In the autobiography Hunger of Memory, the author Richard Rodriguez recalls his childhood and adolescence as a student. Particularly, the primary focus of his writing is focused on his struggles trying to maintain his Mexican heritage and his relationship with his Spanish- speaking family members, while trying to mold into American culture and obtaining his education. Within the book Richard Rodriguez uses his personal experience with his education to expose what he sees as flawed logic behind programs such as affirmative action and bilingual education. He presents arguments to prove the systemic problems associated with these programs.
Rodriguez only knew the comfort of his language with his family. Growing up in a Spanish-speaking home was his only normal and that led him to a disadvantage being a son of Mexican immigrants parents, growing up in northern California, and going to a Catholic school. Rodriguez had to balance his private life and his public life, while trying to keep those lives separate. Rodriguez does not argue for the total abolition of private identities, but consistently states that in order to create a public identity, one must simply shrink one’s private identity. Rodriquez argues that creating a public identity is associated with evolving into maturity, despite the loss of intimacy. Rodrigues believes that schools should be a place where bilingual children can develop one’s public identities, not foster the private identities they have already cultivated at home.
In Rodriguez’s instance, he had to repress his familial identity as a Mexican-American who spoke Spanish in order to establish his public identity. Like Rodriguez, there are kids of different ethnicities all across the country who speak one language at home and may follow another country’s customs and traditions, yet act differently at school. He states, “Like others who know the pain of public alienation, we transformed the knowledge of our public separateness and made it consoling-the reminder of intimacy.” (Rodriguez) Immigrant families often feel alienated where they move to. It is not easy and is sometimes criticized by their own people and the community they integrate in. In order to feel safe they create a micro-community with their own family to have a strong bond in order to feel at home. With the language barrier at school
Rodriguez attended his first school which was a Roman Catholic school. On his first day the nun said, “Boys and girls, this is Richard Rodriguez.’ (I heard her sound out: Rich-heard Road-ree- guess.) It was the first time I had heard anyone name me in English.” (Rodriguez 9) When Rodriquez hears the English speaker say his name for the first time in English, he will forever cherish how people will pronounce it. His last name indicates his Latino heritage and as a symbol of his identity that he will carry for the rest of his life. He stands out as a minority and an outlier due to his last name in a predominantly white world.
Rodriguez talks about his schooling during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, when the first affirmative action programs in colleges and institutions were implemented. He acknowledges that such programs have benefited him, but he condemns affirmative action. He was granted many opportunities to teach at universities while at the University of California, Berkeley, whereas his white classmates were not. As a kind of protest, he turned down all teaching offers.
Educators and authorities in college classified Rodriguez as a minority student. Rodriguez was fine with it at first, but it soon became a source of irritation for him. He began to believe that, as a diligent student, he had evolved and should no longer be considered a minority student. He writes, “For me there is no way to say [‘minority student’] with grace. I say it rather with irony sharpened by self-pity. I say it with anger.” (Rodriguez)
Rodriguez is redefining what it means to be a minority; rather than seeing it as a matter of race, he sees it as a matter of living outside of the public, middle-class realm. Rodriguez recalls how puzzled he was when he first read this comment: “Never before,” he writes, “had a teacher suggested that my academic performance was linked to my racial identity.” (Rodriguez) Nevertheless, he thought the remark patronizing because his affinity for Dickens had nothing to do with his race. Rodriguez, on the other hand, claims that he was not as disadvantaged as people might imagine and that he considers himself fortunate to have been able to attend college and study. Instead of trying to help minority children get into college, the government should focus on improving their education before attending college to resist failure when they attend college.
Rodriguez recognizes how language and education have helped him rise above his middle-class upbringing. Knowing English caused him to be estranged from his family, but it also allowed him to succeed. He thinks he’ll never be able to explain why he talks about his family and childhood to his parents. Rodriguez is grateful for his ability to speak English, and he appreciates the unique and solitary of his schooling that have allowed him to write about his personal life. His education had given meaning to all of his questions about how he had come to be the way he was throughout his life, and he was able to gradually work his way back into the cultural side of his life while also bringing him closer to his family.