Summary of "Hunger of Memory:The Education of Richard Rodriguez"
The Hunger of Memory is an autobiography written in 1982 about the Education of Richard Rodriguez, who immigrated to the United States with his family when he was very young. When he started attending the Roman Catholic elementary school with his brothers and sister, he only knew about 50 words of English.
He was shy in class because he wasn’t confident with his English. He didn’t talk very often and after 6 months had passed, nun’s from his school came to his house. They asked his parents to speak more English with their children around the house. They agreed, which left him feeling as if they had completely given up their culture, which had brought them so close in the past. Daily tutoring sessions helped him, and as he learned more English his family drew farther apart.
He found comfort in reading books. Later on, he said that books were crucial to his academic success. He became a good collector of thoughts, but usually lacked his own opinion. Reading helped make him a more confident English speaker and writer.
Education had changed his family’s life. He became resentful to his parents when they could not help him with homework which pushed him to read more and pushed his family even farther apart. He became embarrassed at his parents lack of education, and was ashamed when they struggled to speak English in public. But, a small part of him was grateful they supported him and wanted him to succeed. They sent him to a school they could not afford because of the better education they provided him with.
After grade school, he was accepted into Stanford for college and he later went to Columbia and Berkeley for graduate school. He struggled with his minority student label. In 1967 African American civil right leaders brought attention to the poor education African American students were receiving, and how it was not properly preparing them for college. This sparked Hispanic- American activists to complain that there were not enough Hispanics attending college and they concluded that it was because of racism. Soon after, he was offered numerous academic aid.
When he went on to look for a college teaching job after graduation, potential employees found him. At one time, he had a group of students come to him asking him to teach a minority literature class. He didn’t agree with them and questioned the existence of minority literature. He related himself to a coconut, brown on the outside, white on the inside. People assumed he was still in touch with his native culture, but he was successful at teaching white, middle class students. He worked at Berkley for a couple of years. When the time came to apply for other jobs, he was called back after a few days by many colleges for an interview. He felt guilty for having an advantage for being a minority that most schools were desperate to hire. He declined them all.
It was against his mother’s wishes to write about his life. She felt strongly about keeping one’s personal life private. After publishing articles on his life she wrote him asking that he not talk about the family so much. She couldn’t understand why someone would want to expose themselves in such a way.
He struggled throughout his childhood with his complexion. He related dark skin to being uneducated and poor. His mother would always tell him to stay out of the sun because he was going to darken. He was very insecure and he called himself ugly. There was one point where he took a razorblade and tried to "shave off" his color on his arm. He just ended up shaving the hair on his arms.
A significant point in his life was when he worked in construction for a summer. This was the first time he allowed his skin to become dark. He was surprised to learn that many of his colleagues had college diplomas. They didn't fall into his stereotype that all workers were poor. Many of them were middleclass.
After the summer he said the "curse of physical shame was broken by the sun; I was no longer ashamed of his body."
I was surprised when Rodriguez said that bilingual education limits students and that it is a resistance towards assimilation. I thought that he would be in favor of it because of the struggles he faced when he was thrown into school without knowing much English. I feel that he would have been a more confident student and person. He was also upset at his parents when they chose to start speaking English at home at the request of the nuns from his school. If there was a bilingual education program at the time he probably wouldn't have been so resentful towards them. He felt like they gave up their culture.
He did admit that he would have liked to hear his teachers address him in Spanish in the classroom and that he would have felt less afraid. He said that bilingualism would have delayed learning the public language, English. Spanish had always been a private language to him that he only shared with his family. He couldn't imagine Spanish being a public language. He was proud when his teacher said that he was losing all traces of his Spanish accent.
He grew up in a Catholic home and school. Catholicism provided a link between his culture and school. Even though his peers worshiped in English, they shared his family’s religion. Everyday life revolved around Catholicism. The school day began with prayer then morning offering and after the Pledge of Allegiance they had religion class. He attended mass every Sunday. During the last 3 years of grammar school he served as an altar boy at weddings, funerals and baptisms. Confessions were a major part of his grammar school years as well. In school religious instruction focused on man being a sinner needing forgiveness. He said his family turned to God not in guilt so much as in need. They prayed in desperate times for favor.
His mother was a firm believer in keeping personal life private. But church mediated between his public and private life. Religious feeling and faith were channeled through rituals. Nuns stressed memorization and implied that education is largely a matter of acquiring knowledge already discovered. They distrusted intellectual challenges to authority. At one point a nun told his parents that their youngest daughter had a “mind of her own.” Which was not a positive remark. In high school he went to church less often. Teachers encouraged his intellectual independence.
As he grew up he still called himself a Catholic, but went to church less and less. He asked his friends for advice instead of a priest. He also stopped going to confessions. But in a cultural sense he remains a Catholic. His upbringing has shaped who he is. For example through the years he has trusted society that is ordered by figures of authority,
Religious instruction became intellectual. He studies Pauline and Thomistic theology and during his college years he read about protestant theology.
He was almost contradictory about affirmative action. He claimed to not like affirmative action, but he benefited from it. He could have chosen to not mark his ethnicity on applications, but he always filled it out as Hispanic. He seemed to embrace his ethnicity when it benefited him, but rejected it at other times. I think that he had an issue with affirmative action because he didn't see himself as disadvantaged. The poor are disadvantaged, it shouldn't be based on a skin color.
I think that affirmative action was useful when it first started to help minority students go to college, but I don't agree with it today. I think that someone should be accepted into college, get scholarships and be hired for jobs based on qualifications, not because of a skin color. I like Rodriguez's thoughts on affirmative actions are valid, but he should have backed his opinions with his actions.