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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A controversial voice that deserves to be heard, August 1, 2002
This review is from: Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father (Paperback)
In this and his other collection of personal essays, "Hunger of Memory," Richard Rodriguez describes how becoming an American has been an experience much like Alice's trip through the looking glass. It has distanced him from his Mexican-born parents and separated him almost entirely from his Mexican roots. The central idea running through many of these thoughtful, earnest essays is a heightened awareness of the differences between our public and private lives. They also focus on the impact of education on himself and his siblings as children of Spanish-speaking immigrants.
After reading his books, nothing about becoming American seems as simple as it's often represented in popular fiction and movies. You see, for example, how learning English and the way Americans use it immediately create cultural conflicts. Rodriguez' parents had valued education as a way to get ahead in America. Ironically, the greater success he experienced in school, the further he became removed from the world of his parents.
Still a boy, he lost the ability to converse in Spanish. Becoming a public figure in the English-speaking world, he seemed to betray his ethnic background, which valued privacy and separateness from the English-speaking (gringo) world. Ironically, for all his achievements as an "American," Rodriguez learns that because of his background, he remains in many ways an outsider. Lacking a middle class upbringing, he has passed through the educational system as a "scholarship boy." This term, borrowed from Richard Hoggart's book "The Uses of Literacy," describes the son of working class parents who is granted the privilege of a middle class education, but while rising above his humble origins, never fully transcends them.
The political positions Rodreguez takes as an adult flow as a logical extension from the experiences that shaped him -- especially the benefits of the education he received in a private school. Later there were the benefits that came to him as a "minority student" -- advantages he considered unwarranted. Concerned by poverty in America and the underfunding of schools that would help end poverty, he takes positions that have been unpopular among many educators. In these essays, he challenges the assumptions underlying both affirmative action and bilingual education.
Rodriguez writes with great clarity, and his sentences seem crafted with considerable care. He wants very much to say precisely what he means. And this cannot have been always easy, as many of his ideas grapple with both irony and paradox. Often you read paragraphs that seem to have been thought through deeply, then carefully written and rewritten. The care that he takes in writing these essays reflects a wish to be read carefully. Those who have found reason to be offended, angered, or "bored" by his ideas are evidence that he touches on a great many sensitive issues.
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