To fall like dry leaves, to rot on my topsoil, and be called by no name except “deportees.”

Everyone knows about the plane wreck at Los Gatos by now, but there is a detail: once harvested by the braceros being sent back to the Mexican border, oranges were packed in creosote dumps to render them inedible – according to some sources so as to make the fruit scarcer and drive the price up, but for further clarification see part II, below. The peaches in the song are also being left to rot, like the harvesters themselves after falling out of the burning plane.

Who are all these dear friends, all scattered like dry leaves? The radio said they were just deportees.

In other agricultural news, it is time to boycott the products of Chiquita, a child of United Fruit. The Changeseeker explains very well why, and Immigration Orange has a comprehensive post on the matter and its background, with excellent press links, but an additional reason is the abominable Chiquita Banana Song.


A comment on the first part of this post has arrived by e-mail. Fascinatingly, it says:

The orange growers of family ranches at that time were at the mercy of big wholesalers who gave them prices they couldn’t live with. Creosote dumping was a protest and a way of fighting back. Out of this grew marketing cooperatives, of which, I believe, the biggest was Sunkist. My mother took at that time the daily Communist newspaper, The People’s World. In it there was a daily column called “Woody Sez,” which consisted of a daily one-liner about the news in Oklahoma dialect. I did not know then that he wrote and performed songs. But he was certainly a Stalinist or fellow traveler.

I am supposing that the Stalinist/fellow traveler point is to explain why the song would conflate family ranches and big wholesalers/enormous agribusiness. It is also possible to read Guthrie’s text as protesting the irrationality of the agricultural system more generally. Sunkist is according to its website a non-profit organization, now the largest marketing cooperative for fruit in the world.


8 thoughts on “Creosote

  1. I heard somewhere once that Chiquita had to teach folks in the northern hemisphere how to keep bananas, but I’d never seen this song that I recall. So, while they were crushing the workers to produce the product, they were working a whole new set of consumers to buy it. Wonder what films of murdered workers would have done to the market…?

    Thanks for the link.

  2. There was a great effort to create banana consumers.

    And a lot of romanticization of the product and its workers. Belafonte had a somewhat commercialized calypso-style pop song,

    Work all night on a drink of rum, stock banana till the morning come, six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch, daylight come and me want go home.

    Day-o! Day-o!

    Come Mr. Tallyman, tally me banana, daylight come and me want go home.

    It was or is piecework, it seems, since the bananas have to be counted.

    Here is the song in a rather ambiguous presentation, worthy perhaps of comment:

    Here is another presentation, funny, about work in general.

  3. ahh the grand old banana….not for me

    i prefer the apples gone on trees in yards close-by…

    thanks for the great links!

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