In a darkened room in my teenage years, I fiddled with the knobs of large electric Bakelite box of a valved radio attempting to tune into the pirate radio stations, Radio Luxembourg or Radio Caroline.
The music I listened to in that dark room was mostly ‘protest’ music, anti-war and social protest. Bob Dylan was king closely followed by Joan Baez. I later listened to this music on Vinyl, Cassette Tape and CD. One of Joan’s songs was Deportees, a song written by Woodie Guthrie based on events that happened in January 1948.
Mexican fruit pickers killed in plane crash
That year, once the crops had all been picked, a plane carrying 28 Mexican fruit pickers was on the way to repatriate those who may have overstayed their work permits and had become, in a phrase we might recognise today, ‘illegal immigrants’.
The plane crashed in Los Gatos Canyon in southern California, and all aboard perished. In the words of the song, also performed by Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan, “the radio said they were just deportees”.
At first, the individuals were buried in a mass grave, with an engraving of, ‘Mexican nationals’. It wasn’t until 2013 that a memorial gravestone was crafted, with the names of all those who had been useful to America.
Bob Dylan produced other songs that incorporated societal challenges, political protests, and love. His Nobel Prize for literature was thus well and truly earnt.
Leaving home for university
I left home for university, and left the Bakelite radio behind. In my absence, the radio was junked, but the first thing my student grant (it was the time before student loans) bought was a transistor radio. By then my music tastes were set for all time.
The Grapes of Wrath was obligatory reading at university. The story, set in the 1930s during the Great Depression, follows mass migration throughout America, towards California, as people sought farm work. The migrants (both in the story and real life) encountered hostility, alienation, and simply the unknown. Steinbeck writes:
“And new waves [of people] were on the way, new waves of the dispossessed and the homeless, hardened intent, and dangerous.”
The exact chronology of the events of the next several decades is not at all clear to me. Technology obviously changed, the valve radio and the transistor were superseded by Digital (however that works?). Yogurt was also discovered and/or invented.
The golden age of wireless for me was listening to an ashes test (which England won!) on TMS while lying in a hammock with a cold beer on a veranda in the ‘land of eternal spring’ – Medellín, Colombia.
I also discovered Radio 4.
Technology progresses, while the world stagnates
Technology moved on, the world perhaps less so. War threatens in the east of Europe.
Britain sent its fruit pickers packing then realised that they had ‘taken’ the jobs that no one else wanted, and invited them back to assist on short-term visas. Britain also repatriated by air, many whom it considered unwelcome. Following late legal challenges, the planes often left half empty.
Of the ‘illegal immigrants’ who made it ashore, many, following lengthy legal reviews, were reclassified as asylum seekers or refugees. Meanwhile, others, fleeing conflict or persecution continued to die in the waters of the English Channel, before they could present their cases. Using words from the Grapes of Wrath:
The conflict between haves and have nots is not new, nor is our relationship with itinerant workers, nor indeed our treatment of refugees or migrants (we have done better in the past, Windrush excepted). A government committed to ‘levelling up’ can surely come up with solutions. That this government – which had to be persuaded to provide free school meals to children in crisis, which removed the universal benefit uplift, and which has reduced the effective incomes of the least well off at a time of increasing electricity and gas bills – can in effect ‘level up’, leaves me, to adapt another Steinbeck phrase, needing to “buttress my belief”.