American Religious Experience
Thomas Rivera “and the earth did not devour him”
Rivera is a person who comes from a humble working class background with his parent working as migrant farmworkers. His life consisted of growing up in the field to eventually being an adolescent man working where Rivera took notice to many things. In his time as a field worker during the 50s he saw the differences amongst his people and those who gave them work. He realized the contempt for Mexicans held by the bosses through how they were economically & socially disadvantaged, and the overall lack of power held by his people. Breaking the cycle of merely working in the farms as his parents Rivera decided to pursue an education since it was the only option of escaping, much like Zitkala-sa option of escaping was also school. He attended college and eventually achieved a doctorate degree in Spanish literature, where in 1977 Chicano-American author Thomas Rivera published “And the earth did not devour him” which has been herald by many critics for doing wonders in the Chicano-American world.
Rivera helped give a new perspective never before seen in Chicano-American culture. Which is why for my second scholarly paper I have chosen to re-read and analyze the short story “The night before Christmas” by Thomas Rivera. I picked Thomas Rivera’s text and this vignette in particular for two reasons. The first being the significant impact on Chicano as well as American culture overall, and the second is the personal impact it has with my own families’ heritage. In this short story Thomas Rivera is able to capture the everyday lives of these migrant workers quite vividly. Through his entire work he expresses the exploitation of these families by giving his stories a very realistic feel in integrating the culture and identity of Chicano-Americans. Specifically in this vignette Rivera shows the reader that family is one of the most important values to these people, and the struggles they face trying to uphold there values. I believe with this very realistic portraying of their actual endeavors and the use of strong literary devices are meant to invoke some sort of recognition to their wants, voice, and dignity as a human beings in the pursuit of the American dream.
Specifically when it comes to “The night before Christmas” I believe it is a great short story in depicting the sentiment of his people. One topic that appears quite frequently are the wants of his people whether it be wanting material possessions, providing for family, or just change. Rivera uses everything at his disposal to highlight what his people truly ask for. In the beginning of this vignette it starts off with the children of Dona Maria letting their mother know they want gifts from Santa Claus on Christmas, instead of what they usually get from “Santa” AKA their father or Don Chon. In order to quell this situations, just as in previous years, Dona Maria yet again lies directly to her children as seen here when the narrator talks about the day of the three kings, which is considered a major Mexican holiday, in saying “She would tell them to wait until the sixth of January, the day of the Reyes Magos,” (Rivera Kindle Locations 1521-1522) It is obvious they are too old to be fooled so easily and the children let Dona Maria know by saying “But why doesn’t Santa Claus bring us anything?…What about the oranges and nuts he brings you? No, that’s Don Chon don’t think we don’t know that. Aren’t we good like the other kids?” (Rivera Kindle Locations 1524-1527) . Right here Rivera is showing us the physical wants of these children by asking for toys, but more subtlety it seems Rivera uses the children to show how bad they want a change in general. I believe their wanting for a change, and having it be towards another culture’s icon (Santa Claus) represents the voice of his people’s wanting for a shift amongst their social standings in America. Instead of picking their own cultures holiday icons the children choose one that is idolized predominantly by white children. This shows their disappointment and realization of where their culture stands in American society since the three kings do not provide for them as Santa Claus does for other children.
In a conversation Dona Maria has with her husband the reader can see that she has set a goal in trying to break her cycle of lying where in their conversation they say “They don’t need anything I used to make my own toys, out of clay . . . little horses and little soldiers” “Yes, but it’s different here. They see so many things . . . come on, let’s go get them something.” (Rivera Kindle Locations 1538-1541). Torn by the guilt of lying to her children that they will receive gifts later on for the day of the three kings she decides that this would be the year she goes above and beyond. She does so because to her family is important and she wished to please them, yet she is monetarily confined. Putting the family’s needs before hers is a great way in representing her want to provide for her family in addition to representing her people’s culture since family is an extremely important Latino value. Through these excerpts of text Rivera is able to shows the various wants of his people and represent their identity.
When it comes to literary devices such as language, emotions, and sensory reactions. Rivera makes great light of this in showing the overall difficulties Dona Maria faces, which in turn also represents the hardships faces by many other Mexican migrant workers. With regards to emotions in Rivera’s novel the one mostly used in this story is fear. One example is seen when Dona Maria talks to herself before going out to downtown by saying “My God, I don’t know why I’m so fearful. Why, downtown is only six blocks from here.”(Rivera Kindle Locations 1556-1557). . We are shown just exactly how hard it is to get around in a place not all too familiar to someone in addition to barely speaking the native language. This implementation of fear gives the reader a view into limits in abilities of Dona Maria and representatively her people as a whole. It can make to most basic of tasks into painful odysseys, which is one way in how these migrant workers are put down. Also with Descriptive language and Sensory reaction Rivera is able to further elaborate on how these literary tools can best exemplify the plight faced by migrant workers. In the short story towards the end the narrators describes the experience of Dona Maria’s voyage to town in the quote “She walked to where they had pointed and entered the store. The noise and pushing of the crowd was worse inside. Her anxiety soared…She even started hearing voices coming from the merchandise. For a while she stood, gazing blankly at what was in front of her.”(Rivera Kindle Locations 1575-1580). Not being familiar with how things are done or even are in downtown Kress Dona Maria, as did many other Mexicans who immigrated, finds it troublesome to get the toys for her children. As a result of journeying on this quest alone in an unfamiliar setting Dona Maria finds herself both physical and mentally pushed to the limit. Just like a fish out of water she panics, which overall is a great representation by Rivera of how hard it is for people trying to assimilate and make a better life for themselves or their families.
According to the scholarly article I read it touches on the concepts of how Rivera’s work touching on the importance of children, why these people are able to be oppressed, and how Rivera specifically is able to combine the voice of his people. With regards to children they are used to show the importance of Chicano culture since they are the future generation that will inherit the world from their parents. The experience of children are very impactful in determining if they will be the ones to change the standing of their culture, or be the ones to perpetuate a cycle that degraded and keeps them down as a people. (Emmanouilidou 14) In describing the reasons for why these workers are accepting of this oppression has to do with the past experiences of the generation before them. They current generation being oppressed has no self-confidence ad are accepting of where they stand allowing themselves to be opened up for exploitation. (Emmanouilidou 12) The explanation for how Rivera ties the voices of these workers, such as “The night before Christmas”, is through the voice of the narrator depicting the vignettes. The narrator through his personal experience in narrating what is happening expresses the real time events of the everyday life for Mexican migrant workers. (Emmanouilidou 13)
In conclusion is apparent that Rivera’s “And the earth did not devour him” was a huge success in helping depict the everyday Mexican migrant worker. He has a strong ability in evoking some sort of reactions in the reader with literary devices, descriptive language, and emotional appeal. Through this Rivera does a great job at showing readers exactly the problems faced by his people, and their wants for either changing the circumstances they find themselves in or simply doing what is expecting by going with the social flow.
Emmanouilidou, Sophia. “Liminalities and Displacements: The Rites of Passage to Self-Identification in Chicano Writings.” Lisa Revue E-journal. Lisa Revue, 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.