Vida En El Valle: "Now You Have Names, And You Have, As They Said, Your Dignity"
By: Juan Esparza Loera
Rosamaría Reyes remembers her grandmother never smiled after the death of Francisco Durán Llamas, one of 28 braceros who died aboard a DC-3 airplane when it tumbled out of the sky into Los Gatos Canyon near Coalinga 70 years ago on Jan. 28.
“My grandmother never laughed after that,” recalled Reyes, who had trouble getting information about her uncle from tight-lipped relatives. “She never showed a lot of emotion.”
Last September, she asked her daughter, Lisa Lozano, to search online for details of the green-eyed, light-skinned field laborer from Aguascalientes, México. “I’m not good with the internet,” said Reyes.
Her daughter immediately found out about the 2017 book, ‘All They Will Call You,’ – which Tim Z. Hernández wrote after five years of research trying to find the names of the victims – and the grave stone at Holy Cross Cemetery in west Fresno etched with the names of the 28 Mexican nationals and four Americans who perished during the plane’s flight from Oakland to southern California.
“Every time I would ask my relatives (about my uncle), no one would talk,” said Reyes. “I’m doing this for my grandma.”
Reyes traveled from Indiana for Sunday’s ceremony that drew about 40 people to the cemetery.
“This was a story tragedy that involved a heart-breaking story,” said Reyes.
There are stories that go with the life of Durán Llamas, she said.
She said he used his mother’s maiden name instead of his real name, Francisco Hernández Llamas.
Her uncle, said Reyes, wanted to work in the U.S. and then bring over her father, who was born in the United States. There is talk that there are other family members in this country.
He was one of nine children.
“One of my goals was to come here,” said Reyes as she looked over the grave site that for almost seven decades was marked only by a headstone that did not provide the names of the 28 Mexican nationals.
It was not until Hernández decided to look for the names in 2012 that the world learned of their names.
In March 2013, Hernández had about given up hope on finding the names when he approached Vida en el Valle, which published a story about his investigation. In April, a friend mentioned the article to Fresno restaurant owner Jaime Ramírez, whose grandfather and uncle were among the victims.
Ramírez contacted Hernández.
Ramírez had the names, their hometowns and their surviving relatives in a copy of the Spanish-language newspaper El Faro.
In September 2013, a memorial headstone celebration was held at the cemetery. And, Hernández began to track down surviving relatives in the U.S. and México.
“It’s a testament to the power of keeping stories,” said Hernández.
Hernández, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, helped raised $10,000 for a granite headstone with the names of the victims.
Reyes is excited to do more research about her uncle, and will be interviewed by Hernández. She hopes other family members of the victims will step forward to tell their stories.
“There are other stories of my uncle,” said Reyes, who was accompanied by her daughter, an airline attendant from Colorado.
“I hope to meet everyone again,” said Reyes at the ceremony.
At the Jan. 28 ceremony, musician Lance Canales spoke about his efforts with Hernández to make sure the victims’ names were known.
“This has become like the place for me,” said Canales of the grave site. “I’ll be here every year.”
Canales played his version of the Woody Guthrie song ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).’ A couple of minutes into the song, Hernández read the names of the 28 Mexican nationals and four Americans who perished at the same time 70 years ago.
“I couldn’t sing it the way it was originally written,” said Canales. “We have to put our grandma’s and grandpa’s boots on and do their work.”
Mariachi singer Rauol Hernández later sang the traditional Mexican song ‘México Lindo y Querido’ (Beautiful and Beloved México).
“I’m just pleased to be here and meet the families,” said Larry Haws, whose grandfather, ‘Happy’ Gaston, was among the first to arrive at the crash scene. “I grew up hearing of this story.”
Recognition at the state Capitol
Folk singer/songwriter Joan Baéz showed up at the state Capitol on Monday (Jan. 29) for a ceremony organized by state Sens. Benjamín ‘Ben’ Hueso and Bill Monning to honor Hernández and relatives of four of the plane crash victims.
“While the names of the American crew members were immediately released, the Mexican nationals were simply listed as deportees and they remained anonymous for the next seven decades,” said Hueso, chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus. “The government made no effort to release their identity, they made no effort to communicate the tragic event with their families, and they made no effort to relocate the remains of the victims to their native country.
“To add insult to injury, the remains of the Mexican passengers were buried in a large mass grave in Fresno’s Holy Cross Cemetery, listing them only with the numbers 1 through 28, each number followed by two handwritten words, ‘Mexican national.’”
Hueso praised Hernández for his six-year search to find those names and his book. Hueso provided copies of ‘All They Will Call You’ to each of the 40 state Senators.
“Tim Hernández did the work the government should have done,” said Hueso. “I’m honored to be able to take a moment to acknowledge this tragic event and properly memorialize the victims once and for all. And, to let the families know how they will be remembered as a valued part of the history of our state.”
Monning then read the names of the victims, from Miguel Álvarez Negreted to immigration guard Frank Chaffin – with the exception of four Mexican nationals whose relatives were in attendance.
The relatives of Francisco Durán Llamas, Tomás Márquez Padilla, Ramón Paredes González and Guadalupe Ramírez Lara were given ‘adjourn in memorial’ resolutions.
Hernández, who was accompanied by this three children, was given a state Senate resolution “for his tireless efforts to honor the plane crash victims by naming them, respectfully memorializing them and forever restoring their dignity.”
Báez quickly recited the first lyrics of the song about the plane crash that has been recorded by her and the likes of Bruce Springsteen and The Highwaymen (which included Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Rodríguez).
“It’s a huge honor for me to be here today, not just for this celebration and the work of Tim Hernández to find after 70 years the names of the people who went down in that plane,” said the 77-year-old artist.
“It makes it all somehow right. And, now you have names, and you have, as they said, your dignity.”
THE 32 VICTIMS
Miguel álvarez Negrete
Tomás Gracia de Aviña
Santiago Elizondo García
Rosalio Estrada Padilla
Bernabé García López
Salvador Hernández Sandoval
Severo Lara Medina
Elías Macías Trujillo
José Macías Rodríguez
Luis Medina López
Manuel Merino Calderón
Luis Miranda Cuevas
Martín Navarro Razo
Ignacio Navarro Pérez
Ramón Ochoa Ochoa
Apolonio Placencia Ramírez
Alberto Carlos Raygoza
Guadalupe Rodríguez Hernández
María Rodríguez Santana
Juan Ruiz Valenzuela
Wenceslao Ruiz Flores
José Sánchez Valdivia
Jesús Santos Meza
Baldomero Marcos Torres
Guadalupe Ramírez Lara
Ramón Parades González
Tomás Márquez Padilla
Francisco Durán Llamas
Frank Atkinson, pilot
Bobbie Atkinson, stewardess
Marion Ewing, co-pilot
Frank Chaffin, immigration officer