Tomás Rivera was an author, poet and educator who began life in Crystal City, Texas the son of migrant farm workers. As a child he worked the fields along side his parents, but he achieved prominence in the literary and academic worlds due to his determination to be educated. He graduated from Southwest Texas State university, now known as Texas State, in 1958 with a degree in English. He went on to receive a PhD from the University of Oklahoma in Romance Languages. Throughout his career as a writer and educator, he championed education for Mexican Americans and consequently became a role model for Latino children across the United States.
Since first awarded in 1996, the Tomás Rivera Award has been presented annually to authors and illustrators that create literature for children that depicts the Mexican American experience.