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Under the Feet of Jesus
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
The scorching hot midday sun beats down upon the bare necks of migrant Mexican workers, ready to do back-breaking work for meager wages. One of the characters of the story, Perfecto, observes the scene described in wonderful detail: clouds ready to burst like cotton plants, an old decaying barn nearby, and a silence interrupted only by the wisps of wind that ruffle the peach trees. As he observes these images, reality quickly sinks in: "The silence and the barn and the clouds meant many things. It was always a question of work, and work depended on the harvest, the car running, their health, the conditions of the road, how long the money held out, and the weather, which meant they could depend on nothing" (4). Set in the harsh, poverty-stricken world of the migrant Mexican worker, Under the Feet of Jesus, by Helena Maria Viramontes, is a story about a Latino family in California, trying to get by in a society that turns a cold shoulder to their every woe. As the characters endure hardship upon hardship throughout the book, the author's own ideology manifests itself in their slow loss of faith. Religion is no substitute for gritty human spirit in times such as these. By the end of the novel it seems clear that Perfecto's observation holds partly true: they can depend on nothing but themselves.
The novel centers primarily around Estrella, a young girl on the verge of womanhood, and her relationship with Alejo, another migrant worker of the same age. Throughout the story, the characters are confronted time and time again with hardships they must endure, each time further questioning their faith. After Alejo is poisoned by a crop duster and falls ill, the family takes care of him, spending what little money they have for his treatment. Alejo, no stranger to harsh reality in his life, bleakly ponders if this is some sort of punishment from God. As his condition deteriorates and things look grim, Estrella curses God, thinking He "did not care," and that now renouncing Him, she "was alone to fend for herself" (139). At the end of the novel, in a scene that perhaps represents Viramontes' ideology the best, Estrella is perched on a rooftop, "on the verge of faith," yet she does not let herself fall (176). She doesn't trust "blindly" anymore, instead choosing to "trust the soles of her feet, her hands, the shovel of her back, and the pounding bells of her heart" (175). In the end, Estrella has learned that it is her own strength she must trust in, not God's, to carry her through the hardships she faces.
Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes, is at its heart, a novel that reveals to the reader through vivid metaphorical detail, the harsh world of the Mexican migrant worker. The book pulls its characters away from grasping blindly at faith in a benevolent God, and brings them to take comfort in the only constant that is rooted in their ever-changing environment: their own spirit to go on. Perhaps reflective of Viramontes' own ideology, this novel provides an excellent view of the loss of religious faith, replaced by gritty human spirit that can overcome any hardship. Inspirational and beautifully written, I highly recommend Under the Feet of Jesus to anyone!
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
Agonizingly touching and as painfully fragile as life on the migrant-farming circuit can be, "Under the Feet of Jesus" is a novela that is as much a part of America as Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."
The wording of this book is so delicate that it could almost be mistaken for an extended poem if it were not for the strength of characters like Estrella and her mother Petra and the dialogue that goes spoken and unspoken between them.

From Petra and the harsh agricultural world around her, Estrella learns the difference between love without security and security without love; when Estrella makes her final choice, it is with the wealth of experiences of her own family.

Viramontes' book echoes not only great American writers of the past like Steinbeck, but classic Latin American literature like the "Popul Vuh" of the Mayas. The odd mixture of both cultures is smoothed over by the heavy sybolism of the cycles of the earth, and the humanity of the people who inhabit it.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read this book in my eleventh grade. My English teacher knew that I liked to read, especially from Latino writers so he suggested I read Under the Feet of Jesus. What a great book that is. It's written by Helena Maria Viramontes. She is so detailed in her writing. She vividly decribes sensations and experiences. This story is about a young Mexican girl named Estrella who lives her life traveling with her mom, step dad, and four other siblings. They follow the agrucultural crops. Like in many other families, if you were old enough to carry a sack of cotton you were old enough to work. Estrella and her family moved from place to place working in strawberry fields, cotton fields, etc. Viramontes describes how even though her and her siblings were American born citizens, they still got nervous of seeing the immigration officers who are always looking for those persons without papers. They don't want immigrants living here illegally. It's true what Viramontes emphasizes, they have prejudice feelings toward immigrants who do nothing but work hard to make a better living for themselves. Immigrants are the ones who pick the vegetables they eat at dinner. They despise them. That's not fair because Mexican immigrants, as well as other immigrants, are the ones who make this nation grow. Viramontes describes Estrella's feelings toward her family, her life,this nation's hardships and the experience of her first love. I learned through this novel that this is what my father went through when he first came to this country. He still tells me what it was like to come as a stranger to this country carrying nothing but the clothes on his back and a couple of dollars in his pocket. Although he is now an American made citizen, he never forgets where he came from and what he had to go through to get where he is now. That is what he wants to teach his kids. To never forget where we come from and our Mexican roots. I will forever be grateful for his sacrifices, and my mother's, to have offered my siblings and I a better life and future for us. I recommend this book to everyone, whether you're Mexican or not.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a short novel, 176 pages. The stories characters, a Chicano migrant family, are very finely crafted. They are very real. Perfecto is probably the most powerfully drawn. He is probably about 73, with a wife about 40 years younger than himself and several stepchildren including thirteen year old Estrella who could be said to be the novel's main character.
Estrella's father abandoned Petra, the mother and her children. Perfecto feels the urge to do just that towards the end of the book during a particularly difficult period. I'd have to say that the description of Perfecto's turmoil is probably a close second in the book to the scene where Estrella explodes in the medical clinic, where her class resentments are taken out on the poor white nurse.
Now, I got the feeling through reading this book that it might have been better edited. The author just might be the greatest confector of similes in the history of humanity though I thought she might have laid them on in the book a bit too heavy. There are streches in the book where the writing is first rate, full of vigor; then other periods when it is less vigorous but still well done. But after I finished the book, I thought to myself that the book could not have been written any other way for better or for worse.
In conclusion, this is a very finely crafted story of a poor migrant family, perhaps very typical, as they engage in back breacking labor for long hours at ten cents an hour under terrible working and living conditions, breathing in pesticides, enriching their bosses and giving us cheap fruit and vegetables.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Under the Feet of Jesus," written by Helena Maria Viramontes is an extraordinary novel. Throughout the book many themes and motifs are expressed. The majority of this book reflects the hardships that minority groups, such as Hispanics, face in the United States. One may find that the theme of, "Under the Feet of Jesus," would be about the belief and faith in God, or a higher religious being. There is also a motif of continuous hope that the characters have.
The story begins in late spring or early summer in sunny California. The reader is told that a station wagon is transporting a Hispanic family of seven to a farm for the duration of the summer. In the family there is Petra, the mother, Perfecto, who is not the father of any of the children but is accepting the responsibility, twin girls Perla and Cuca who are about five years old, Ricky who is approximately seven years of age, Arnulfo who is roughly ten, and the main character of the novel a young woman at the age of thirteen, Estrella. When the family arrives at the farm, they are given a one-room shack to live in and a fire pit for cooking. It is at this time that the reader realizes that this family has had a very rough past and they have been forced to move to a work farm because they have no other option.
Throughout the book the family works in the fields with other families that have also had rough ways of life. The very old workers, all the way down to the children who are the same age as Ricky, slave in fields harvesting crops from dawn until dusk. This harsh way of working and living has forced the children to mature faster. Estrella is having difficulty with her life at this time. As she worked and saw everyone else sweating with pain she had flashbacks of the way life was before their father abandoned them. She was confused, but at the same time she was also beginning to realize some of the truths of reality. She meets this boy who is the same age as she. His name is Alejo. She and Alejo begin to have a friendship, which she has never really experienced before. At the work camp she had had another friend, but it ended because of their differences. Then she and Alejo begin to develop feelings for each other which becomes more than just friendship.
At this point the reader now learns that Petra is pregnant with Perfecto's child. As she is Struggling with that, Perfecto is going through a rough period himself. He is thinking about his life and trying to decide what he should do next. Meanwhile, Alejo and Estrella are having a "puppy love" experience. One day Alejo and his cousin, Gumecindo, were picking peaches in the orchard when a plane above started to spray the trees. Alejo ended up being very sick from the poisonous spray, so his cousin took him to Petra for help. Petra decides to let Alejo stay with them so she can try and bring him back to good health. However, Alejo keeps getting worse and worse. Finally they take him to a hospital twenty miles away and leave him there because they have no money and they need to get back to the farm. By the time that all of this is over, everyone is physically, mentally, and emotionally frustrated. Throughout the entire book everyone kept having hope that something better was going to happen. When they had lost that hope, began to doubt what they knew, and started to fear tomorrow, they turned to God, and began to pray.
"Under the Feet of Jesus," was an astounding novel. It gives the reader a sense of hope in a hopeless environment and it makes the reader doubt what he or she has been given. In a personal opinion one could say that the book ended rather abruptly, because as the reader continues into the novel the climax begins to build. All the while reading, the reader is ready for the climax, he or she is ready for the "explosion" of the book to take place and then the book just ends. In a way, however, that may have very well have been the point the author was trying to make the entire time. Because belief, faith, and hope are themes, the author builds the climax so the reader is waiting for the novel to explode with energy and have a powerful ending. The reader experiences the horrible lives of these people and wants something good to happen for the characters at the end. The reader wants something better for these people. That does not happen. The author wanted readers to have that same sense of loss. Viramontes wanted the reader to need a higher being when lost, as the characters did. The characters turned to God to help them recreate that faith, hope, and belief within them again.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
The world desperately needs a novel which chronicles the struggles and hardships facing the Mexican immigrant community. Viramontes, in her first novel, seems to be making a stab at The Grapes of Wrath for the Chicano community. However, this book is a miserable failure.

The characters are all flat and stereotypical, and while I think that this might be somewhat intentional, Viramontes presents these archetypes without a hint of irony or criticism, which makes the relationships and character development seem overly simplistic. This is particularly true of the teenaged romance between Estrella and Alejo, which reads like it could have been pulled straight out of the Twilight Saga, or any other breathless teenage romance novel.

Viramontes also has a habit of beating the reader over the head with her metaphors and themes. So for example, the main character is Estrella, which means Star. If that's not blatant enough for the primarily English-speaking audience, Estrella actually goes by the name Star among her friends. This was apparently still not obvious enough a metaphor for Viramontes, so she inserts no fewer than five scenes where Estrella/Star stares up into the night sky, thinking about how similar she is to one of those stars. And just in case we missed it, Estrella's mother gives her a lengthy sermon on how she is starlike. And this is one of the book's subtle moments.

The form itself is laden with too many metaphors and similes -- in fact, the simile is such a dominant mode of description that it seems everything in the book is simply "like" something else, and never actually itself, which might be fine if she wasn't also attempting to deal in archetypal language. As it is, Viramontes seems unable to decide if her characters are overdetermined or underdetermined in their nature. Most of the similes are also unfortunate taken on their own; Viramontes seems to be trying to create a unique discourse but ends up simply nonsensical.

All in all, this book wasn't worth the read. Rather than being a significant contribution to the field of Chicano Lit, it undermines the political efforts of the last 40 years. If you want a more complex vision of Chicano politics and identity, I recommend the novels of Dagoberto Gilb.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes is one of the texts that has made the biggest impact on me in my reading experience. It is a novel about a girl, Estrella, who is in the process of becoming a woman. She and her family travel in the United States looking for work and end up laboring in fields all day for little pay. Estrella learns about love as she meets Alejo, who works in the same fields as Estrella's family, and in turn, the readers learn about the turmoil that many Mexicans faced. The family risks being picked up by the Border Patrol (though they are U.S. citizens) as well as being looked down on for their skin color and poverty.
Viramontes does a wonderful job describing the less than savory conditions that Estrella and her family face in their journey through life. Her beautiful, descriptive words leave the readers in a state of agony over the trials that the family encounters. We are disgusted when the characters are treated badly by upper class white people. Later we cheer Estrella on when she fights back, demanding that the nurse give her family the last of their money back if she could not do anything for Alejo, who is getting progressively sicker due to the pesticide that is sprayed on the fields where the family works.
Compared to other texts in the Latino tradition, Under the Feet of Jesus is quite different. Like many other Latino/a writers, Viramontes definitely takes a good look at the social injustice of the conditions that Estrella and her family live with, yet she mixes her cries of injustice with words that paint a beautiful picture of the landscape and leave the readers feeling as if they are experiencing everything along with the characters instead of just reading words on a page. The dream-like language floats in and out of different stories of Estrella's life all the way to the end of the novel, which flows with the rest of the book, leaving its readers wondering what happens to Estrella.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
The book, Under the Feet of Jesus, is a juxtaposition of the beautiful landscape of California and harsh life of a migrant worker. This story focuses on one migrant family who went through much turmoil. The mother, Petra has to live with the fact that her first husband abandoned his family, leaving the family to look for back breaking work in the country side. The father, Perfecto is much older than Petra and is struggling to do as Petra's first husband did, to abandon the family and go back to his hometown. The main character in the story, Estrella is a fourteen year old girl who works long hours under the unforgiving sun, is looked down by her teachers, and learns the meaning of sacrifice and love when she loses her first love, Alejo.
Each character undergoes their own personal battles when they meet Alejo. Alejo is a migrant worker boy who becomes engulfed in poisons by a crop duster as he picks peaches in a field. Estrella's family takes him under their care out of pity. They become strained as they have to both work and nurse Alejo. Nothing that they do can help Alejo, as his conditions diminishes everyday. It is at this time Estrella falls in love with Alejo. Days go by and Alejo becomes critically ill. Estrella is faced with the horrible situation that her family will have to abandon Alejo because they simply cannot take care of him. Out of this struggle, Estrella comes out even stronger, knowing both the joy and pain that comes from love.
The author Vermonters challenges us to look beyond our perceptions of others, especially the lower classes of society. There is so much more to these people then their poverty. They are real people with families and emotions, trying to go by on what little they have. This story illustrates grim life of the immigrant workers and then glorifies them by showing their struggle and triumphs over their problems. These people are able to go beyond what society labels them and their poverty by forging their own identity. Through their sacrifices and their unity in spirit, they can break free of the word poverty and find meaning in themselves.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
Under the Feet of Jesus vividly portrays the life of poverty, exploitation, and inferiority that migrant farm workers in California battled with on a daily basis while chasing their aspirations of a better life. We follow the footsteps of a family that has fallen prey to misfortune as they grapple with their new reality of hardships. The mother, Petra, has been abandoned by her husband and has been left with no choice but to return to the fields working for mere pennies. The protagonist of the story is Estrella, the eldest daughter of the family who is transitioning into puberty and has started to recognize the thick line that stands between her and the rest of society. For being a work of fiction, Veramontes does an amazing job of developing the characters as the story progresses. Wonderful imagery and near-poetic metaphors combine to create a vibrant picture of sorrow and frustration that can be experienced by all.
Written toward the end of the 20th century, Under the Feet of Jesus emerges during a period of reflection and heavy criticism for the field of Chicano/a studies. Scholars were just beginning to explore Latino and Cuban influences in the subject while critics claim that the field has become tainted with defensiveness and the ideology of portraying Latinos as victims and Euroamericans as the agressors.1 Much debate has been centered on the attempts to lump Chicano/a, Latino, Cuban, and Puerto Rican studies into one generic field of study.
Viramontes chooses to transcend this debate and instead chooses to portray an image of unification and kinship that exists within the migrant worker community. The idea that a shared sense of inferiority can transcend differences in age, ethnicity, and background is very provocative when attempting to analyze Chicano/a pieces. Whether it be the simple act of Alejo giving Petra the peaches that he and his cousin had spent the entire afternoon gathering, asking nothing in return, to Perfecto surrendering his dream of returning to his home so that Alejo could be taken to the hospital, the concept of community is held together by mutual circumstance and an existing cultural hybridity.
Whether you are looking for a short and entertaining book to occupy a lazy afternoon, or a novel that will have you thinking for days, I highly recommend that you choose Under the Feet of Jesus.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
I've read quite a few classics, and honestly, I've never read anything that is challenging yet profound book like this one. At first, I was very irritated with the whole abrupt point of view changes and hard to follow plot structure, but as I read farther, the more I liked and appreciate the book for what it really is--which is a gem.

Under the feet of Jesus embrace a lot of social, economic, political, feministic, and cultural issues.

The characters in the book are immigrants who make living by picking vegetables and fruits for affluent people. Their social status is anything but desirable, yet they were able to make living even if it means to harm themselves by spending many hours in the sun and get infected with chemicals that are meant for the plants. Economically, they are (obviously) lower class people. Their class and social status puts them at a disadvantage to do whatever they like. That is, they have a voice that is doomed by "others."

From Viramontes's biography, it is clear that she had the same kind of life as the protagonist, Estrella. And the stream of conscious writing style, I presume, is as a result of her complicated and frustrating life she had, and she wanted readers to experience that feeling. (Honestly, I felt confused, frustrated, and angry while reading because of the writing style. But once I got into it, I loved the lyrical and graceful prose.)

In short: I judged this book horribly at first without much consideration of its worth, but I'm glad I didn't give up. Under the feet of Jesus is riveting, and it discloses so many social problems we encounter every day.
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