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Disabling Confusion and Class Distinctions
on October 19, 2007
This book was a difficult read. I admit openly that it is a strain for me to understand the feeling of minority. I am a middle-middle class white person, privileged by virtue of the fact that my parents stayed together for 53 years until my father passed away, blessed by being an "Air Force brat", which entitled me to meet people of all different races, socioeconomic groups, and nationalities to the extent that I don't see those things anymore. It is hard for me to relate. Rodriguez begins the book by mocking upper-class people for being arrogant, and middle-class people for attempting "cheap imitations of lower-class life". Are there really people in America who divide individuals into classes like that? And if class is so important, to what class would he assign himself? My father taught me to respect all people and that every man's work is good if it is honest work, so I would not presume to judge a person's character by his socioeconomic class.
Overlooking this obstacle, I see that Rodriguez, like all good writers, writes from his own experience of life. He was intensely impacted by the transition from Spanish to English in his life. His mother insisted on English being spoken in the home, according to the recommendations of well-meaning nuns, but as a result, the author lost an integral part of his home experience, the music of his native tongue. Additionally, he lost connection with his mother and father, because while his mother attained a rudimentary grasp of the English language, his father never quite caught on, so his relationship with his wife and children was radically changed. According to the author, his father lived voiceless in his own home, which was a sad state of affairs for the former head of the household.
Rodriguez states that he is against affirmative action as it is legislated, where the only requirement to qualify is to belong to a minority group, such as African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Native Americans. When he realized that he had received an exceptional level of early schooling during his years in private Catholic school, it became clear that he was not really socially disadvantaged at all. At that point in time, it was evident that there were many other students out there who were far more needful of the benefits of the affirmative action program. Furthermore, Rodriguez equated the meaning of the word "minority" with "alienated from the public (majority) society", and found that by becoming a student, he did not consider the term "minority" to describe him. Neverthless, for reasons that are somewhat blurry, he accepted the benefits of the program, went on to denigrate the program publicly, only to have it thrown back in his face by minority leaders who did not appreciate him rocking the proverbial boat. Eventually he apologizes for taking the benefits that someone else was more deserving of receiving; however, he acknowledges that it is unlikely they will ever read his apology.
The author's apparent love of his parents, his obedience to them and respect for their struggle in a strange country, was wonderful to see in the beginning of this book. Rodriguez's recognition of his parents is well deserved, for his father and mother made considerable sacrifices to give their children a better chance in the world than they had personally experienced. They left their Mexican town filled with memories, family, and friends, to take their children to a land of increased opportunity. They worked hard and managed to send their three children to private Catholic school. They attended an Irish-American church instead of the Mexican church they preferred in their homeland. He says that his parents coped well in America, with his father keeping steady work, and his mother managing the home, which was situated in what Rodriguez describes as "among gringos, and only a block from the biggest, whitest houses". Although they knew none of their neighbors and routinely struggled to manage daily concerns in a strange language, they had huge families of relatives visiting them from time to time, and a family life immersed in laughter and joy. This is evidence of the consistent efforts of loving parents to provide a lasting heritage that eclipses ethnic or socioeconomic constraints. Unfortunately, halfway through the book, Rodriguez tells us that as he became more and more proficient in English and enlarged his circle of English-speaking friends, he became ashamed of his parents and hated their foreign ways. In the final chapter of the book, we find his mother begging him not to air his disloyalty to and disappointment in his family openly in his writing, but he does not honor her request. This book is all about him, to the very end.
The author continually reminds us of his socially disadvantaged upbringing, the fact that he is the son of "working-class parents". Forgive me if I don't buy into this thinking. He attended private school, for Pete's sake. That costs money. I grew up listening to my parents' stories of the depression, when people were lucky to even have a job, and of life in post-war Germany , where children rifled through garbage cans for food. To this day, my mother keeps her pantry filled with extra cans of food, extra bags of staples such as flour and sugar, all sorts of extra non-perishables, against that kind of want. I went to Florida 's horrendous public schools and my parents couldn't afford to send me to college, so I got Pell grants and Perkins loans and Stanford loans for which I am still paying. So I should feel sorry for him, because he was on scholarship based upon his ethnicity? It is appalling and demeaning the way he calls himself "the scholarship boy" throughout this text. If accepting the funds was so detestable to him, he should have passed the opportunity on to somebody who would appreciate it. In the interest of clearing his conscience, I think from now on, he ought to thank the taxpayers, pay his taxes and pass the help on to the next generation of needy students. Or if he feels that guilty about the financial aid he received, set up a scholarship fund for financially-strapped single parents who are women (the group I fell into as a student) with all the profits he's getting from this book.
Rodriguez also states that he was "victim to a disabling confusion". He hasn't suffered a traumatic brain injury or been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's disease. He is referring to his inability to speak Spanish easily once he became fluent in English. As a speech-language pathologist, I can definitively state that linguistic learning differences don't make a person a victim. To me, Rodriguez's alleged issues with language and intimacy seem disconnected with the issues of bilingual education or affirmative action. In fact, he is such a gifted speaker and writer, that he makes his living using these skills, and is evidently very successful, or I wouldn't be reading this book.