Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series Hunger of Memory Analysis
As an eloquent and accomplished Mexican-American with impressive academic credentials, Rodriguez serves as a model and example of the triumph of the underprivileged individual. His success was achieved through individual and family effort, by overcoming his own past, rather than through outside intervention or institutional and governmental supports. Many white readers, especially critics of bilingual education and affirmative action, have embraced him as their spokesperson and point to his rejection of these programs as proof of their worthlessness.
Rodriguez is, in fact, a vehement critic. He considers bilingual education programs—which were unavailable to his generation—ineffective and even detrimental. He explains his rapid progress in school, to a large degree, by the willingness of his family to abandon domestic intimacy—the use of Spanish, the language of home—and adopt English, the public language. His parents, Rodriguez relates, agreed to speak English at home, however artificial the language and halting their command of it, when the nuns, their children’s schoolteachers, persuaded them that it was in their best academic interest. He ceased being Ricardo and became Richard.
As his parents stopped speaking Spanish, Rodriguez perceived a loss of intimacy. At the time, he associated intimacy directly with the language itself and believed that family closeness and warmth were possible only in Spanish. While he was never able to overcome this youthful sense of sadness and loss, as he matured he began to believe that the outcome made the sacrifice worthwhile. In the next few years, he found ample compensation when he experienced academic success and a growing self-assurance in his public persona. He started to read voraciously in English and to rejoice in the sense of mastery, first of words and then of authors and ideas, in the new language. He became disinterested in Spanish and was reticent to speak his native language, even when visitors and relatives who came to his home urged him to do so.
Some years later, upon further reflection, Rodriguez believes that the loss of intimacy experienced in childhood was not caused by the adoption of a new language but was a result of the process of education itself. Education, as he sees it, aims at transforming children as individuals. Bilingual educators, by refusing to acknowledge this fact, contribute to delaying unnecessarily the main function of education. In the case of ethnic groups, bilingual education serves to postpone, if not to interfere with, the process of linguistic assimilation that contributes to an individual’s adoption of an identity separate from his family’s. It also delays the experience of self-confidence in public society that is essential for success....
(The entire section is 1134 words.)
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