Hunger of Memory


The universal "growing pains" that all children experience
in one form or another are easily recognized in Richard
Rodriguez?s autobiographical excerpt from Hunger of Memory.
Rodriguez?s childhood was particularly unique given the fact
that while he was born and raised in the United States, he
was strongly influenced in the ethnic environment of a
Spanish family. Although the reader is introduced to only a
short excerpt from the autobiography, he learns a great deal
about Rodriguez?s family and his relationship to it, his
conflict of speaking English versus Spanish, and the
paradox that became evident as he used English as his
primary language. Furthermore, the reader learns that
Rodriguez?s experiences have contributed to his beliefs that
a bilingual education is harmful.
First of all, Richard Rodriguez came from a family
where his parents had been born and raised in Mexico. After
moving and settling in America, Rodriguez?s parents gave
birth to him and his siblings. Rodriguez refers many times
to "los gringos" , a colloquial, derogatory name charged
with "bitterness and distrust" with which his father
described English speaking Americans. This evidence made it
apparent to the reader that definite animosity existed
between his parents and the society around them.
Resultingly, assimilation into the American culture was not
a very comfortable process for his parents. Despite this,
the authors parents created a comfortable haven for him and
his siblings in their adopted country. The author shares
with the reader how close and tightly-knit his family was.
He describes in numerous instances the "special feeling of
closeness" that he shared with his family. He also mentions
the fact that he used to feel a "desperate, urgent, intense"
feeling of wanting to be home. Spending time at home,
speaking his "personal" language of Spanish, and being with
his family gave Rodriguez comfort and a feeling of safety
that was not felt outside of his home.
Rodriguez was forced to leave that comfort and safety
every morning though once he began attending school. The
author describes hearing the cold, harsh sounds of the
English language and wishing that his teachers would welcome
him in Spanish, instead. The author explains that, as a
child, he regarded Spanish as his own personal language. In
his autobiography, at the young age of seven, he did not see
himself as an American citizen like the other children in
his class, and this discouraged him from readily learning
English.
Ultimately, Rodriguez did learn to speak the public
language. Some of the teachers at Rodriguez?s school were
concerned with his and his siblings unresponsiveness in
class and their unwillingness to speak English. They spoke
with his parents and suggested that speaking English at home
would make an easier transition for the children rather than
switching back and forth. It was not until later in his life
that Rodriguez realized that his teachers? actions were ones
to appreciate.
The conflict between speaking Spanish and speaking
English had come to a head. No longer did Rodriguez hear
the warm sounds of Spanish fill his house. Speaking
English began to separate his family. As he and his
siblings began speaking more and more English outside of the
home, primarily at school, the parents had a more difficult
time communicating with their children and, therefore,
conversations became strained and less frequent. While his
home life considerably changed, Rodriguez?s life at school
became drastically different.
Previously reserved and unsure, Rodriguez became more
confident. Speaking English made him more vocal in class
and he had an easier time associating with the other
children. Back at home, his mother started taking a more
active role in the neighborhood. Rodriguez?s father,
however, became much more reserved around the family.
Rodriguez felt that his close-knit family ceased to exist as
it once did when happy sounds of the Spanish language were
so much a part of his home life. Conflicting with these
negative feelings were the positive feelings that were
beginning to stir in him of belonging somewhere other than
home. For the first time in his life he began to feel that
he was an American citizen, and he did have the right as
well as the obligation to speak the public language.
An ironic paradox surfaced during this period of
Rodriguez?s childhood. As a young child he was very
dependent on his family for reassurance, and speaking
Spanish kept him and his family safe and sheltered while
they were at home. In order for Rodriguez to grow and
become independent, he had to assimilate into another way of
life, the life of the English speaking American. Most
concepts of independence and individuality do not include
assimilation. In order for him, however, to become a
participating and responsible member of society, Rodriguez
had to put aside the pain from the loss of