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...And the Earth Did Not Devour Him

Tomás Rivera

Theme: Poverty and Discrimination
Grades: Grades 10-11

Considered a classic of Chicano literature, this 1971 novel offers impressions of a community of South Texas migrant workers who go north to pick crops after World War II. The book is not a straight narrative, but a layering of stories, anecdotes, internal thoughts, and fragments of conversation, framed by a young boy's struggle to remember his "lost year." Several incidents are related from the viewpoint of a young boy, hurt at being expelled from an Anglo school, enraged because his family suffers poverty and illness, and confused about sin and the devil. Other members of the community are introduced as well.

  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: Migrant Workers.
    Have students form small groups to discuss what they know about the lives of migrant workers. Ask students to take notes on the facts and impressions they share. Have the different groups compile their notes in the form of a word web, chart, or other graphic organizer on the chalkboard and then make a copy of it on paper. They might add information to the graphic organizer after reading the novel.
  1. Linking to Today: Living on Low Wages.
    Migrant farm workers today still have low annual incomes. Ask students to plan a weekly budget for a family of four with a yearly income of about $6,500. Have them assume that they must pay for housing, food, clothing, medical care, and other expenses. What conclusions can they draw?
  1. If I Had a Hammer.
    Challenge students to work in small groups to design comfortable but inexpensive temporary housing for migrant workers. Each group might create a blueprint of their design and include specifications for materials. Students might consider housing units for families of four, six, or eight.

  1. Fruits and Routes.
    Have students conduct research on the three main migrant labor routes of the 1950s—one branching out from Texas, one from California, and one from Florida. Have students make a map showing these routes. Students might include symbols and a key showing some of the crops harvested, and they might note the ethnic groups that made up each stream of migrant laborers.
  1. Say it With Pictures.
    Many photographers have documented the lives of migrant farm workers, including such well-known photographers as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, who worked for the WPA during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In this project, students will prepare a photographic exhibit of migrant life from the 1930s through the 1980s, showing how the life has changed and how it remains the same.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Divide the students into three groups. Have each group select one of these three time periods: the 1930s-1940s, the 1950s-1960s, and the 1970s-1980s. Instruct each group to do research to find documentary photographs of migrant farm workers. Suggest that students research not only under the subject of migrant farm workers but also under documentary photography. While some students select photographs, others might research information to prepare captions and other text for their exhibits.
  • Each group should prepare a visual exhibit that includes a title, photographs, captions and explanatory report. Students might also include charts or graphs in their exhibits.
  • Lead students in a class discussion on what they can infer about migrant life through the years from the three exhibits. Possible discussion questions include: In what ways have the lives of migrant workers remained the same over time? In what ways have their lives changed? In more recent years, do the people seem happier? healthier? better off?
  1. Chemical Overload.
    Among the occupational health hazards that migrant farm workers face is their exposure to dangerous pesticides used on farms to control insects and weeds. In this project, students will research the use of pesticides on farms, evaluate the health risks from exposure to the chemicals, and consider alternatives to pesticide use.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Divide the class into small groups. Have groups choose one of the following topics to research: the use of pesticides of U.S. farms between 1950 and 1990, pesticides in current use on U.S. farms, the health risks of exposure to pesticides, the exposure of migrant farm workers to pesticides, alternatives to the use of pesticides in agriculture.
  • Each group should research their topic thoroughly and decide on a mode of presenting their findings. Possible formats include a written report, a panel discussion, a multimedia report, or a graphic display. If students live in or near an agricultural area, they might include interviews with farmers in their research and presentation.
  • After the groups present their findings, lead the entire class in a discussion of what they learned from the project.