Tomás Rivera, author, poet, and teacher, was born on December 22, 1935, in Crystal City, Texas, the son of Florencio M. and Josefa (Hernández) Rivera. After graduating from Crystal City High School, he followed in his father's footsteps and worked as a migrant worker until he was twenty. He received B.S. and M.Ed. degrees in English education from Southwest Texas State University and taught in public schools and at Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde. He then went to the University of Oklahoma, where he earned his M.A. in Spanish literature and, in 1969, his doctorate in Romance languages and literature. After finishing his Ph.D. he taught at Sam Houston State University and served on the planning team that built the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he served as chairman of the Romance language department, associate dean, and finally vice president. In 1978 he accepted the position of chief executive officer at the University of Texas at El Paso. The next year he became chancellor of the University of California at Riverside. Rivera was best known for his work ...y no se lo tragó la tierra (1971), which has been translated into English by Herminio Ríos as And the Earth Did Not Part. Rivera received the Quinto Sol Award for that book in 1971. He also contributed to a book of poems, Always and Other Poems (1973), and was a frequent contributor to El Grito, a bilingual journal of Mexican-American thought. He published numerous short prose pieces and a wide range of essays on literature and higher education.
Aside from his literary contributions, Rivera was active in professional and private organizations. He served as president of the Alamo Valley chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese in 1971, and he was one of the founders and presidents of the National Council of Chicanos in Higher Education. Presidents James Carter and Ronald Reagan appointed him to commissions on higher education. He was also a member of the board of the Carnegie Institute and the board of directors of the Times-Mirror Company. He was instrumental in the formation of the Tomás Rivera Institute for Public Policy on Chicanos in Higher Education on the Pomona College campus. He received an honorary doctorate from Santa Clara University and was designated a distinguished graduate by Southwest Texas State University. He served with distinction on the boards of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey. Rivera married Concepción Garza on November 27, 1978. He had three adult children at the time of his death in Fontana, California, on May 16, 1984. Posthumously, the University of Texas at Austin Board of Regents inaugurated a Tomás Rivera Professorship in Spanish Language and Literature. The University of California named the plaza facing the Riverside Administration Building in his honor.