Texas Originals

Tomás Rivera

December 22, 1935–May 16, 1984

Tomás Rivera's career as a writer and educator was shaped by the struggles of his family.

Rivera was born in 1935. His parents were farm laborers who followed the annual harvests from Texas to the Midwest. Rivera traveled and worked with his family throughout his education. Ultimately, he earned a PhD and became a university professor.

Rivera's 1971 novel . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra—or, in English translation, . . . And the Earth Did Not Devour Him—portrays the terrible conditions faced by Mexican American farm workers. Rivera later explained, "I wanted to document, somehow, the strength of those people that I had known . . . when the migrant worker was living without any kind of protection."

The novel received the first Premio Quinto Sol, an annual literary award given to the best work of fiction by a Chicano author.

As an educator, Rivera saw that he could advance the interests of first-generation college students more effectively as an administrator than as a professor. After serving on The University of Texas campuses in San Antonio and El Paso, he became the first Mexican American chancellor in the University of California system.

Rivera died in 1984. His achievements are commemorated at many sites in Texas, including in his hometown of Crystal City, where an elementary school was named in his honor.

For More about Tomás Rivera

In 1985, the University of California at Riverside named its main library in Rivera's honor. In addition to serving the informational and research needs of the campus, the library houses Rivera's papers. The university has catalogued the collection online. 

The University of Texas at San Antonio has memorialized Rivera's time as a professor there with the Rivera Center for Student Success. The center continues Rivera's mission of student retention at public universities serving the Mexican American community. 

Rivera earned a bachelor's degree and a master's in education from Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, now Texas State University. The university's college of education offers a prestigious annual book award in Mexican American children's literature to commemorate their esteemed alumnus. Beginning in the fall 2015 semester, Texas State will require all incoming freshman to read Rivera's novel . . . And the Earth Did Not Devour Him.

Selected Bibliography

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. Chicano Authors: Inquiry by Interview. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980.

"College Chancellor, Tomas Rivera, dies." El Paso Times, May 18. 1984. Tomás Rivera Vertical Files. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The University of Texas at Austin.

Hinojosa-Smith, Rolando. "Tomas Rivera: Remembrances of an Educator and a Poet." Texas Humanist, November–December 1984: 37–39. Tomás Rivera Vertical Files. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The University of Texas at Austin.

International Studies in Honor of Tomás Rivera. Edited by Julián Olivares. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1986.

Olson, Marilynn S. "Tomás Rivera Award." Hillviews, Winter 2006: 12–15. Tomás Rivera Vertical Files. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The University of Texas at Austin.

"Promotion for Dr. Rivera." Zavala County Sentinel, March 11, 1976. Tomás Rivera Vertical Files. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The University of Texas at Austin.

Rivera, Tomás. . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra / . . . And the Earth Did Not Devour Him. Translated by Evangelina Vigil. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2015.

Rivera, Tomás. The Complete Works. Edited by Julián Olivares. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1992.

Rivera, Tomás. The Harvest: Short Stories by Tomás Rivera. Edited by Julián Olivares. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1994.

Rivera, Tomás. The Searchers: Collected Poems. Edited by Julián Olivares. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1990.

Listen to the audio

Portrait of Tomás Rivera. The University of Texas at San Antonio, Office of University Communications Photographs, UA 16.01.01. The University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.