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Tomás Rivera (December 22, 1935 – May 16, 1984) was a Chicano author, poet, and educator. He was born in Texas to migrant farmworkers, and had to work in the fields as a young boy. However, he achieved social mobility through education—gaining a degree at Southwest Texas State University (now known as Texas State University), and later a PhD at the University of Oklahoma—and came to believe strongly in the virtues of education for Mexican Americans.

As an author, Rivera is best remembered for his 1971 Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness novella ...y no se lo tragó la tierra, translated into English variously as This Migrant Earth and as ...and the Earth Did Not Devour Him. This book won the first Premio Quinto Sol award.

Rivera taught in high schools throughout the Southwest USA, and later at Sam Houston State Universitymarker and the University of Texas at El Pasomarker. From 1979 until his death in 1984, he was the chancellor of the University of California, Riversidemarker, the first Mexican American to hold such a position at the University of California.


Early years

Rivera was born on December 22, 1935, in Crystal City, Texasmarker, to Spanish-speaking, migrant farmworkers, Florencio and Josefa Rivera. At eleven years old, Rivera was in a car accident in Bay City, Michigan. After the accident, Rivera decided to write his first story about the wreck and called it "The Accident". In an interview with Juan D. Bruce-Novoa, Rivera explains: "I felt a sensation I still get when I write. I wanted to capture something I would never forget and it happened to be the sensation of having a wreck". Rivera continued writing throughout high school, creative pieces as well as essays. He dreamed of being a sportswriter as an adult, inspired by what he read most, sports articles and adventure stories. In the same article, Rivera explains the reality of growing up with ambitions to be a writer in a migrant worker family. He explains that "When people asked what I wanted to be, I'd tell them a writer. They were surprised or indifferent. If people don't read, what is a writer?". His grandfather was his main supporter though and provided him with supplies and encouragement.

Rivera worked in the fields alongside his family during summer vacations and often missed school because of the overlapping work-season. At the beginning of every school term, he had to catch up on missed material from the preceding year. The family labored with many other migrant workers in various parts of the Midwest: they lived and worked in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Dakota. Rivera worked as a field labourer until 1956; at this point he was enrolled in junior college and the school would not permit him to miss class. This signified the end of his migrant working days and the beginning of a new life.

The first-hand experience Rivera had from growing up as a migrant worker provided him with writing material for his literary works. His novel ...y no se lo tragó la tierra is semi-autobiographical and is based around the migratory life of a young boy. As Rivera grew up in the late 20th century, he discovered some of the difficulties Chicanos faced as lower-class Mexican descendants. While trying to get published, Rivera encountered some racism; this was mainly because his writings were in Spanish, thus restricting his audience. The unjust and frustrating situation faced by many Chicanos motivated Rivera. He understood that the only way to get ahead in life was through education. Rivera graduated with a degree in English from the Southwest Texas State Universitymarker in 1958 and taught English and Spanish at secondary schools from 1957-65. He strongly believed that post-secondary education was the only way Chicanos could evolve from migrant work. He worked in public schools until he could further his education at the University of Oklahomamarker, where he graduated with a PhD in Romance Languages and Literature in 1969. Rivera's extensive education gave him the step up that he needed. Rivera was (and is) a role-model for young Chicanos throughout the United States because of his involvement in the community and his success as a scholar and writer.

He married Concepción Garza on November 27, 1958. The couple had two daughters, Ileana and Irasema, and one son, Javier. In an article commemorating Rivera's life, Rolando Hinojosa remembers Tomás and Concepción (Concha) as party hosts, writing that although they were both extremely hard workers, they knew how to enjoy themselves and their door was always open to whoever wanted. Hinojosa comments that the pair "loved each other as much as they loved life".

Education and career

It was customary for Chicanos of the Midwest to live the majority of their lives working in the fields, an occurrence Rivera included in ...y no se lo tragó la tierra. Despite that his Chicano culture was rooted in migratory field work, Rivera not only graduated from secondary school but moved quickly through his post-secondary education. Rivera graduated from Crystal City High School in Texas in 1954. He then majored in English at Southwest Texas Jr. College in 1956. Immediately thereafter, he attended Southwest Texas State Universitymarker. Here, he had earned a B.A. in English with minors in Spanish, History and Education by 1958. At the same school, Rivera earned a M.Ed. in Educational Administration in 1964. Rivera earned all of his post-secondary degrees while he was working as a high school teacher. He taught both Spanish and English at schools in League City, Crystal City and San Antonio, Texas. By 1969, Rivera had received a Ph.D. in Romance languages and Literature, as well as a M.A. in Spanish literature, both from the University of Oklahomamarker.

Upon completing the highest level degree at university, Rivera taught as an Associate Professor at Sam Houston State Universitymarker until 1971. He filled several administrative positions before becoming the Executive Vice President of the University of Texas at El Pasomarker in 1978. Rivera worked as Corporate Officer of the Times Mirror Company before leaving to become Chancellor of University of California, Riverside in 1979, a position he held until his death in 1984. While working in his various administrative roles, Rivera insisted that he continue teaching, despite it no longer being required; highlighting his dedication to higher education. Above all, according to Hinojosa, Rivera considered himself to be a professor.

Literary career

Despite his other achievements, Rivera is best known for his short stories, poetry and literary essays. He was the first to receive the Quinto Sol Award in 1971 for . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra. Quinto Sol was a publishing company that focused on publishing Chicano literature. They created the Premio Quinto Sol literary prize in 1967 to recognize and promote Chicano authors. The novel has since been translated into English several times: by Herminio Ríos-C as "...And the Earth Did Not Part"; by Evangelina Vigil-Piñón as "...And the Earth Did Not Devour Him"; and most recently by Rolando Hinojosa as This Migrant Earth. Interestingly, Rivera chose to include migrant labor in his Curriculum Vita, a sign that he never forgot his beginnings, history or true identity.

Rivera contributed greatly to the literary world, both with his creative prose and poems as well as scholarly works. But he is best known for his Spanish novela, ...y no se lo tragó la tierra (1971).

...y no se lo tragó la tierra

...y no se lo tragó la tierra is a novel divided into fourteen vignettes. The book opens with a section called "El año perdido" (The Lost Year) told from the perspective of an anonymous Chicano child, the son of two migrant workers. The unnamed child narrates some of the sections with his thoughts, memories and impressions while other people connected to his life narrate the remaining sections. The narrations come in many varying forms, from dialogue and prayer to descriptive passages. The varying perspectives form a collective narrative that piece together the events occurring over the past year of the child's life, prefaced in the first chapter. The reasoning behind having an anonymous protagonist and irregular form is left for the reader to infer.

Civic activities

Rivera was very active in each community he lived in. A memorial letter from the University of California, on behalf of the Regents, states that he had "a strong voice in both the nation and the community in recognizing that our youth is a resource beyond measure". He served on many distinguished advisory committees such as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the American Association for Higher Education, the American Council on Education, the President's Commission on a National Agenda for the 80s and the National Commission on Secondary Schooling for Hispanics.

Rivera was presented with an award from the Chicano News Media Association for outstanding achievements and contributions to the Chicano community, and also received an award from the Riverside Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for his leadership as Chancellor at the Riverside Campus.

In addition, Rivera sat on the board of committees or was a member of the following public service groups: American Association for the Advancement of Science (1983-4), Council on Foreign Relations (1983-4), Carnegie Commission on the Future of Public Broadcasting (1977-9), the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund (1979-84), the Human Resources Management and Development Program (1979-84), the Citizens' Goals for Greater Riverside Area (1981-84), the Riverside Community Hospital Corporation (1981-2), the Greater Riverside Hispanic Chambers of Commerce (1981-84) and the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (1977-79) amongst many others.

Rivera lived an extremely productive life, constantly working to better the quality of life of the people around him.


Rivera died May 16, 1984 in his Fontanamarker home. He is remembered as a gifted teacher, consummate administrator and acclaimed poet by many. After his death, many plazas, schools and certifications were named in his honor: a University of Texas at Austinmarker professorship, the primary University of California, Riversidemarker library and a plaza (as mentioned above) , a Riverside Unified School District elementary school, a Denton, Texas elementary school, a Val Verde Unified School District middle school, a Crystal City (his hometown) elementary school, a Mexican American children's book, an honorary doctorate from Santa Clara Universitymarker and was named a distinguished alumnus by Texas State University-San Marcosmarker. His work is studied in courses of American and Chicano literature, and the Pomona Collegemarker institute bearing his name continues to publish studies on educational, immigration, economic, and other issues important to Hispanic Americans.

At the University of Texas at San Antoniomarker, a tutoring center is named in his honor. At Texas State University-San Marcosmarker Student Center Drive was renamed Tomas Rivera Drive in his honor.

In the year following his death, the General Library at UC Riverside was renamed the Tomás Rivera Library. His wife, Concepción Rivera donated all of her late husbands papers to be put on loan at this library. The archive now contains all of Rivera's work, more that 85,000 items. The contents of this archive provide evidence to his hardworking, selfless and motivated nature. Not only did Rivera leave this world with buildings, plazas and learning centers in his name; he left an imprint on future generations of chicanos. Above all, Rivera had a vision for the world; he hoped that generations of migrant workers following his own would have equitable access to post-secondary education and opportunities to succeed, even as a minority. It is dreams like these that inspire many to follow their own with the tenacity that Rivera did.



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  • ...And the Earth Did Not Devour Him. American Playhouse Theatrical Films presents a production of KPBS and Severo Pérez Films; produced by Paul Espinosa; written and directed by Severo Pérez. New York, NY: Kino International. Kino Video, 1997.


  1. Bruce-Novoa 1980, p.141
  2. Bruce-Novoa 1980, p. 141
  3. Bruce-Novoa 1980, p.158
  4. Patell 2004 p. 366
  5. Memorial Tribute Letter 1988, p. 66
  6. Lattin 150


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