The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542

“The Searchers” is a long free-verse poem in seven sections. The title refers to the central theme of the poem: the constant movement of migrant workers as they seek not only work but also truth and dignity. Tomás Rivera presents them as embodying the questing spirit of the Americas, though they are often denied their legal and monetary due. Because the poem deals with the abuse of and discrimination against the migrant workers (Chicanos), the injurious effects of prejudice are a central concern. Though the poem does present the Chicanos as expressing the elemental identity of the Americas, the poem indicates that rejection of the people and their culture has turned them inward, searchers for a truth that can sustain one during adversity and misfortune.

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Section I introduces the images of the earth in which the workers search for their history and their humanity, as well as for their livelihood. Throughout the rest of the poem, Rivera draws on the experience of the migrant worker to illustrate his belief that the earth and those who work it will endure. They will find within themselves “the passion to create/of every clod and stone/a new life/a new dream.” Their search is based on the perfection of the seed of the newborn child, which is the beginning of all life. Only bigotry and repression can, temporarily, negate the promise of the beginning.

Sections II and III extend the meaning of the word “searcher” to those who look for the past from which they have been separated by oppression and, equally important, to those who look into the face of the inevitable, death, a mystery that is suggested in loneliness and desire. The will to endure is questioned and tested.

Section IV begins the delineation of social repression and injustice that continues through Sections V and VI, in which the poet introduces the names and experiences of some of those who died. These passages poignantly celebrate the survival, the conquest, of these people. They are never alone—in life, in death, or in memory. That they belong to the greater experience of the Chicano is the final assertion of the poem.

Sections V and VI proclaim the solidarity of the people and their culture. The individuals who died (such as Chona, who died giving birth in a sugar-beet field, or Kiko, who died in Italy in World War II) are the martyrs. In their struggles for freedom and dignity, they were destroyed and became points of reference for those who lived after them. Section VII ends the poem with the assertions that people—and race—are greater than death and that the Chicano will continue to search. It is the search for truth and personal dignity that is central to humanity itself.

The movement of the poem from lyric to narrative and back to lyric occurs as Rivera develops his idea of passion: the celebration and acceptance of life. The passion includes pain, but the pain nurtures and deepens the passion as the individual is recalled as someone whose life was never solitary. The experience of the migrant worker necessitated that many people live and travel together. Rivera presents this as closeness, not as crowding. From the closeness came sharing and understanding.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371

The poem is written in both English and Spanish, indicating the bilingual nature of the Chicano. Rivera leaves in Spanish songs and sayings that belong to the community. In them, as well as in the English segments, images of food and relatives, frightening and abusive experiences become metaphors for the human experience. The simplicity of image and language is consciously intended by the poet to relate his subject to the most fundamental conditions of human life. Yet by giving the central word of the poem (“searchers”) a value that grows from those who search for work and bodily sustenance to those who search for history, dignity, and religious meaning, he gives great value to even the most common of words, such as “bread” or “kiss.” They become a way of searching. He avoids similes and symbols that would take the reader’s attention away from the experience of the people. In addition, he uses the work, food, and love necessary for life to give sacred value to such objects as bread and milk. When he mentions items indigenous to the workers—novenas, rosaries, pan dulce (“sweet bread”), trucks—he does so to indicate that even the most commonplace of objects and events can tell the story of a people. These objects are significant to the Catholic Chicano workers. He also mentions people with whom he himself worked. They, too, are expressive of their people, though they are never symbolic—they never stand for anything other than themselves.

The poem is generally a lyric; yet it exceeds the intent and tradition of the lyric; “The Searchers” has the sweep of an epic, even though it is much shorter. It tells the history of a people—their trials and conquests; it describes their travels and their way of life. In doing all this, the poem resembles the fiction written by Rivera. His fiction told of the lives of the migrant workers, but it included songs and strong visual images that allowed the reader to experience the spirit of the people. The poem accomplishes the opposite by telling of spirit in image and song, yet forcing the reader to confront the actual experience of the migrant worker through the examples that are presented narratively.

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Themes