Thursday, December 31, 2009

Un tragito para Tomas

"It is impossible to imagine Chicano literature without the migrant farworker"
Tomas Rivera

Prior to Tomas Rivera's groundbreaking novel, searching for a literary work with the ability to portray the life of migrant farmworkers with such precision and haunting reality would have been time and energy hard spent. While the experience's of Rivera's characters survive between 1945 and 1955, their stories of heartbreak and joy along the migrant stream differ only in decade as familiar situations and circumstances continue to cultivate in the fields of fruits and vegetables toiled by today's migrant farworker.

Tomas Rivera's, "... y no se lo trago la tierra / ... And the Earth Did Not Devour Him," is a novel tackling a boy's search for identity. Rivera's masterful use of the vignette is the perfect lens for rendering the unpredictability of migrant life as child, adult, and elder. In the opening vignette, The Lost Year, Rivera introduces us to an estranged boy wrestling to recall the events of the year before. "The year was lost to him," writes Rivera. "At times he tried to remember and just about when he thought everything was clearing up some, he would be at a loss of words." And as you carry on with the reading of Rivera's autobiographical journey, you too arrive at a loss of words while guided by a voice flowing in such poetic rhythm.

Of the fourteen short sketches, it is difficult to measure one above the other; nevertheless, the title vignette, And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, surpasses the others in exposing the depth of the trials and tribulations conceived in the heat and dirt paved fields; it is the accumulation of lice, death, hunger, and racism that lead a devout family to question their everlasting faith in God. The final scene arrives without knowing as you will encounter no struggle in losing yourself in Rivera's masterpiece. In, Under the House, a delicately crafted epiphany liberates the nameless boy from his phantom year as Rivera concludes, "He even raised one arm and waved it back and forth so that the other could see that he knew he was there."

Now, nearly forty years removed from Tomas Rivera's acceptance of the inaugural Quinto Sol Literary Prize in 1970 for "... y no se lo trago la tierra / ... And the Earth Did Not Devour Him," the novel endures as a cornerstone in modern American literature. Although there have been other tales of migrant life by other scribes, none compare to and are written with the same firsthand knowledge and corazon. Surely, there are none as beautiful.

"It is impossible to imagine Chicano literature without Tomas Rivera."

Jesse Tijerina

Tomas Rivera. ...y no se lo trago la tierra / ... And the Earth Did Not Devour Him. Arte Publico Press; Bilingual Edition, 1995.

1 comment:

Daniel A. Olivas said...

Jesse, thank you for this beautiful piece. Though I am an "urban" Chicano (I grew up near downtown L.A.), Tomas Rivera's elegant, slim novel is powerful and groundbreaking in both its subject matter and language. He is one of my primary influences as a fiction writer.