The son of Florencio Rivera and Josefa Rivera, Spanish-speaking migrant workers, Tomás Rivera traveled with his parents and worked in the fields and orchards alongside them throughout his childhood and adolescence. Each year, his family traveled from Texas to harvest crops in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Iowa, and Michigan. He attended primary and secondary school in Texas, but he would not return to Texas until after the academic year had started, so he would have to make up whatever he had missed while working with his family. It was not until he was a college student that he was able to leave behind the life of a migrant farmworker. Rivera’s childhood experiences form the basis for much of his semiautobiographical novel and for several of his poems.
One particular incident from his childhood shows up in both his fiction and his poetry. While working in the Midwest, Rivera and others would routinely scour the local dumps. Rivera was particularly interested in retrieving books that had been thrown away and, over time, managed to gather a large collection. These books helped fuel his interest in reading and in pursuing writing as a career. The importance of this collection to Rivera is evident in that he kept the books throughout his life.
In 1954, he graduated from Crystal City High School and enrolled in Southwest Texas Junior College, where he completed his A.A. degree in 1956. He earned a B.A. in education (1958) and a master’s...
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