Sunday, May 1, 2011

HUNGER OF MEMORY: The Education of Richard Rodriguez

"A primary reason for my success in the classroom was that I couldn't forget that schooling was changing me and separating me from the life I enjoyed before becoming a student."

Hunger of Memory Resonated With This Reader

I could not take my eyes off this book when I first saw it, with its romantic sepia-toned image of a mestizo young man, staring off into a dream. It captured my imagination. What were his thoughts? I wondered. What did it mean to "hunger of memory?"

Nothing could've prepared me for it.

I read Richard Rodriguez's autobiography, a collection of six essays, with a constant churning in my stomach, feeling all-the-while, as though I'd stolen the man's diary and invaded his deepest, darkest thoughts.

Rodriguez's story is one threaded with guilt, regret, and longing for his Mexican culture, language, his private (home) life. The one he had no choice, but to give-up, in order to assume his place in public society. 
"For the first time I realized that there were other students like me, and so I was able to frame the meaning of my academic success, its consequent price -- the loss." 
Reading HUNGER OF MEMORY, I came across three central issues that have left my brain in knots (still):

  1. Private identity vs. Public identity -- what have we (who've assimilated) given up of our private identities (culture and language) to assume our place in public society?
  2. Bilingual education -- does bilingual education do more harm than good? Does it take away a child's right to assume their place in public society by teaching them in their "private" language?
  3. Affirmative action -- is there a point at which affirmative action in education gives an unfair advantage to somebody who may be a "numerical" minority, but not a "cultural" minority, someone who's already assimilated?

I don't think I could've picked a more provocative book to read for the Multicultural Awareness Blog Carnival. I'm afraid that instead of finding answers for myself, I've dug up more questions.

So I have to ask...

Whoever said we couldn't hold onto our individual ancestry, culture, language, and be members of public society? Does it have to be all-or-nothing? I certainly don't, nor will I accept it.

Video: Richard Rodriguez on Books Learning

In this hour-long video, Richard Rodriguez explains why he does not consider himself a cultural "minority." He also addresses "multiculturalism" from the perspective of groups who silo themselves at the expense of having an expanded world-view.

Be sure to stay for the Q&A. In it he talks about the beauty of Octavio Paz's poetry, how he believes that U.S. television will feature "brown-skinned" actors who look like him, mestizo (this video is dated 1999), long before Latin America does, and his views on justice in America.

Richard Rodrigez is a complex thinker. He identifies himself as a Mexican-American, while at the same time acknowledging that he has a little bit of everybody else in him, too.

Listening to him is definitely a mind-bender. And although I don't agree with everything he says, I do appreciate his perspective.

"Once upon a time, I was a 'socially disadvantaged' child.
An enchantedly happy child.
Mine was a childhood of intense family closeness.
And extreme public alienation.
Thirty years later I write this book as a middle-class American man.