San Antonio hasn’t forgotten Tomás Rivera’s classic, ‘…Y No Se Lo Tragó La Tierra’

SAN ANTONIO — One of the many tragedies surrounding Tomás Rivera’s life is that his seminal work, “…Y No Se Lo Tragó La Tierra,” faded away.

It is too rarely assigned as required reading, too rarely mentioned among the classics of Chicano literature.

Rivera, whose name remains on university buildings here and in California, died in 1984, never reaching his 49th birthday.

The boy from a family of migrant farm workers who grew up to earn a doctorate. never saw his book adapted to the cinema.

He became a professor and university chancellor, but he wasn’t there to accept invitations to book festivals or lead workshops, tracks that would have reminded people of his coming-of-age book, first written in Spanish, then translated into English. .

Semi-biographical and published in 1971, “…and the Earth Did Not Devour Him” ​​won the first-ever Premio Quinto Sol, a literary prize that was once given to the best work of Chicano fiction.

“Tragó” was one of the first published works reflecting the Mexican American experience, drawing on the struggles of a migrant family from a boy’s perspective.

It is unfortunate that it is no longer assigned reading, especially for those whose ancestors worked or continue to do fieldwork.

Rivera offers a window into this history, of sacrifice superimposed on exploitation and racism.

As the Latino library grew, other works captivated readers.

But “Tragó” is not over, at least not in San Antonio, where it is defended by playwright, director, actor and singer José Rubén De León.

The tenderness and hardness of the book pushed him forward.

This weekend, he will present his adaptation of Rivera’s classic on the stage of the Thiry Auditorium at Notre-Dame du Lac University for a show at 7 p.m. on Saturday and a matinee at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Both are free.

The production was made possible by grants from the San Antonio-based National Association of Latin Arts and Cultures and the City of San Antonio’s Department of Arts and Culture.

De León has directed other works of Chicano literature, including “Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya and “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, both at the Classic Theater of San Antonio.

De León could not find a copy of the adaptation of “Tragó” by Norma Elia Cantú, Norine R. and T. Frank Murchison Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Trinity University.

De León first saw him at Laredo Junior College in the late 70s when he ran a theater on campus. The actors performed a theatrical reading.

“I had never seen anything like it. I was so drawn to it.

This weekend’s shows will be presented in the same way, in the style of readers’ theater or “concert reading”.

De León said it suited the play best and was also a practical and less expensive alternative to a fully staged show. A musician will perform interludes between the scenes. The 90-minute show will be presented without intermission.

“Tragó” will be played bilingually. Migrating characters will change code or alternate between English and Spanish. Those who do not speak Spanish will be able to follow, he assured.

It’s free because that’s what De León was looking for. He also wanted to play it on the West Side, historically home to so many Mexican Americans whose family histories were part of Rivera’s landscape.

De León put the book aside for a while, reading it first in Spanish, overwhelmed by its bleak images – the misery the migrants lived in, the hunger they felt as they reaped the nation’s riches.

They have experienced violence with few legal protections and disease with little access to health care.

During the pandemic, De León started planning. He read more about Rivera’s life and watched a few documentaries in which Rivera appeared. “If he wants me to do that, he’ll hit me on the head.”

He uses his sixth draft of “Tragó”.

Several thumbnails are likely to stick with the public. For De León, this is the recurring theme of Rivera’s arrival and the migrant’s dream of what they will do once they arrive.

The performance contains over a dozen vignettes. Protagonist Tomás recites the title of the book just once, in a moment of defiance that will resonate with the audience.

Two of the actors were migrant workers themselves. “They know how the earth can devour them,” De León said.

He heard from San Antonio-born filmmaker Severo Pérez, who directed the film, and requested a copy of De León’s adaptation. “He thought about making a musical based on the book.”

In another bit of magic, Rivera’s widow, Concha Rivera, will be in San Antonio to see the show and gave De León what he wanted the most.

His blessing.

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