Working in the fields picking grapes, Estrella reflects that she is nothing like the smiling woman on the raisin boxes. She slowly, painfully cuts grapes from the vines and spreads them out to dry. Estrella thinks about the barn, gathering strength from the cool, calm image. She remembers accompanying her mother at the age of four and falling asleep in her mother’s sack for collecting cotton. In the same field, Alejo thinks of his grandmother, who struggled to ensure he could attend school. He hopes she has received his money order. Alejo fantasizes about buying school supplies, planning to return to college in the fall to study geology. Alejo spots the young boy with a harelip and waves, but he ignores him.
Estrella finds Ricky, who is feverish from working in the heat. So tired she feels like crying, Estrella continues picking grapes. A train roars by and the workers stop to listen, thinking about other places. Alejo looks at Estrella, but she fails to return his glances. Instead she sees a hunched figure, and offers her last peach to the thankful old man. The trucks arrive, honking to signal the end of the workday. Alejo and the other workers climb aboard, but Estrella walks home, hoping to stop at a playground.
At the playground Estrella watches a game of baseball, imagining that the ball is a peach tossed by hungry players. When the field’s bright lights snap on at dusk, Estrella panics, thinking the border patrol must be looking for her. The game takes on a sinister light and she flees home. She stumbles to the bungalow and pulls out Perfecto’s pry bar, planning to defend herself against any immigration officials. Petra scolds her daughter, while washing the twins. Frustrated by Estrella, Petra thinks of all the domestic work she has left to do that night. As Estrella sits, holding the crowbar, Petra tells her never to let people “make [her] feel [she] did a crime for picking the vegetables they’ll be eating for dinner” (63). Petra reminds her daughter that their birth certificates are “under the feet of Jesus,” referring to the small statue she keeps mounted to the wall (63).
In the morning, Alejo nearly misses the truck to work while peeing and scrambles to get on. He attempts to talk to Estrella and the two flirt awkwardly over the roar of the engines. He asks about her father and last name, but Estrella refuses to answer his questions.
During an eclipse, Estrella and Alejo sit on a fence, sharing Alejo’s bottle of cola. Estrella realizes she is the only older girl or woman outside. Petra had warned her that exposing herself to the eclipse would cause her to give birth to a baby with a harelip or “without a mouth” (69). Alejo apologizes, sensing that his crush is angry, but Estrella assures him he isn’t the cause. She tries to communicate “how good she felt” sitting with him, but can only say the cola was good (70). Before leaving, Estrella shows Alejo how to blow over the bottle spout and produce music.
Estrella arrives at the bungalow and Petra sends her daughter to talk with Perfecto. When Estrella arrives, he asks for help tearing down the old barn. Estrella, seemingly inattentive, replies that they will spray the orchards next week. Undaunted, Perfecto explains it will mean more money for the family. Estrella thinks tearing down the barn is unfair, reflecting that things and people get used and then discarded. Perfecto explains that someone died in the barn, which is why people stay away. When Estrella mentions the harelipped boy, Perfecto insists she “must be dreaming” (76). Despite his pleading, Estrella refuses to help.
As Alejo and Gumecindo are collecting peaches in the orchard, the plane swoops down. Gumecindo runs, but Alejo is caught in a rain of pesticide. Poisoned, Alejo struggles to breathe and collapses in the dirt, smashing his face against a tree on the way down. He begs God for forgiveness, imagining the spraying is punishment for stealing peaches. Alejo thinks of being pulled into a tar pit and slowly asphyxiated; before losing consciousness he sees Gumecindo’s face above him.
Perfecto yearns to travel back to his real home. He dreams in the morning and for a moment imagines he is lying next to his ex-wife. He relives sleeping with her in a sunny canyon, before fully waking, confused. He walks outside, where insects are dropping dead from the trees. Perfecto remembers their first child, a stillborn. He blames himself, reasoning that they had angered God by having sex out of wedlock. Perfecto and his ex-wife buried the baby, but kept his blanket. Throughout the years, Perfecto would smell the blanket and swear he could detect the scent of their baby. When his ex-wife Mercedes died, the smells from the blanket made him dizzy, and he fell to his knees crying. Later in the day, Perfecto’s desire to return home resurfaces and he decides to tear down the barn, with or without help. He plans to use the money to travel back home.
Alejo returns to work, even though he feels intensely ill. The smell of the chemicals still hangs around him in a haze. Estrella sees his bruised face and asks if he is alright; Alejo explains that he fell.
Later in the week the weather hovers around 109 degrees, making the work even more brutal. The workers crowd under tarps to drink water in the shade and listen to music. Estrella finds a patch of shade by a truck and lies down. Alejo joins her. He talks, explaining how plants and animals are converted into oil and gasoline. He describes the tar pits. Estrella can still smell the faint scent of kelp on him from the pesticides. Alejo kisses Estrella’s palm and she cups his face in her hand. Afterwards, Estrella runs to the barn, not knowing where else to go. She pulls on the “unnatural”-looking chain hanging from the roof (90). As she walks away Estrella finds her palms red with rust.
Part II starts by comparing the overworked Estrella to the cheerful woman on the boxes of raisins sold at the grocery store (49). Estrella’s aching muscles and “stooped” back speak to the hard labor necessary to produce raisins (58). By hiding that reality with a bucolic photo of a happy woman in a bonnet, business interests are erasing Estrella’s labor. This reflects migrant’s marginal position in American society, where they are largely unseen and unheard. Alejo’s vision of drowning in a tar pit echoes this erasure; he imagines “black bubbles erasing him” (78). Later, Alejo describes the process by which living creatures become petroleum (87). He reveals that once, while working in the fields, he heard a scream that reminded him of animals drowning in tar pits (88). Indeed, the migrant workers in Under the Feet of Jesus are the drowning animals; their pain is erased in order to produce a commodity, in this instance vegetables and fruit.
Viramontes invites readers to criticize an American legal structure that supports the erasure of migrant laborers described above. Petra warns Estrella, “Don’t let them make you feel you did a crime for picking the vegetables they’ll be eating for dinner” (63). Border patrol and American society at large condemn Estrella and her family for their illegal status, while choosing to ignore the migrants’ hard labor, labor that enables their lives as consumers. Perfecto reveals the repressive effects of such thinking on migrant laborers when he reflects that “his very existence contradicted the laws of others, so that everything he did like eat and sleep and work and love was prohibited” (83). Despite relying on his work, the country he lives in views his very existence as illegal. Viramontes highlights the gap between legality and morality with these scenes, implying American laws are immoral.
In Part II, Viramontes reveals that women bear additional burdens, beyond their labor in the field. After a day of picking grapes, Petra returns to the bungalow and must wash laundry, bathe the children, and prepare dinner (60). Likewise, Estrella is expected to help with cooking (63). Perfecto and Estrella’s brothers are not responsible for any chores. Despite performing as much labor as the men in the family, women are expected to complete additional domestic work in the home. In addition, Under the Feet of Jesus suggests that children themselves are a burden to women. The child growing in Petra’s belly is compared to the sack of cotton she must haul through the fields (51). Indeed, Estrella falls asleep in her mother’s cotton sack and becomes a literal burden for Petra (52). Her husband’s abandonment further reflects this theme; Petra is ultimately responsible for the children. Her husband may live his own life.
The barn takes on an increasingly spiritual light in Part II. Toiling in the hot fields, Estrella thinks of the barn to calm her (53). Later, she imagines creating a barn with words, one that could bring comfort to those feeling “alone” (71). Her connection with the barn is such that after she experiences her first kiss with Alejo, she runs there (89). The barn is transforming into a place where Estrella can relax, be herself, and even help others. This foreshadows the ending of Under the Feet of Jesus, when Estrella climbs the roof of the barn and feels her true power for the first time. Accordingly, Perfecto’s suggestion that they destroy the barn is met with horror (73). Estrella reflects that objects, like people, are used and then discarded when no longer convenient (75). She asserts herself, refusing to help Perfecto.
In this chapter, Under the Feet of Jesus begins to articulate a criticism of traditional Christianity. Many indigenous activists have long criticized the Catholic Church for supporting imperialism and colonization. By romanticizing suffering and encouraging the poor to embrace their burdens, the church is said to have pressured marginalized populations to accept their own repression. Readers can see this criticism reflected in Alejo and Perfecto’s responses to tragedy. Instead of blaming the overseers for failing to accurately warn workers of where and when pesticides would be sprayed, Alejo begs God forgiveness for stealing peaches (76). Instead of speaking against a system that forces children to perform backbreaking work for less than minimum wage, Alejo feels guilty for stealing fruit of his own labor. And this guilt is intimately associated with religion; he believes God is punishing him. Indeed, the biplane’s shadow forms a crucifix over Alejo (76). Likewise, Perfecto believes God punished him with a stillborn son for having sex out of wedlock (80). He flagellates himself for having sex, instead of blaming the Church for preventing his wife from learning about childbirth (80). Viramontes pushes readers to ask, what kind of God would visit such punishment on people who are so downtrodden and fundamentally innocent?