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8.3 ...y no se lo tragó la tierra: “La noche buena” – Tomás Rivera

5 min readjanuary 30, 2023

Riya Patel

Riya Patel

Sitara H

Sitara H


AP Spanish Literature 💃🏽

24 resources
See Units

This short story, written by Tomas Rivera in 1971, is part of a larger novel called “...y no se lo tragó la tierra”, along with 13 other short stories (one of which is named after the novel, which we also cover in this unit!). The larger novel presents stories that reflect the experience of Mexican-American migrant farm workers in the 1940s and 1950s, and this story specifically reflects a poor family’s situation during the holiday season.

📖 Summary of “La noche buena"

This story centers around a poor family in Texas during the holiday season. This Christmas, Doña Maria has decided to buy gifts for her children because they always ask why Santa Claus never visits them. She gets up early and starts walking to the nearby Kres market to get presents, but she gets lost on the way. Doña Maria eventually asks someone and finds the market, but she starts to feel overwhelmed and scared because of how crowded it is, and she also doesn't speak too much English. She accidentally puts something in her purse and starts to leave, but she gets caught by the store employee who accuses her of shoplifting. 
The police take Maria to the jail, but her husband gets them to release her by saying that she doesn't speak English and didn't understand what was happening. Maria goes back home empty-handed, just like she has most years.

🔍 Analysis of “La noche buena"

🌎 Time Period - Escritores contemporáneos de Estados

This novel as a whole is part of a larger group of works that reflect the experiences of Hispanic people living in America. As more Latin-American folks came to places like Texas in the American Southwest, they wanted to read stories that felt familiar to them. Many of these stories, written by Latin-American authors, are about how immigrants work hard to build a better life after coming to the United States seeking opportunities for a better life.

Migrant Workers in the US

In the early 20th century, numerous workers from Central and South America, primarily Mexico, filled the labor gaps in America's agricultural fields due to shortages. This migration trend grew even faster during World War II. To cope with significant labor shortages, the US government introduced the Bracero Program with Mexico, allowing Mexican workers to legally work in the US through short-term labor contracts. Unfortunately, these migrant workers faced minimal labor protections—they received meager pay and toiled in intense heat during lengthy summers, often traveling to follow the cycles of fruit and vegetable production. Consequently, many impoverished families struggled to improve their circumstances in America.

📝 Author - Tomas Rivera

Tomás Rivera was a Mexican-American author born in 1935. He was born in Texas to migrant farm workers, and worked in the fields as a young boy. He went on to earn a degree at Texas State University and a PhD at the University of Oklahoma. He came to believe strongly in the virtues of education for Mexican-Americans.
As an author, Rivera is best remembered for his 1971 novella “...y no se lo tragó la tierra” translated into English “...and the Earth Did Not Devour Him”. This book won the first Premio Quinto Sol award.

🎄 El Titulo

The title, which literally translates to “Christmas Eve”, evokes feelings of happiness and joy during the holiday season. However, it also contrasts starkly with the family’s situation in the story-- it can often be a stressful time for those who cannot afford to celebrate as grandly. Therefore, there is a hint of irony to it as well, as "La noche buena" can also literally translate to "a good night" but it is far from that for Maria's family.

🔍 Simbolismo

🎁 Los regalos: The gifts in the story that Dona Maria works so hard but fails to get for her kids symbolize the inequality between the rich and poor.
🏬 El mercado: The market that Dona Maria is going to symbolizes the unfamiliar landscape that all immigrants must navigate when they reach their destination. The store is full of strangers speaking English, which Maria does not know well and she is quickly overwhelmed as a result.
🚨El policia: The police in the story that detain Maria for shoplifting symbolize the prejudice that immigrants face.

Connections to the Themes

🌎 Las sociedades en contacto

The central conflict of the story involves Dona Maria and her struggle in an unfamiliar situation where she does not speak the language. As a result, she feels very anxious and overwhelmed, causing her to accidentally take things from the store without paying. Her husband eventually has to come explain her situation to the police so that she can go home.

Christmas vs. El Seis de Enero

January 6th is celebrated as Three Kings Day, when believers celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men who first saw Jesus and offered him gifts. This holiday has its origins in the Catholic Bible, and as a result isn’t as important of a holiday in the Americas compared to Latin America.
The cultural differences can be seen within Dona Maria’s family, as the kids are more excited for Christmas and the arrival of Santa Claus than for the presents the Wise Men will leave them on Three Kings Day. Having spent more of their formative years in America than in their home country, Maria’s kids are more assimilated to American culture and are therefore inclined to celebrate more American holidays.

💸 Las divisiones socioeconómicas

Dona Maria’s family struggles for money, as they are migrant workers that move around periodically wherever there is work. The story as a whole revolves around how Maria and her husband are struggling to provide their kids with presents for Christmas, and the lengths they go to for fulfilling their kids wishes.

This piece is a reflection of the lives of many poor immigrants to the United States, and how much of a struggle the holiday season can be for people that can’t afford presents for their kids. It further reflects the contrast between life for immigrants in their home country versus in America, as they have to navigate unfamiliar situations that can be very overwhelming. The novel as a whole has underlying themes of cultural identity, marginalization, and the search for dignity and recognition in a hostile society, which have made it a powerful and enduring work of fiction.

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