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In this autobiographical work, the author attempts to put forth his views on a number of topics within a personal context. He does this within the framework of his being Mexican-American. His parsing of the effect that education had on his life is both interesting and food for thought. While education provided a means of connecting to the world outside his cultural enclave, it also created a distance between him and his cultural roots. As he assimilated into the larger world outside his immediate cultural milieu, it created a divide between him and his parents. As they remained in their self-contained, unassimilated world, only their mutual love for each other was able to bridge the chasm that education created, for figuratively they no longer spoke the same language.

Likewise, the impact and influence that his early Catholic parochial school experience had on him resonated with me, as I myself was a product of such schooling. His reminiscences brought back many memories for me, most of them positive ones, despite some of the obvious pitfalls inherent in that sometimes narrow, parochial education framework that often favored rote learning over intellectual or critical thinking. Indeed, his love of reading, as is mine, emanated from that early educational experience, which greatly emphasized reading. The impact and influence that Catholicism had on him had are fertile grounds for discussion in the context of liturgical reform and its effects upon community. As a Catholic having lived through the reforms initiated by Vatican II, I understand and appreciate his analysis on the demystification of the liturgy and the loss of the mystical in its transition from Latin into a vernacular language in its celebration of the concept of community. These reflections are intermingled with his thoughts on the Catholicism that he was taught in school by the nuns, a Catholicism that was influenced by the "bleak melancholic strain" that runs through Irish Catholicism. Having been taught by Irish nuns as a child, this, too, resonated with me. I also remember well those lessons taught through the strict use of the Baltimore Catechism, a fairly dogmatic and rote approach to Catholicism that is, for the most part, no longer employed.

The author's personal educational experiences and reflections have caused him to formulate certain views on bi-lingual education and affirmative action. His views on these issues are the very same views that I hold. Being a Cuban-American, I relate to many of his experiences as a Mexican-American, and his careful analysis of these issues hits home in many ways. Integrated into his analysis is a certain amount of irony. I agree that, oftentimes, a minority who has succeeded academically and professionally is often marginalized by society, relegated to speaking for all minorities, as if one size fits all. Missing from the equation, now a parody of social reform, is the fundamental issue of class. It is an issue that is largely unaddressed n in these programs of social reform. For those who claim that the author was the beneficiary of affirmative action, it should be noted that the author would have been able to get into Stanford, where he went to college, on his own merits, as he was certainly not educationally disadvantaged. Moreover, as a scholar who desired the intellectual stimulation of academic life, he chose to give it up as a form of protest against affirmative action. Instead, he became a noted essayist and social critic.

What is also of interest in this book is what is missing. As I read the book, the sense of estrangement from his family was palpable, as was his loneliness and the lack of any mention of social congress. His was, indeed, a solitary existence, as if the author were not yet in touch with a part of himself that he had sublimated. His sexual identity is a totally blank slate within the pages of this book, as if a portion of himself had been excised. Where it is indirectly alluded, it is ambiguous, at best, referred to as sexual anxieties. At Stanford, he notes, however, that he began to have something of a "conventional" sex life". This, I felt was a curious use of the adjectival and more meaningful within the context of what is not discussed. His mother called him, "Mr. Secrets", ostensibly because he told her little about his work in San Francisco. As a mother, I suspect it is probably because she already knew at some level what the author was reluctant to reveal at the time, even to himself. Later on, the author made a declaration that was probably already subliminally known to his family. As did his educational advancement, this secret may have also contributed to his feeling of estrangement from his family and his culture. After all, in the world of machismo, the concept of homosexuality is one that many traditional Latino families still have difficulty accepting. It took the author many years to come to grips with his sexual orientation. It was only years later that he publicly acknowledged what is evident to the discerning reader of this book.

While the author has a voice that should be heard, his style of writing is often pedantic and somewhat strained. The construction can be quite awkward and stilted, as if the author were stylistically distancing himself from his own life. So, while I find his critical analysis of certain issues to be on point and often brilliant, the style in which he conveys his thoughts, at times, acts as a distraction and an irritant. Still, for those readers who can look past some of the stylistic bombast, they will find a wellspring of insightful, critical analysis of social issues.
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on October 23, 1999
Vance Packard, in researching his book "The Status Seekers," found that upward mobility in the United States was much more difficult than Americans would like to believe, and that those who were successful made it largely by cutting ties to their roots. Although framed in the context of ethnicity--Richard Rodriguez' book makes that same point. Moving up from working class to upper middle class promised success and acceptance and self-respect, but getting there was a little like edging out onto the ice, feeling inadequate and fearful that at any moment he might fall through. This book will resonate with anyone--immigrant or not, minority or not--who has made such a journey. Rodriguez scathingly criticizes affirmative action and bi-lingual education programs, correctly identifying the first as promoting socially crippling labels--"disadvantaged minority"--and the second as an obstacle to what he sees as the keys to success in America--a solid education and learning to speak and write English well. Rodriguez discovers early on what many of those with romantic notions about their ethnic or racial heritage eventually come to realize--that he is an American. But in the sadness he feels at the growing distance between himself and his parents, he fails--and several previous reviewers of this book fail--to note one very important thing. Upward mobility occurs incrementally, not in one leap. Rodriguez was put in a position to get that excellent education, to learn to speak unaccented English, and to become a respected author and scholar by parents who left Mexico and the little homogeneous Catholic towns and moved to the United States. In short, by parents who had cut the ties to their own roots.
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VINE VOICEon June 4, 2006
I return to this book 8 years after I read if for the first time. Within minutes I find myself recalling the Sunday brunches my parents used to prepare for our entire family, the joyful sounds of my growing up in Virginia, after spending my early years in Eastern Europe. I intimately know the things Mr. Rodriguez writes about, because I've experienced them.

The book itself is an abstract approach to the original structure of an autobiography. It lacks the voluminous accounts of monthly or yearly accomplishments (Colin Powell `My American Journey' or Bill Clinton's `My Life' come to mind). Rather, the author takes on a path of moral reflection on the time it took one boy to become a man and the education it took to transform one's identity. He assembles a combination of essays through which via a free flowing narrative, he conducts self-examination over the emergence of his `public' character and the replacement of his `private' persona.

But there is something else in this book. There is longing. Longing for the days when the 'sounds' of his family brought meaning and recognition for what he was meant to be, for where he was meant to go (or was that a childhood illusion?). A reader would find it difficult to ignore the author's emotional yearning for the past for a childhood now gone, when love, and family, and values, and identity made sense.

Mr. Rodriguez has done a superb job of capturing with words what many of us (first or second generation Americans) feel as members of families with similar backgrounds.
I highly recommend this book.

-by Simon Cleveland
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on September 19, 2001
I'm an author of a mystery novel in current release that features a Stanford-educated detective of Latino heritage as its protagonist, an American government/economics teacher (for over twenty years) in a rural California high school with a student population that is over 98% Latino, and I have attended several lectures/discussions by Richard Rodriguez over the years. His HUNGER OF MEMORY remains one of the most controversial books in the community in which I work for a significant portion of every year. HUNGER OF MEMORY is viciously hated by some of the most gifted students I have ever had. Others love it. My fellow professionals argue over Mr. Rodriguez and his positions on assimilation and bilingual education. I respect this book and this man. I don't necessarily agree with all he writes, but I do agree he writes what he writes well. I admire what Richard Rodriguez has gone through in life, and I admire the courage of his positions. HUNGER OF MEMORY is an excellent book that anyone interested in the contemporary American Southwest should read. It is extremely educational.
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on January 23, 2000
To my surprise, in the index of my eleventh grade American literature textbook, I found my own surname. I quickly turned to the listed page, and I found out what U.S. author shared my name. Richard Rodriguez. I found an excerpt of HUNGER OF MEMORY (1982). I read about the "grandiose" reading program the emerging author embarked upon to become what he believed was "educated." This was to become for me the beginning of such interest in the power and pleasure of words and languages.

Although many critics, including Mexican Americans and U.S Latinos, publicly challenge and denounce the author and his thoughts, I am surprised to find that rarely is the book read in its entirety--a reading that the autobiography merits. Instead, readers tackle the author's political positions of the early 1980s.

The autobiography flows with clear, succinct prose and addresses issues of language, literacy, schooling, and education. I highly recommend the book for its style and grace. Readers will learn how Richard Rodriguez achieves academic success and the position of a public man.
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on November 1, 2000
I just finished reading Hunger of Memory as an assignment for a Language and Literacy class I'm taking in my teacher training program. I recommend this book to all teachers or to people like myself who are planning to be teachers. Rodriguez does a outstanding job of capturing the feelings of confusion and separation one feels when learning English. I liked how Rodriguez corelates language with intimacy. He talks a lot about how Spanish was for him a language of intimacy and family. When he learned English in school, however, he lost a lot of that intimacy in the home when he began to lose his language. One particularly sad part was when his grandmother died and he wasn't able to speak to her or say goodbye beforehand because his Spanish was so limited and his grandmother spoke only Spanish. Towards the end of the book, Rodriguez exhibits a lot of honesty and courage in writing about his feelings on affirmative action. As a result of assimilation and studying in England, Rodriguez no longer felt like he could be an effective role model for minority students. However, because he was a Mexican-American with a Phd in Renaissance Literature and because he was a "minority professor", he was expected by Berkley administrators (and students) to be such a role model. When some hispanic students ask him to teach a minority literature class at a community center, he declines. As a result, they treat him like a sell-out. All in all, I admire how Rodriguez is not afraid to take stances on issues like affirmative action and bilingual education that go against what is expected, considering his race. One would expect him to be in support of both programs, but he is not. Though I do not agree on his stances on these issues, I truly admire his ability to be true to his convictions in spite of being called a sell-out.
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on August 12, 2001
Richard Rodriguez shares how education transformed his life forever in this searing, poignant, candid autobiography. He became a confident, capable, knowledgable, strong individual who could speak, write, debate, communicate with others beyond the comfort zone of his immediate family. He ultimately amazed elite scholars with his brilliance, but he writes that he lost the close, warm loving affinity with his family, his roots. He is painfully candid. His courageous stance on both bi-lingual and affirmative action programs may make some readers uncomfortable, but his reasoning is sound.Read the book. It is an honest attempt to portray one man's journey from illiteracy. It is the american dream gained, and a detailed passionate account of the price one man paid to achieve it.
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on January 17, 2016
This book was introduced to me by one of my English Teachers. Rodriquez offers a fascinating perspective that some of us non-native American speakers can relate to. This experience has a hidden but major impact on Rodriquez's life and occurs between the time of transition from his Spanish speaking life into the public language of English. As Rodriguez's progresses through his life, he makes us contemplate the effect of the public language into his Education and how it distanced his intimate relation with his parents.
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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.
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on October 1, 1998
Richard Rodriguez has taken the time to write about what many people experience. An amazing author, Rodriguez takes experiences from his own life, and he extends them to strangers who unwillingly relate. Rodriguez is a Mexican-American man who grew apart from his family in order to gain a "public identity." He does an outstanding job of pointing out how both Mexican and American society simultaneously alienates people for being different. His powerful experiences and writing style can extend to any class, race, age, or gender. His common experiences are what many people have also experienced. Rodriguez does a tremendous job in explaining the public vs. private self, which I have found to be extremely true. A great deal of people in today's society can either compare or contrast their own experiences to his life, which makes his writing so much more powerful than his fellow authors. The issues Rodriguez discuss are all important in society and too many people can relate to his suffering, which says something about society. This is a tremendous book to read, because it makes people reflect on their own life, and take a closer look at how society truly transforms a human being.
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