Workers in the Field: Geographies of Difference in Helena Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus

Emily Ann Mulvihill


At first glance, the relationship between the characters of Helena Viramontes’s novel Under the Feet of Jesus and the land seems evident: as migrant farmworkers they spend their days engaged in picking crops and tending the soil. But beneath this guise of simplicity are a range of sociopolitical and economic forces making their relationship to the land seem natural while simultaneously obscuring the difficulty and danger associated with such work. As the novel demonstrates, these workers risk pesticide exposure, as well as deportation and lack of health care. Through Katherine McKittrick’s concept of geographies of difference, we see the highly racialized and spatialized environment in which these workers live. By examining human and cultural geography in Under the Feet of Jesus, we see how space and place are wrapped up in complex ways with matters of identity and power. Furthermore, space is the lens through which we can see this myriad of forces in its perpetual state of motion and flux. Examining the significance of geography to this novel sheds new light on Viramontes’s work a little over a quarter of a century after publication. Space may ultimately be the fertile ground in which future study of migrant farmworkers in literature can reveal the important intersections between the racial-sexual body, practices of hegemony, and our current environmental crisis.


Helena Viramontes; place and space; migrant labor; geographies of difference; Under the Feet of Jesus; farmworkers

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