing about the mass burial site and incident but didn’t know about the names until I had inquired. I asked if he’d be willing to check the Fresno County Hall of Records. He agreed, and was successful. This became the second list of names, not entirely accurate but another breakthrough.
October 2012: I formally submitted a proposal to the Fresno Diocese stating that I would pursue installing a memorial headstone at the gravesite, mentioning it would be with the help of friends, including Lance Canales, Fresno artists, and the Diocese. It was approved.
November 2012-February 2013: The Fresno Diocese issued a Press Release and news caught on that I had found the list of names, and that we would be installing a headstone. During this time, Lance recorded his version of the song, and emailed it to me so that I could record the names over the track. We would use the song to raise money for the headstone.
January 2013: Fundraising for the memorial headstone was officially under way. A combined effort between myself, Lance, Fresno artists and activists, and the Diocese,
organized a concert to raise funds. People from all over the world contributed.
March 2013: I took the story of my search to the Fresno bilingual newspaper Vida en el Valle, hoping someone might read it and be related. Juan Esparza was the reporter, and he ran the story. Three weeks after its release, it was successful.
April 2013: I was contacted by the Ramirez family, who told me they were descendants of two passengers aboard the flight. I met and interviewed them immediately. That same month I also successfully located the family of the pilot and stewardess. I interviewed them right away. The book was making slow progress. The concert was held, and we raised an initial $4,000 for the headstone.
September 2013: We raised $10,000 and installed the headstone in a large public event at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno. The Ramirez family was present, and so were the families of the pilot and stewardess, Martin Hoffman, and the eyewitnesses. I organized a caravan trip and took the families to the crash sight for the fist time. We also hosted a public discussion at Ole Frijole restaurant in Fresno. Wide spread media covered the story.
October 2013: I met and interviewed Pete Seeger at his home in Beacon, NY. He told me his version of how the song came to be, and I showed him photos of the passengers, and told him some of their stories. He was visibly moved. Our meeting was captured on film by his grandson, Kitama, and I will release some of this footage in the documentary.
November 2013 – March 2014: I continued to search for more families, while writing my book. While I found much information on the passengers, it was moving slowly because I was funding everything from my own pocket.
Early March 2014: A breakthrough! I found the Sanchez Valdivia family after dozens of phone calls to Zacatecas, Mexico, San Diego, and Tijuana. This was the fifth passenger I managed to locate. I interviewed the family via telephone, but knew I had to meet them in person in Mexico before too long. They sent me photos of their deceased relative.
Late March 2014: Another breakthrough! I located the Padilla Marquez family in Stockton, California, after I recited the list of names out loud at a fundraiser breakfast, and made an appeal to the audience. It happened that a friend of the family was in the audience. They knew the story, and put me in touch with the family immediately. This was the sixth passenger I had now found. By noon that day I was at their home interviewing them. My mother was with me, and we documented the conversation on video.
May 2014: I traveled to the Navajo nation to camp in Canyon du Chelly with the friends and relatives of Martin Hoffman. This is where he last lived and where his life ended. I interviewed them all, and this was also documented.
Sept 2014 – December 2014: I launched a fundraiser crowdsourcing campaign to raise $4000 to travel into Mexico.
January 2015: I traveled into central Mexico, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, with Guillermo Ramirez, to knock on doors using the information I had accumulated over the past few years. This was the last big push in my research, and it was a long shot. We ended up finding the Miranda Cuevas family in Jalisco. I interviewed them and they gave me photos of their relative. During this trip I also interviewed family members for the other passengers I had already found, but who were living in Mexico.
January – December 2015: I continued to search for families, and write my book at the same time.
February 2016: I completed writing the book, tentatively titled, “All They Will Call You.” I am still looking for families and conducting portions of research. I’ve also agreed to donate some of my research to the Woody Guthrie archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am currently working with the El Paso based filmmaker, Valentin Sandoval, on editing the documentary, which is tentatively titled, “Searching for the Plane Crash at Los Gatos.”
Final Note & Credits: To date I have located 7 of the total 32 reported passengers on the airplane. 90 percent of this endeavor, from 2010 to date, has been funded from my own pocket. While the research itself was a solo effort, it wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of friends, family members, and strangers. Lastly, all of the events on this timeline have been documented in film, audio, photographs, emails, and the notebooks I kept throughout. My book will be released in Spring 2017.