Richard Rodriguez may be considered one of the most controversial essayists as in his most famous autobiographic book Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez he depicts his life as a Mexican immigrant with honesty. As mentioned before, Ricardo Rodriguez was born in a family of Mexican immigrants in 1944, in San Francisco. He was raised Catholic and graduated from Sacramento’s Christian Brothers High School. Rodriguez was offered university teaching jobs several times, yet he declined these offers as he believed that he was benefiting from representing a part of the minor ethnic group of Mexican Americans. Rodriguez contributed to such areas as international journalism, teaching, educational consultations, and mass media (Velasco 11). Most of his works represent autobiographic essays, which deal with such topical subjects as racial aspects, immigration, and cultural adaptation.
His strong beliefs related to various delicate issues, including standing against bilingual education and affirmative action, earned him the reputation of a controversial writer. There are many people who agree with Rodriguez, supporting his views and earning his books several literary awards. However, many others criticize him for his beliefs and even call him Americanized Mexican, accusing him of deceiving his native culture and people.
Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez
Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez may not be considered a traditional book as it is not chronologically structured and consists of six separate essays, some of which were already posted before the book. In the mentioned book, Rodriguez depicts his life as a Hispanic-American, bringing up extremely controversial subjects and strongly arguing on the topic of affirmative action and bilingual education (Rodriguez, “Aria” 25). Even though these two programs are designed to benefit immigrants, he believes that such actions do not serve their purpose, and they make it even harder for immigrants to fit into society.
Rodriguez opposes affirmative action as it may lead to immigrants being provided with lower education standards and results as the requirements for greater marks are less strict. Moreover, it may be unfair towards native citizens as they, ceteris paribus, may be less likely to be offered a job than a foreign person (Rodriguez, “Profession” 165). He also mentions that such an approach might deprive immigrants of the feeling of achievement or put the achievement at a lower level (Rodriguez, “Profession” 162). Rodriguez (27) mentions that bilingual education also has significant negative consequences for foreign immigrants. He believes that the main purpose of education is to provide students with equal knowledge and treatment, which may lead to equivalent public competence (Rodriguez “The Achievement of Desire” 55). In addition, he states that student’s success is impossible without hard work and struggle, resulting in “radical self-reformation” (Rodriguez “The Achievement of Desire” 87). Bilingual education does not allow immigrants to fully adapt to society, making the diverse community even more fragmented (Rodriguez, “Aria” 31). He also argues that education should encourage creativity and originality, as its main purpose is to treat students as equally as possible, providing an objective evaluation of their knowledge and skills.
Brown: The Last Discovery of America
Brown: The Last Discovery of America is another relatively controversial Rodriguez’s work, which referrers to the topic of racial categorization. The work contains three volumes throughout which America’s racial, cultural, and ethnic perspectives are studied. Rodriguez believes that people’s commitment to identifying themselves as a part of a certain racial or cultural group may lead to further destructive stratification of the society (Rodriguez “Brown: The Last Discovery of America” 75). According to Rodrigues (“Brown: The Last Discovery of America” 14), the way to prevent such consequences is to abandon racial categorization and consider all people “brown” as a mixture of black, yellow, and white. Such an approach may have a list of adverse consequences such as destruction of cultures, which have value both for individual identification and as the historical heritage. On the other hand, it also may decrease racial discrimination and have a positive impact on equality. Therefore, Rodrigues’s ideas are not solely bad or good; they have a list of benefits and drawbars, which should be considered. For the abovementioned reason, there are people who strongly disagree with Rodrigues and many others who support his ideas.
Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father
The book Days of Obligation consists of ten separate essays, which narrate the main subject of cultural identity loss from various points of view and through different periods of time. The book is written in an autobiographic manner, and the main character is Rodriguez himself. Throughout the book, Rodriguez peruses the idea that America is a multicultural country, which provides a common cultural identity for both natives and immigrants (Rodriguez “Days of Obligation” 34). He describes how the ‘American dream’ mindset transformed many immigrants, including Mexicans and Rodriguez himself, into people of American culture (Rodriguez “Days of Obligation” 56). That ‘unified’ cultural identity is strongly linked with the importance of an individual, the value of the opportunity, and success.
In Days of Obligation: An Argument with my Mexican Father, Rodriguez pushes his controversial ideas even further. He views various cultural issues through his personal experience related to religion, race, education, and family relationships. Through his relations with his father, Rodriguez studies numerous internal and external conflicts referred to as “comic” and “tragic” views of life. These conflicts include differences between younger and older generations, Mexican and American cultures, distinct religions, and diverse ideologies. It may be fair to say that Rodriguez himself tends to approve comic approach more even though he states to investigate both perspectives equally.
Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography
Rodriguez himself referred to Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography as a “biography of an idea,” which may be the best possible way to describe the book. Included essays may be considered even more controversial than his previous works. Darling is an autobiographic essay covering inner conflicts depicted through Rodriguez’s life experience, his relationship with religion, and his attitude to women (Rodriguez “Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography” 22). One of the main conflicts narrated in the book is the conflict between gay men and the church. Rodriguez is a religious homosexual, and he talks about how he felt excluded from the church because of that. He also covers issues regarding gay rights and women’s rights. Another covered idea is related to a variety of religions. As an unorthodox Christian, Rodriguez promotes empathy and respect to other religions, including Judaism and Islam, for different reasons and particularly for the shared belief in the One God (Rodriguez “Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography” 161). Overall, as in most of Rodriguez’s books, Darling covers significantly acute and delicate dilemmas dividing the readers into two opposing groups.
Style of Writing
Most of the books written by Rodriguez are autobiographic works, which peruse the goal of conveying a specific idea to the reader. Therefore, his style of writing may be determined as a combination of narrative and persuasive styles. The writing style is characterized by the autobiographic nature of his books as well as an abundance of comparisons. Percussive style is provided by the author’s attitude towards the objects of comparison. However, the most distinctive and essential aspect of his writings is the essay style. His works represent a series of small essays, which do not always follow a strict chronological order yet are related to the same topic and describe various elements of a common idea (Velasco 3). The abovementioned comparisons also play an essential role in his writing style as Rodriguez uses them to depict specific inner and external conflicts through opposing life experiences. Besides, the usage of first-person narration makes it easier to understand the author’s attitude to the issues he raises.
Conclusively, Richard Rodriguez is an incredibly noteworthy writer who depicts controversial aspects of very significant and relevant cultural and racial issues. Through the prism of his personal experience, he provokes the reader to overthink various problems the modern society represents and to analyze their elements from opposing points of view. The fact that his works resonate with society and cause a great wave of interest means he delivers the message properly, as the main idea is to draw attention to the issues. Even though there are people who disagree with Rodriguez strongly and accuse him of abandoning his culture and disapprove of his ideas, there are others who support him and his books. Nevertheless, neither the disapproval nor the support matters the most. The most significant aftereffect of his writings is the discussion people conduct, introducing arguments from both sides and seeking the truth. The writing style, which Rodriguez uses, also serves the abovementioned purpose, as relatively short, personalized, and straight-to-the-point essays help the readers extract the issues, which bother them the most.
Rodriguez, Richard. “Aria.” Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez: An Autobiography, Bantam, 1983, pp. 10–43.
Rodriguez Richard. Brown: The Last Discovery of America. Penguin Books, 2003.
Rodriguez, Richard. Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography. Penguin Books, 2014.
Rodriguez, Richard. Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father. Penguin, 1995.
Rodriguez, Richard. “Profession” Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez: An Autobiography, Bantam, 1983, pp. 151–187.
Rodriguez, Richard. “The Achievement of Desire” Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez: An Autobiography, Bantam, 1983, pp. 44–96.
Velasco, Juan. “Rodriguez, Richard.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, 2019.