The onstage tribute to Tomas Rivera.

 
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"Tomas and the Library Lady," originally a book by Pat Mora, tells the true story of how young Tomas Rivera came to love reading and libraries.

Rivera, who died in 1984, grew up to be a prominent writer and educator. A stage adaptation of Mora's book, written by playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez, will be presented at the Dallas Children's Theatre this spring. The show started March 24.

Rivera was the son of poor migrant workers and the young man who is playing him in the stage version, Edwin Alan Aguilar, said he is able to empathize with the difficulties of Tomas' early life.

"I know the hardships that my family had to go through in order to get here and to get molded into society," he said. "Not only that, the hardships of building from a new land and starting all over--leaving their hometown and their home country. Just the roller coaster of surprises in life. I had to go through that as well."

Aguilar said he had difficulties at first in a U.S. school because English was not his first language.

"We speak Spanish only in my house, and in the story, Tomas' family speaks Spanish in their house only," he said. "So there's a similarity right there. Learning English for me was a little bit hard in school. I am still struggling right now in college. It's a process."

Aguilar's mother insisted that he get an education and this wasn't something he fully appreciated at first.

"I didn't see that at the very beginning," he said. "I was like, 'Oh, man. I gotta go to school, mom? Oh, no.'

"But she was doing the right thing for me," he continued. "Because she didn't get an education herself, she knew what she was doing from the beginning. When I grew up, I started trusting her more."

Aguilar recalled an unfortunate interaction he had as a boy with a misguided teacher, but one that had a positive outcome.

"There was this one teacher who was very rude to me," he said. "He'd put his finger on my chest. My mother said, 'Mi hijo ... iPor que tienes esto aqui? Why do you have red marks on your chest?' I cried. I said, There's just this one teacher who touches me when he gets mad.' They ended up firing the teacher."

This episode could have turned into a lifelong mistrust of teachers and other authority figures. But the opposite occurred. Aguilar said a lot of good faculty members rallied around him, and his family was very supportive.

Just as the librarian in the play helps Tomas feel comfortable and grow, so did the adults in Aguilar's life help him move past...

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