Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos): For Educators

Audio Investigation Slide

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos): Audio Investigation Slide
    • Click the link above to launch the slide deck (3 slides).
    • Invite students to respond to the following questions show on slide #1:
        • What push factors cause people to immigrate to other countries? List as many as you can.
        • What push factors cause people to immigrate to other countries? List as many as you can.
    • Ask students to underline or highlight the one push and one pull factor that they believe to be the most important.
    • Advance to slide #2.
    • Invite students to respond to the following question shown on slide #2:
        • What risks/dangers do immigrants face when they decide to go to a different country?
    • After allowing a brief period for students to answer, share student responses. The availability of jobs will likely be among the pull factors that students mention. You should remind them, or clarify for them, that beyond the possibility of finding a job on their own once they arrived in the new country, immigrants were sometimes actively recruited, encouraged to immigrate, and hired to work in specific industries at different points in history, such as Chinese immigrants recruited by railroad companies during the 19th century.
    • Advance to slide #3.
    • Note that the song was written as a poem in 1948 by Woody Guthrie and set to music by a school teacher named Martin Hoffman in 1958.
    • Click the media player in the bottom right corner of the slide to begin audio playback of the song.
    • Invite students to respond to the following questions shown on slide #3:
        • What were the push and pull factors that brought the laborers to the U.S.?
        • What sort of work did the laborers do in the U.S.?
        • Based on verse 2, what was the status of the laborers
        • What risks did the laborers face?
        • What happened to the laborers?
        • Why does it matter that the news report referred to the laborers only as deportees?
    • As students share their responses to the first three questions, they may recognize that at least some of the laborers had been recruited and hired for specific jobs, or they may need some prompting to recognize that. You can explain the Bracero program, introduced by the federal government in 1942 to address agricultural labor shortages during the Second World War, to them at this point, or cover it later in the lesson, if you prefer. Also, you can briefly provide the more specific details of the plane crash and the victims so that it is clear that the song is based on actual events.


This song is useful to introduce a lesson on the changing sources of immigration to the United States during and after the Second World War. Since it is a recurring topic in U.S. History courses, students should have prior knowledge about push/pull factors, the difficulties that immigrants experience both before and after arriving in a new country, and the negative attitudes toward immigrants that citizens of a country may hold.

Economic necessity as both a push and a pull factor is a concept that students can grasp easily, as they have already had some exposure through previous units of study, particularly those covering the second industrial revolution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The idea that at different points in time, the desire of people living in other countries to improve their financial prospects coincided with shifts in the American economy that led to widespread availability of jobs, is familiar to them. This is an opportunity for students to recognize that the relationship between immigrant labor and the American economy was and is more complex than that. Students may not know that at different points in time, businesses and the federal government have actively recruited workers in other countries to work in specific industries or to remedy labor shortages in other sectors. You can review different examples that you may have already covered including the recruitment of Chinese laborers to build railroads, beginning in the 1840s, and the recruitment of Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, and Filippino laborers as seasonal agricultural workers, beginning in the late 19th century. You can then present the Bracero program as a continuation of existing American practices, but administered by the federal government, and explain that although that program ended in 1964, federal guest worker policies that provide labor for a number of sectors, including agriculture, exist today. Students can create a timeline that covers the various waves and shifting sources of immigration to the United States that shows connections to shifts in the nation’s economy. This would allow them to visualize change and continuity over time and to consider how these practices and policies that date back nearly two centuries have benefited the economy of the United States.

The explicit focus on the migrant workers, and the indignation expressed at the dismissive way that a radio report described them, in the song’s lyrics provide an opportunity to address some of the social aspects of immigration. Building on the shared responses to the final question of the bell ringer, you might ask students to recall from previous units examples of stereotypes and negative representations of members of various immigrant groups as conveyed in print media and popular culture. Thinking about and responding to these questions establishes a solid foundation from which students can consider how these portrayals both created and reinforced prejudices among Americans of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant descent, and were also used to promote discriminatory government policies that targeted members of immigrant groups. You can then ask students to reflect on the contradiction between the economic benefits of immigration and the response with which various immigrant groups are met in American society. You may wish to incorporate some 19th-century political cartoons, such as “Looking Backward, drawn by Joseph Keppler, to further reinforce this point.  Additionally, you can broaden the discussion of the benefits of immigration to include social and cultural contributions that students may or may not be aware of.


creosote – chemical preservative; the reference to rotting peaches and oranges in creosote dumps alludes to government policies (that) paid farmers to destroy their crops in order to keep farm production and prices high

Los Gatos Canyon is located in Fresno County, which is in central California

Additional Resources

Primary Source Strategies

Printable worksheets with response prompts that guide students in analyzing songs as primary sources.