Wednesday, 19 October 2011

English 202 - And the Earth Did Not Devour Him

Tomas Rivera's And the Earth Did Not Devour Him is a semi-autobiographical series of vignettes and short stories based around the lives of migrant workers. When I read it for the first time, I was drawn in by each of the stories, even if the format confused me until I got the hang of it. Few of the stories are told in a straight narrative, many are told through the scattered thoughts of children or two people speaking, telling the story through dialogue - as in "The Little Burnt Victims".

As if the title above wasn't enough to suggest it, many of the short stories are tragic, all of them display the difficulty of migrant workers in the U.S.

At first glance, Rivera's And the Earth Did Not Devour Him has only a vague connection to Anzaldua's "How To Tame a Wild Tongue," since the latter seems mostly about language and the former is more of the lifestyle. However, at their heart, both pieces deal primarily with the Chicano culture, both its glory and its grit.

"I remember being caught speaking Spanish at recess -- that was good for three licks on the knuckles with a sharp ruler. I remember being sent to the corner of the classroom for 'talking back' to the Anglo teacher when all I was trying to do was tell her how to pronounce my name." (How to Tame a Wild Tongue, Anzaldua)

Both And the Earth Did Not Devour Him and "How to Tame a Wild Tongue" are partially told using children as victims. This seems mildly manipulative at first, but nevertheless true; children do suffer because of the natural - if undesirable - rift between Anglo children and Chicano children. School seems a central part of Anzaldua's article, but there are a couple of school scenes in Rivera's story as well.

The school setting makes sense; it is the place where the cultural difficulty is most clearly demonstrated. Success and advancement are the ideal, and in order to achieve that ideal, children have to speak English well. Rivera does not hide the truth of the matter behind his stories, he's very up front. It just takes one mistake, one, for a Mexican-American child to be reprimanded and even perhaps expelled, despite provocation, where as if it were an Anglo child, perhaps the behavior would have been considered more normal of boys that age.

However, there are moral differences between And the Earth Did Not Devour Him and "How to Tame a Wild Tongue." Anglos are not demonized in Rivera's work because of their language - or even their insistence that the prominent language be forced on school children - but because of how they take advantage of hardworking immigrant laborers and many of those workers are changed - not always for the better - by the materialism surrounding them. Anzaldua, though she writes prominently for Chicano American citizens while Rivera writes for anyone of Mexican descent, whether American or not, seems to be more nationalistic of Mexico.

Rivera's work, at least to me, seemed more like a true picture of the tragedies facing Chicanos, whereas Anzaldua felt a little naive and idealistic. Rivera's message felt like, 'We cannot succeed in the society that keeps taking cruel advantage of us until that changes' while Anzaldua sounds like she's ready to secede from the U.S. The last paragraph of her article basically said, "We'll just wait till those white folks crumble to dust - cause God knows they will - and then we'll still be here." Which sounds to me like an exact reverse of the problem, not a solution.


It's not just Anglos that Anzaldua seems upset about, she portrays the Chicano people as caught between Mexico and the U.S. Does she seem to be proposing a sort of solution in her article, or is it predominately just an assessment of their current difficulties?

1 comment:

Angela Brown said...

I would only be able to base an opinion upon what is mentioned here, however, I'm wondering if both are responses to the increasing vitriol language regarding deportations?

The discussion on immigration is a powder keg, no matter who attempts to start the debate. However, it is possible that Anzaldua is providing her own perception of the plight of Chicanos, legals and illegals, those who can produce a better life for their families in one country by living and scraping funds together across the border.