The Most Important Theme in Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez
In Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez uses his perspective to illustrate how the language use has differentiated the personality in public as well as the private life. Born and cultured in the Spanish society, with its culture and language, he is torn apart between his nativity and a new cultural arena. There English is a preferred mode of communication. It is during his schooling phase that English, spoken by strangers and not by his society (i.e. Hispanics consider themselves as the minority) is being reinforced. His poor performance in academics at a Catholic school catches the attention of his nun teachers. Thus, from an early time, Rodriguez has become accustomed to English as the preferred mode of communication.
His publication, Hunger for Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, a collection of 6 autobiographical works (1982), elicited emotional uproars in both was opposing the ends of the political arena. Of those included into the general group of Hispanics (the natives or descendants from forebears the traceable origin of which is in the Spanish-speaking countries), Rodriguez was perceived as someone alienating himself from his cultural way of life or heritage. Belonging to the Mexico-American social strata, it was highly opinionated that he had betrayed his fellow members of the Hispanic society through his criticism of both an affirmative action and bilingual education (Rodriguez 1983).
It is through retracing of childhood and early adulthood that Rodriguez is able to display the power of education and language use. He attributes the aforementioned two facets, as being the great contributing factors to his transition into adulthood. Though criticism, he still reminds himself of the role of education in his transitional journey from the past to the present. Because of the limited knowledge of English during his early life, Rodriguez was participating sparingly in a class. Thus, English as the preferred mode of speaking was reinforced in his private family life. It was done in order to ensure that none of his children could suffer as he was suffering. Therefore, it was through these steps that he later on was able to emerge into the public sphere. His integration into the American way of life was both valuable and of a big necessity, as being one of his key assertions.
Through different influences and phases of his life, including the Catholic Church’s role, the pain and power of family relations and, most importantly, his rejection (in a staunchest manner) of the affirmative action, in the education arena are being depicted in the most vivid and candid possible ways. His rejection of the above aimed at alleviating America’s racial and ethnic minorities. It stems from the fact that, according to his perspectives, the real target group has and has not benefitted from the fruits of a change in the American society. His parents, having the limited education, slowly have started to be estranged to Rodriguez. He views them as not being able to understand him. The above issue stems from the fact Rodriguez is mainly engrossed in his reading and educational transition. This brings a rift in-between him and his family (Marquez 1984).
His interests were growing at the expense of his family resulting into a gap between the shared family interests. The fluency, in the intellectual language of the society, comes at the cost of losing a touch with his family and cultural values once held in common. Because of his scholarship, his life changes for better, as Rodriguez reaps the fruits of the affirmative action, particularly in the bilingual studies. Therefore, the theme of education is of the utmost importance in this book. It causes his separation from the family experience, his personal mind-set of alienation, the paradox and assimilation into the American way of life.
The affirmative action, credited with the opportunities that most of America’s society now enjoys, is highly linked to Rodriguez’s transformation from his private life into the public arena. As a minority student, he describes the lofty price of succeeding in the American society. Accordingly to it, the most important theme is education, which can be seen in terms of his personal success at the expense of the family and of Hispanic minority, in general. It is paradoxical that Rodriguez, a beneficiary of the above, while participating in the bilingual education, later on in his life criticizes the very same vessel that had benefitted him (Rivera 1984).
His perception of the language importance is a very powerful political testimonial vividly displayed in his work. He considers the affirmative action as being cruel and having the irrational hypocrisy in its implementation within the American social strata. As a recurring theme, paradox is entailed in his denial of his roots and culture and of the social place of America’s minorities. This class, being often poor and uneducated, is what he strives to be disassociated with. The shame and antipathy often evident in the 1st generation offspring towards parents (being often non-assimilated and poorly educated) is the most evident one in his work.
He is full of guilt due to his perceived ‘advantage-taking’ of his association and the roots within the socially disadvantaged American minorities. His education and different life phases he is going through are according to his views as the alienating or separating factors from his family. He terms this separation as both unavoidable and necessary for the growth in the American social arena. To him, assimilation occurs because of his participation in the bilingual study arena, where education has provided him with the chances that few American minorities had experienced (Marquez 1984).
Unfortunately, he is of a view that his education and the chances that accompanied it are responsible for his alienation from his family and relations. He also supposes that his latter conversion to Christianity, specifically to Catholicism, has made a huge difference in his lifestyle. A sense of superiority that came from the chance of attaining education is evident in his lack of initiating some reconciliatory steps towards his family relations. The bilingual life is characterized by diverse linguistic sensitivities, as candidly expressed in his delineation of the public from a private identity. While acknowledging that it is only the fact that English is being used in the schooling system, he would have preferred to stay in his monolingual lifestyle (Rivera 1984).
In contrast, however, he is of the view that the removal of the English language as the preferred mode of study in the American social system would have been detrimental to the vast majority of young people the public identities of which would continue as underdeveloped. He is of the opinion that it is only through the development of the public identity that the social success may be achievable. His vehement opposition to the use of bilingual education is rooted to his perception. This would limit the person’s life choices attributed to the sole use of the language used in the personal family life (Sollors 1986).
In conclusion, the theme of conflict of interests comes out clearly in Hunger of Memory. Rodriguez views bilingual education as a hindrance to the self-realization of a person. He thinks that the use of Spanish as a tool of education would limit the chance in realizing the American Dream. Through the limited advantages entailed in the use of bilingual education, Rodriguez equates the person’s fate like being sealed to the life of poverty, limited resources and choices and the lack of avenues to raise their concerns. As such, he equates this to the life of the Mexican construction workers that, being unable to challenge or question their patrons, are often exploited and paid barely enough for their work (Sollors 1986).