Introduction to Latina and Latino Literature/Tomás Rivera

Tomás RiveraEdit

Brief BiographyEdit

Tomás Rivera (born on Texas in December 22, 1935) was a Chicano author who wrote both prose and poetry. As a child, Rivera worked in the fields as a migrant worker before he attended school. He then attended Secondary school and acquired a B.A in English from Southwest Texas University. It was not until 1956 that Rivera was able to solely pursue his writing career whereas prior to this date he was juggling migrant work as well. In 1971, Rivera published his novella, y no se lo tragó la tierra, which translates to: And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, comprised of fourteen short stories. This won the Premio Quinto Sol award and is his most widely known work to this day.[1] The origins of this award come from UC Berkely’s publishing house, Quinto Sol, which encouraged Chicano/a works of literature. They created the Premio Quinto Sol literary prize to recognize and promote Chicano authors.[2]

In 1971, Rivera became a professor at the Sam Housten State University. He was passionate about education and incorporated the topic of migrant labor into his teachings and included migrant labor in his Curriculum, calling upon his origins and his value of his past. Aside from teaching, Rivera was a community activist who participated in student council activities to improve education and secondary schooling for minority groups. [3] Rivera passed away on May 16, 1984 in Fontana, California. Rivera is regarded as one of the most important Chicano authors and is remembered for his creative work, a teacher, and his achievements in civil engagements. [4]

Place in Latina/o LiteratureEdit

Tomás Rivera deeply valued higher education for Hispanic communities and believed that it would better the individual and the community. As Rivera became involved in administrative programs, he eventually became the university administrator at the University of California, Riverside. Not only was he the youngest chancellor at this institution, he was the first Mexican-American to be in this position. His history as an educational activist and his literary works revolving around the struggles he experienced himself was pivotal to the advancements of Latina/o literature. His career paths sparked encouragement for other Latina/o authors to publish their works and tell their stories. Although Rivera’s body of work is less quantifiable than it is qualitative, Rivera’s stories are powerful for their attention to detail and poetic language about the spirit of reality.


 
Child labor in agriculture, Texas United States 1913

Comparison to Other Latina/o Literature AuthorsEdit

Tomás Rivera’s work can be compared to Americo Paredes, a Mexican-American author from Brownsville, Texas. Parades’ work focused primarily on life by the border between Mexico and The United States. Like Rivera, Paredes was an activist who was determined to substantiate Mexican-American studies and integrate this field of study in higher education to make it more widely accessible.[5] Both authors were concerned about education and both used their experiences growing up in their respected communities as literary tools to comment on the struggles of being a minority.

While Rivera’s stories are stylistically more abstract than Paredes, both authors executed stories through the perspective of a young narrator. In Paredes’ short story, “Hammon and the Beans,” the story is told through the perspective of a young boy who experiences the death of a friend. Through his child-like eyes, he grows conscious of the injustices of the community around him and experiences the tension between American soldiers and the Mexican-American people. Language is used sparingly but the emotional quality of the story is powerful to portray a realistic portrait of a child, similarly to the works in And the World Did Not Devour Him. As Rivera's story unfolds, the narrator becomes more conscious of the world around him, being able to decipher morality from immorality. He, like the young boy in Paredes' story, discovers the immoral treatment his people face in society.

Analysis of Specific Text(s)Edit

Of the fourteen vignettes that make up And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, Rivera begins the novel with “The Lost Year,” a short, Faulknarian-esque, ambiguous introduction for the narrator whose identity remains unknown. The “faulknarian” aspect of this story comes from Rivera’s use of stream-of-consciousness. The reader is projected into the headspace of the narrator and simultaneously discovers the narrator as he discovers himself.

This story lacks traditional dramatic structure and is rather a meditation on the obscured thoughts of the anonymous protagonist. The only information Rivera gives at this point in the novel is that the narrator is a ‘he’, and it is unclear in “The Lost Year” as to what his age is (though it is revealed in later texts that he is an adolescent boy). The narrator’s disorientation in time and space is manifested through the poetically vague language of the story. In effect, the story becomes a universal metaphor for feeling uncertain about oneself, their surroundings, and feeling an absence of some kind.

Disorientation, uncertainty and absence join together to create the lost year that Rivera speaks about in this story. The title, recurring imagery of loss, and the absence of personal identity become an overarching theme for the piece. The narrator “makes a complete turn and there he would end up– in the same place” (83) is a physical manifestation of his lack of sense of self. The narrator claims to hear voices but they are truly his own. He himself cannot recognize this fact and furthermore, cannot remember his own name. The narrator is trapped in his inability for introspection therefore he is unable to understand his identity. As we later discover that the narrator is a young boy, it is evident that the perplexing nature of this story is analogous to a coming of age story, experiences that are truly inarticulable.

Literary CriticismEdit

Don Whitmore, in The South Central Bulletin, focuses on Rivera’s use of language in And the World Did Not Devour Him. Whitmore comments on Rivera’s style to stray far way from stereotypical characters, “their thoughts and speech are kaleidoscopic." [6] Each of Rivera’s characters are unique and carefully constructed to contribute insight into the Chicano experience: “Enigmatic anecdotes precede everyone of his stories and serve to underscore the people’s degradation, timeless and oppressive” [7] Whitmore states that the enigmatic nature causes the stories to be interpreted equivocally hence, universally. As a result, Whitmore identifies the thematic universality in Rivera’s work to juxtapose the purpose of relaying the Mexican-American experience. He states that Rivera’s style of writing can be identifiable either as Mexican or American, adding to his argument that And the Earth Did Not Devour Him speaks to more than just the Chicano experience.

Miscellaneous LinksEdit

Link to film adaptation of Rivera's, And the Earth Did Not Devour Him: http://www.fandor.com/films/and_the_earth_did_not_swallow_him

ReferencesEdit

  1. Patell, Cyrus R. K. (2004), "Emergent Ethnic Literatures: Native American, Hispanic, Asian American", in Hendin, Josephine G., A Concise Companion to Postwar American Literature and Culture, Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. 351–382, ISBN 978-1-4051-2180-4
  2. Patell, Cyrus R. K. (2004), "Emergent Ethnic Literatures: Native American, Hispanic, Asian American", in Hendin, Josephine G., A Concise Companion to Postwar American Literature and Culture, Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. 351–382, ISBN 978-1-4051-2180-4
  3. Secretary of the Regents of the University of California, "In Memory of Tomás Rivera", in Lattin, Vernon E.; Hinojosa, Rolando; Keller, Gary D., Tomás Rivera, 1935-1984: The Man and His Work, Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Review, p. 66, ISBN 978-0-916950-89-7
  4. Hinojosa, Rolando (1988), "Tomas Rivera (1935-1984)", in Lattin, Vernon E.; Hinojosa, Rolando; Keller, Gary D., Tomás Rivera, 1935-1984: The Man and His Work, Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Review, pp. 64–65, ISBN 978-0-916950-89-7
  5. www.lib.utexas.edu/benson/parades/biography.html
  6. "... Y no se lo tragó la tierra / ... And the Earth Did Not Part" by Tomás Rivera Review by: Don Whitmore The South Central Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Oct., 1973), pp. 160
  7. ... Y no se lo tragó la tierra / ... And the Earth Did Not Part" by Tomás Rivera Review by: Don Whitmore The South Central Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Oct., 1973), pp. 160