All They Will Call You

by Tim Z. Hernandez

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 741

It was clear from the start that in order for investigators to reconstruct what took place, they would have to surrender ideas of exactness. Settle instead for as close a representation as humanly possible. To piece the story together, they would use a method known as "triangulation." A combination of evidence, eyewitness accounts, and good old-fashioned instinct. In the end, no matter the information gathered, some guesswork would also play a role.

When the plane crashed at Los Gatos, technology was not as advanced as it is now, and record-keeping wasn't as stringent. The identities of the people who died on the plane, and ways to contact their relatives, were largely unknown. Most of them were farmworkers being deported to Mexico and were considered unimportant enough that only the four Americans who died were mentioned by name in the papers. They were dehumanized. Part of this was because the officials wanted to set the tragedy behind them and move on, but another part was that the victims weren't as valued by them because they were Mexican citizens who were in the process of being deported. So, as the officials worked to understand what happened, they did it quickly and succinctly and then moved on without locating the next-of-kin in each case.

That morning I was at the corner store, and we had all been listening to the radio. The radio announcer said that a plane had crashed, somewhere in California. That it had burned and many people were killed. It was on the news that I heard it. We were all there, my sisters and I . . . and we had this tiny radio on, just listening to it. They began announcing the names of all those killed in a plane crash. We never thought one of those names would be Luis. But we heard them say, Luis Miranda Cuevas. (Pause) There is something curious about me, see. Whenever I feel pain I start to laugh. I don’t cry. I laugh, and I don’t know why. So I began to laugh. It was terrible. There were a lot of names, everyone who was killed. It was right then that I thought of our phone call, when Luis had contacted me just a few days before. I could still hear his voice in my ear. Strange that before that, he had gone to los Estados many, many times, and never once had he called me before. But this time he did. It was the only time he contacted me, to tell me that he was returning to Jocotepec, and to say that we were going to get married, and that he was bringing me a mariachi.

Hernandez is able to put a human face on the tragedy of the crash and the secondary tragedy of loved ones not knowing what became of the people they cared for by researching and interviewing the people from the victims' pasts. Even though decades have passed, the interviews show people who still look back with sadness and regret over what happened. They also paint a more human picture of the people who were so callously disregarded—they're shown as full people with hopes and dreams. In this case, for example, Luis is described as a man in love who was eager to marry and live life with his sweetheart.

Because there were so many caskets that it would’ve taken two days to lower all twenty-eight into the ground and shovel dirt over them, on the day of the funeral the Fresno diocese lowered only a few caskets into the earth as a symbolic gesture. For...

(This entire section contains 741 words.)

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the crowds that gathered. For the officials. For the cameras.

Much of the inhumanity in the story comes from people trying to do the right thing in only an outward way. They have a funeral, but the coffins are stuffed with trash bags holding body parts from unidentified people mixed together. Many of the coffins that officials set out for people to look at and photograph were empty. It was all a show to convince the public that the dead were being given dignity when, in fact, they were being interred as quickly as possible without much care for the still-living people who loved them. By writing about their lives, Hernandez is able to give care to memory of the people who died and to show them as fully human, rather than numbers and body parts to be quickly buried.