Richard Rodriquez - Public and Private Language Worksheet
Rodriquez (born 1944) is an American writer who became famous as the author of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982), a narrative about his intellectual development. He was born into a Mexican immigrant family in San Francisco, California. Rodriguez spoke Spanish until he went to a Catholic school at age six. As a youth in Sacramento, California, he delivered newspapers and worked as a gardener. He graduated from Sacramento's Christian Brothers High School. Instead of pursuing a career in academia, Rodriguez suddenly decided to write freelance and take other temporary jobs. His first book, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, was published in 1981. It was an account of his journey from being a "socially disadvantaged child" to becoming a fully assimilated American, from the Spanish-speaking world of his family to the wider, presumably freer, public world of English. But the journey was not without costs: his American identity was only achieved after a painful separation from his past, his family, and his culture. "Americans like to talk about the importance of family values," says Rodriguez. "But America isn't a country of family values; Mexico is a country of family values. This is a country of people who leave home." While the book received widespread critical acclaim and won several literary awards, it also stirred resentment because of Rodriguez's strong stands against bilingual education and affirmative action. Some Mexican Americans called him pocho—traitor—accusing him of betraying himself and his people. Others called him a "coconut"—brown on the outside, white on the inside. He calls himself "a comic victim of two cultures."
Browning of America
Rodriguez's original ideas are further explored in his 2002 collection of essays entitled Brown: The Last Discovery of America, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award.
The "browning of America", a phrase that Rodriguez uses in Brown, may seem like a new coinage, but the term predated his book and has been used regularly to describe an increase in the mixing of cultural, racial, and ethnic identities in the United States in the past century. For Rodriguez the phrase has to do more with the color brown as a symbol of mélange in the United States or specifically an increase in its "bi- or even tri-racial" subgroups. The phrase is commonly applied to the current demographic shift towards a higher proportion of minorities in the total population in the United States. It can be used neutrally as a name for the current demographic shift in the United States, but has also been appropriated by organized groups on both the left and the right.
At present, Rodriguez is writing a book on Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and the desert. Rodriguez reports that he is "interested in the fact that three great monotheistic religions were experienced within this ecology." A sample of this project appeared in Harper's Magazine (January 2008). In this essay, "The God of the Desert," Rodriguez portrays the desert as a paradoxical temple—its emptiness the requisite for God's elusive presence.
- J. Wyrick & B. Slaughter, The Rinehart Reader, third edition (Thomson Heinle, 1999), 309, 586, ISBN 0155055127
- London, Scott (August 1996), "A View From the Melting Pot: An Interview with Richard Rodriguez", The Sun
- Rodriguez, Richard (October 19, 1998), "My heterosexual dilemma", Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/news/1998/10/19news.html, retrieved 2007-10-26
- García, Mario T. (2000), "Santa Barbara", Luis Leal: An Auto/Biography, University of Texas Press, p. 171, ISBN 0292728298
- Rodriguez, Richard, "The God of the Desert" in The Best American Essays 2009, Ed. Mary Oliver (Mariner: Boston, 2009), 157
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Question to consider for writing
Assimilation Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of assimilating into United States culture. What does one give up when one learns a new language and new customs? What does one gain? How do generations of assimilated immigrants differ from their parents? Consider Rodriguez's relationship with his family in your discussion.
Some people argue that bilingual education hinders students in their education. Others argue for its benefits. How does Richard Rodriguez feel about it? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of being in an English-only classroom? What are the benefits and drawbacks of bilingual education in public schools? Consider also the importance of language in empowering the individual.
There are laws on the books that make California an "English only" state. Find out what that means, and consider why someone would want California to be that way. Discuss Rodriguez's comments about public and private language. What are the benefits of having a single language spoken in public? What problems arise?
Why does affirmative action exist? Does it work? Who benefits from it and who doesn't? What are its benefits and drawbacks? How does Richard Rodriguez feel about it? What's his argument? Discuss the relationship between social class and skin color.
Jefferson Hancock English Page. http://www.cabrillo.edu/~jhancock/