‘Under the Feet of Jesus’ selected as 2019 Common Reading book

“Under the Feet of Jesus,” by Helena María Viramontes, winner of the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, and hailed as a “vivid and lyrical” story about the struggles faced by migrant farm workers in California, has been selected as the 2019 University of Oregon Common Reading book.

All incoming, first-year students are given a copy of the Common Reading book during IntroDUCKtion or before the start of the fall term. The book is used by departments and programs across campus to explore cross-disciplinary themes, uniting many around campus in a UO book club, of sorts.

The Common Reading program is a key component of larger student success efforts underway at the UO, as the program provides opportunities for community building amongst new students and introduces them to new types of intellectual inquiry and discussion at the collegiate level.

“When a student is able to take courses in different disciplines and see the book through multiple lenses, it creates a level of engagement and interest in both the book and academic disciplines that is quite special,” said Julie Voelker-Morris, the faculty fellow that leads the Common Reading program.

More than 5,300 copies of the 2018 book, “The Best We Could Do” were distributed to students, faculty, staff and administrators and the program aims to involve even more members of the campus community this year. Faculty members can request a book to review for use in their fall 2019 courses via a form on the Common Reading website. 

The Teaching Engagement Program will host a workshop focused on teaching with “Under the Feet of Jesus” on May 1 from 1 to 3 p.m. More information about the location of the workshop will be posted on the Common Reading and TEP websites.

“Under the Feet of Jesus” focuses on the story of Estrella, the daughter of a migrant farm worker, Petra, who is forced into living in temporary camps and working the fields to feed her children after her husband leaves the family. Focused on the difficult, poverty-stricken existence of migrant farm workers and dedicated to the work of Cesar Chavez, the book explores topics related to the agricultural industry, farm labor policies, access to quality health care and material resources, environmental justice and environmental racism, according to Voelker-Morris.

The title of the book refers to Petra’s reminder to Estrella that the birth certificates and important papers for the family are kept in a portable figurine of Jesus that she moves with the family to each new location along the agricultural production cycle.

Seventeen administrators, faculty members, staff and students from across campus reviewed book suggestions as part of a committee and selected two works, 2018’s “The Best We Could Do,” by Thu Bui and “Under the Feet of Jesus” by Helena Maria Viramontes as part of a two-year focus on transborder/transnational topics. Members of the campus community can nominate books for future consideration online.

Viramontes will spend several days at the UO, including giving a public talk on Monday, Oct. 21 in the EMU Ballroom. She will also lead a TEP workshop, as well as a public conversation at the Eugene Public Library during her visit.

–Kim Lamke Calderon, University Communications