Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants

By David Bacon | Go to book overview

Four

FAST TRACK TO THE PAST

Not Enough Workers!

In 1947, after reading a newspaper article about the crash of a plane carrying a group of Mexican migrant workers back to the border, Woody Guthrie wrote a poem, later set to music by Martin Hofman. In haunting lyrics Guthrie describes how the plane caught fire as it flew low over Los Gatos Canyon, near the farming town of Coalinga, at the edge of California's San Joaquin Valley. Observers below saw people and belongings flung out of the aircraft before it hit the ground—falling, as Guthrie sang, like leaves.

While the Coalinga Record carried the names of the pilot and Border Patrol agent on the flight, no record was ever kept of the workers' identities. They were all listed on the death certificates as “deportee,” and that became the name of the song. It was a protest against that imposed anonymity, the denial of the very identities of the people who were creating wealth for the growers. Guthrie takes the point of view of those who died. “Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,” he sings. And he reveals the deportation as the expulsion of unwelcome intruders, once their labor was over: “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.”

Today, the word “illegal” is used to mean a person without immigration papers. But Guthrie uses it in the deeper sense of an earlier era—of being excluded. To him, it means someone who is not a real resident of the place where he or she works, not part of a community or accepted by the surrounding society.

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Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Preface v
  • One - Making Work a Crime 1
  • Two - Why Did We Come? 23
  • Three - Displacement and Migration 51
  • Four - Fast Track to the Past 83
  • Five - Which Side Are You On? 119
  • Six - Blacks Plus Immigrants Plus Unions Equals Power 167
  • Seven - Illegal People or Illegal Work? 199
  • Eight - Whose New World Order? 233
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