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Hunger of Memory : The Education of Richard…

Hunger of Memory : The Education of Richard Rodriguez

by Richard Rodriguez

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A study of the psychological weaknesses of American culture and possibilities for growth.
"It was an account of his journey from being a "socially disadvantaged child" to becoming a fully assimilated American, from the Spanish-speaking world of his family to the wider, presumably freer, public world of English. But the journey was not without costs: his American identity was only achieved after a painful separation from his past, his family, and his culture. "Americans like to talk about the importance of family values," says Rodriguez. "But America isn't a country of family values; Mexico is a country of family values. This is a country of people who leave home." From Wikipedia. ( )
  clifforddham | May 21, 2015 |
Richard Rodriguez is a man whose education bifurcated his life into a private life and a public life. In the public sphere he was driven to obtain an education that has led him to become one of the most interesting essayists of our time. His description of his inner life, especially his reading life is one of many exceptional aspects of this book. His liberation from the private sphere into the public, where he has become a literary light for others, was made possible in part by this reading life; a life driven by a compulsion to become part of the "public sphere" that was centered in the culture apart from his family. This was a part of his life that I personally identified with and believe that many individuals who love the reading life will also.

In this memoir he explores his own coming-of-age in an America that challenged him to understand what it is to be a Mexican American and what it is to be a Catholic in America. At the heart of the memoir is Rodríguez’s recognition that his is a position of alienation, a position that he accepts with resignation and regret. As the title of this collection of autobiographical pieces suggests, he remembers his early childhood with nostalgia, while acknowledging that his coming-of-age has resulted in his displacement from that simple, secure life.

Another center for his autobiography is language and the importance of it in his life. He did not speak English until he started to go to school and even then it was difficult for him to learn the language for it was not spoken at home. One exciting moment in his education occurred when three nuns from his grade school visited his home and encouraged his parents to support their children's English language skills. Although they were indifferent speakers of English, his parents from that point forward asked their children, Richard and his brother and sisters, to speak English each evening. Richard, through this practice and his own diligence in reading and writing, would go on to major in English in college eventually doing postgraduate work in Renaissance Studies.

He shares the hard work that all this entailed and his critical reaction to the growth of bi-lingual education. His courage in developing and maintaining an independent voice for his beliefs in this regard also help to make his story unique. In his view bilingual education prevents children from learning the public language that will be their passport to success in the public world, and he uses his own experience—being a bilingual child who was educated without bilingual education as it was introduced into the American school system in the 1960’s—as an example.

Rodríguez offers himself as another example in criticizing affirmative action programs. Turning down offers to teach at various post secondary educational institutions that he believed wanted to hire him simply because he was Latino, Rodríguez began what has been his persistent criticism of affirmative action policies in America. His uncompromising position in this matter led him to leave academia and pursue his writing skills as a journalist and essayist. His devotion to education in language and life helped him develop the voice that he shares in his journalistic and readable prose style.

I first encountered his voice while watching the News Hour on PBS where he was an essayist for many years. The style he demonstrated there is present on every page of his autobiography. I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in the development of a humane intellectual. ( )
  jwhenderson | Dec 10, 2013 |
Unlike Richard Rodriguez I'm not a Mexican-American, but I did grow up in a Spanish-speaking household since my mother is Puerto Rican. Of all the books about and by Hispanics I've read before or since, this is the one I most identified with, that really resonated and spoke to me. I could see much about my family reflected in his--attitudes towards education, skin color, religion... This book indeed was assigned reading in a Sociology class, because it does fit into that discipline. But it's also known for Rodriguez' positions within it on Affirmative Action and Bilingual Education--which I agreed with--particularly after reading this. He talks about what he lost with the intimacy built by speaking Spanish, yes--but that to function in America what he needed was a public language--which in this country means English first and foremost. And that to gain that public voice and move into the mainstream of American society such a sacrifice is crucial and necessary. It's also a moving, powerful, and beautifully written biography. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Sep 5, 2013 |
This is book well worth reading again for a variety of reasons. The author shares his individuality yet speaks on universal themes . Richard Rodriguez reveals his inner life growing up hungry to learn but saddened by the loss of family intimacy when speaking in Spanish is replaced by English only at home at the suggestion of the Catholic sisters who are his elementary school teachers. Richard longs for the close feelings the familly had when they all shared the same language. With English as his his tool he becomes a scholarship boy and advances in his studies. Because of his academic ahievement he comes to speak out on education policies of affirmative actioon and bilingual education. This should be required reading for all involved in education. ( )
  MarthaL | Jun 11, 2012 |
[Hunger for Memory] by [[Richard Rodriguez]] is an autobiography of his path to education in the U.S. It is often an essay on the educational challenges facing immigrants and the U.S. policy of bilingual education. Using his own experiences, Rodriguez argues that immersion is the much better method for teaching English. He suggests that rather than losing one’s identity to the new language (as suggested by the bilingual proponents), one gains a new identity from it. He says that when he spoke only Spanish he was aware that he spoke a private language (not understood by gringos), but that he had no access to the much bigger and more useful public language of English. When he mastered English he gained that public language.

Rodriguez also discusses how his parents and the family dynamic were changed when his parents (in order to help their children learn English) began speaking only English in the house. Rodriguez’ father was not as fluent as his wife and as the children became more fluent they laughed at his heavily accented English. In embarrassment he became nearly mute in his own house, allowing his wife to take over his role in leading the children. However, with his Spanish-speaking friends he was a totally different, much more talkative of person. Further, in learning English and trying to fit into the American way of life, Rodriguez in particular (and to a lesser degree his brother and sisters), lost much of their command of Spanish and became separated from their culture.

In the remainder of the book Rodriguez discusses how education and being a “minority” student changed his life and his thoughts on both. I was found the arguments in this book very interesting and thought provoking. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Dec 14, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553272934, Mass Market Paperback)

Hunger of Memory is the story of Mexican-American Richard Rodriguez, who begins his schooling in Sacramento, California, knowing just 50 words of English, and concludes his university studies in the stately quiet of the reading room of the British Museum.

Here is the poignant journey of a “minority student” who pays the cost of his social assimilation and academic success with a painful alienation — from his past, his parents, his culture — and so describes the high price of “making it” in middle-class America.

Provocative in its positions on affirmative action and bilingual education, Hunger of Memory is a powerful political statement, a profound study of the importance of language ... and the moving, intimate portrait of a boy struggling to become a man.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:15 -0400)

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The author, a disadvantaged Mexican American, writes of feelings of alienation from his family as he learned English and earned a Ph. D.

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