This short story, written by Tomas Rivera in 1971, is part of a larger novel of the same name, along with 13 other short stories. The novel presents stories that reflect the experience of Mexican-American migrant farm workers in the 1940s and 1950s, and this story specifically reflects a boy’s frustration at his family’s pitiful condition.
This novel as a whole is part of a larger group of works that reflect the experiences of Hispanic people living in America. As the Latin-American population grew, especially in the American Southwest in states such as Texas, they looked for stories that reflected their culture and that they could relate to. Many such stories by Latin-American authors tell stories of perseverance through the immigrant experience, featuring characters who escaped the instability of their home countries and came to the United States seeking opportunities for a better life.
During the early 20th century, many workers from Central and South America (primarily Mexico) took advantage of the labor shortages in America to come and work in the agricultural fields. This trend in migration accelerated during World War II. Due to severe labor shortages, the US government established the Bracero Program with Mexico to have Mexicans work legally in the US under short-term labor contracts. However, there were very few labor protections for these migrant workers. They were paid very little and had to work in the blistering heat during long summers, and they had to travel to follow the cycle of fruit and vegetable production.
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 Ph.D. 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.
The story is about a poor family and a boy who is angry at the world around him. The first time he felt anger was when he saw his mom cry after his aunt and uncle died of tuberculosis. The boy's dad got a heat stroke after working all day in the hot sun, and the son is sad to see that his dad is old but still has to work to support the family. He can see his father dying slowly, but everyone can only pray instead of taking him to the hospital because they can't afford to. The son is angry at God for not answering their prayers, saying that if it didn't help his aunt and uncle, then how would it help his dad? The son goes as far as to doubt there is even a god. He says that his father was a good man and never did anything wrong to anyone and that his family doesn't deserve everything that has happened to them.
The mom disapproves of everything her son is saying, as she believes that he will go to heaven one day. The next day, as the son goes to work in the fields with his brothers, he tells them to take care of themselves and to stop working if they feel sick. His little brother gets sick next, and all the boy can do is curse God and ask, "Why us?" The boy felt like the Earth was opening under him as he felt like the world around him was crumbling. The next day, the father recovers, and the boy’s faith in divine justice is renewed. 🌟
La mama: Has strong faith in God throughout the story.
El papa: Gets sick with heat stroke from working in the fields.
Los hermanos: The narrator’s brothers who go to work in the fields with him; the youngest brother gets sick due to the heat.
El hijo mayor: The narrator; frustrated at the pitiful state of his family and his inability to help them.
Los tios: The story begins with the death of the boy’s aunt and uncle due to tuberculosis.
Las Relaciones Familiares
The migrant family is shown to be very close, as the narrator is hit very hard by the death of his aunt and uncle from the start of the story. The peak of his frustration is when he sees his little brother getting sick too, and he can’t do anything to stop it.
La Espiritualidad y la Religión
Throughout the story, the boy questions his faith in God as he sees the sorrows inflicted on his family. The boy questions why this has to happen to them when his family are good people that have never intentionally hurt anyone. With this line of thought, we can see the boy’s faith in divine justice reducing slowly as the story continues, despite his mother’s heavy disapproval.
When the boy’s little brother gets sick, the boy is so angry to where he can almost see the Earth opening up to swallow him in his anger. The next day, his father starts to recover and we can see the boy’s faith in a higher power returning.
Personificación: " Por un segundo vio que se abría la tierra para tragárselo." - “For a second he saw the Earth open up to swallow him.”
This is the line that inspired the title of this short story, as well as the novel as a whole. It alludes to the perpetual hopelessness of the boy in this story, and his frustration at not being able to change his family’s situation. He curses God for doing this to his family, and almost wants it all to just be over so that everyone’s suffering will end.
Simil: "Tiene que trabajar como un burro enterrado en la tierra." - “He has to work like a donkey buried in the ground.”
The boy says this line about his father and how he still has to work in such harsh conditions despite being old. The simile used refers to how the farm owners treat their workers very badly, and the migrant workers have no protection against them. They aren’t compensated fairly for their work at all, and are forced to give up their dignity and right to good working conditions just for a chance to stay in America.
Hipérbole: "Hasta parece que llevas el demonio entre las venas ya" - "It even seems that you already have the devil in your veins."
This piece is a reflection of the struggles that Latin American migrant workers went through as they worked hard to provide for their families. Through his works, Rivera sought to tell the story of some of the first Latin-American immigrants in America and how they got here so that their hard work is never forgotten.