Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
With the publication of his autobiography, Hunger of Memory, in 1982, Richard Rodriguez (rawd-REE-gehz) rose to immediate national attention as a fine, if controversial, essayist. Born Ricardo Rodriguez in San Francisco, California, in 1944, the son of Mexican immigrants, he moved with his family to Sacramento, where they had purchased a small home. Ricardo spoke only Spanish at home with his parents and siblings. In Hunger of Memory he describes his first experience of English-language society, encountered in the Catholic elementary classroom which transformed him from Ricardo to Richard. When his parents began to speak only the “public” language of English at home, at the recommendation of his Irish nun teachers, Richard suffered a loss of intimacy with his family. He later decided that the educational process itself accounted for his separation from his parents, rather than simply “public” (English) versus “private” (Spanish) language.
Rodriguez was raised Catholic and attended Catholic primary and secondary schools. He earned a B.A. from Stanford University in 1967 and an M.S. from Columbia University in 1969. He did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the Warburg Institute in London. He received a Fulbright Fellowship (1972-1973) and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (1976-1977). Though he was offered several university teaching positions, he declined the offers because he suspected that he was benefiting from a misplaced affirmative action. That is, he was offered such positions because as a Mexican American he was a member of an underrepresented ethnic group, while he believed that his entire education and preparation had resulted in his complete assimilation into the majority. Rodriguez became an editor at Pacific News Service, where he served for more than two decades, and a contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, and the Sunday “Opinion” section of the Los Angeles Times. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The American Scholar, Time, Mother Jones, The New Republic, and other publications.
Rodriguez spent six years writing Hunger of Memory, sections of which first appeared in magazines. Hunger of Memory is autobiographical, but rather than presenting a chronological view of Rodriguez’s growth and development,...
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Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory is a collection of essays tracing his alienation from his Mexican heritage. The son of Mexican American immigrants, Rodriguez was not able to speak English when he began school in Sacramento, California. The Catholic nuns who taught him asked that his parents speak English to him at home so that he could hear English spoken all the time. When his parents complied, Rodriguez experienced his first rupture between his original culture and his newly acquired culture. That initial experience compelled him to see the difference between “public” language—English—and “private” language—Spanish. To succeed in a world controlled by those who spoke English, to succeed in the public arena, Rodriguez learned that he had to choose public language over the private language spoken within his home. Hence he opted for alienation from his Mexican heritage and roots, a choice that he viewed with resignation and regret.
His educational journey continued as he proceeded to earn a master’s degree and then to become a Fulbright scholar studying English Renaissance literature in London. At that time, he decided to leave academic life, believing that it provided an advantage to Mexican Americans at the expense of those who did not possess this hyphenated background.
Rodriguez proceeded to become an opponent of affirmative action, and details his opposition to this policy in Hunger of Memory....
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Richard Rodriguez was born on July 31, 1944, in San Francisco, California, to Mexican immigrants Leopoldo and Victoria Moran Rodriguez, the third of their four children. When Rodriguez was still a young child, the family moved to Sacramento, California, to a small house in a comfortable white neighborhood. ‘‘Optimism and ambition led them to a house (our home) many blocks from the Mexican side of town ... It never occurred to my parents that they couldn’t live wherever they chose,’’ writes Rodriguez in Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, his well-received 1981 autobiography. This first book placed him in the national spotlight but brought scorn from many supporters of affirmative action and bilingual education.
Rodriguez’s family was not well-to-do, but his father—a man with a third-grade education who ended up working as a dental technician after dreaming of a career as an engineer—and his mother somehow found the money to send their children to Catholic schools. Ultimately, Rodriguez, who could barely speak English when he started elementary school, finished his academic efforts as a Fulbright scholar in Renaissance literature with degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University. Perched on the edge of a brilliant career in academia, but uncomfortable with what he viewed as the unwarranted advantage given him by affirmative action, Rodriguez refused a number of teaching jobs at prestigious universities. He felt that receiving preference and assistance based on his classification as a minority was unfair to others. This dramatic decision, along with a number of anti-affirmative action essays published in the early to mid-1970s, made Rodriguez a somewhat notorious national figure.
After leaving academia, Rodriguez spent the next six years writing the essays that comprise Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, aided for part of that time by a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. Before being compiled into book form, many of the essays appeared in publications such as Columbia Forum, American Scholar, and College English. Hunger of Memory was a hugely successful book, garnering reviews in approximately fifty publications after its release. Critics generally praised the book for its clear and concise prose and for Rodriguez’s honesty in revealing his conflicted feelings about being a ‘‘scholarship boy,’’ as he refers to himself in the book. In 1983, the book won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Christopher Award.
Since 1981, Rodriguez has continued his writing career, occasionally serving as an essayist for the PBS series MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour and also working as an editor with the Pacific News Service in California. In 1992, he published Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father, another collection of previously issued autobiographical essays. The book, which did not receive the same acclaim and admiration as his first book, covers such topics as Rodriguez’s Mexican and Indian heritage, his homosexuality, and the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Christopher, Renny. “Rags to Riches to Suicide: Unhappy Narratives of Upward Mobility—Martin Eden, Bread Givers, Delia’s Song, and Hunger of Memory.” College Literature 29 (Fall, 2002). Discusses upward social and class mobility and the accompanying sense of loss, and includes an excerpt from Hunger of Memory.
Collado, Alfredo Villanueva. “Growing up Hispanic: Discourse and Ideology in Hunger of Memory and Family Installments.” The Americas Review 16, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter, 1988). Compares Rodriguez’s book to Family Installments, by Eduardo Rivera.
Danahay, Martin A. “Richard Rodriguez’s Poetics of Manhood.” In Fictions of Masculinity: Crossing Cultures, Crossing Sexualities, edited by Peter F. Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 1994. The chapter on Rodriguez is part of a collection that looks at the “gendered” work of male authors and how they address masculinity and sexuality.
De Castro, Juan E. “Richard Rodriguez in ‘Borderland’: The Ambiguity of Hybridity.” Aztlan 26 (Spring, 2001). Addresses the essay “Starting with Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father,” theories of the border and borderlands and their connections with the idea of a “cosmic race,” hybridity, and multiculturalism.
Guajardo, Paul. Chicano Controversy: Oscar Acosta and Richard Rodriguez. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. Argues for looking anew at Rodriguez’s work and including him in the canon of Chicano literature.
Rodriguez, Richard. “A View from the Melting Pot: An Interview with Richard Rodriguez.” Interview by Scott London. In The Writer’s Presence, edited by Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Interview with Rodriguez on race, ethnic and cultural identity, academia, affirmative action, bilingual education, class, and other subjects.
Romer, Rolando J. “Spanish and English: The Question of Literacy in Hunger of Memory.” Confluencia 6, no. 2 (Spring, 1991). Deconstructs the use of the terms “Spanish” and “English” in the contexts of oral and written language, of classical discourse, of the pastoral, and of race, discussing the contradictions in Hunger of Memory that led to its favorable reception by the dominant Anglo culture and its unfavorable reception by Chicano culture.
Sedore, Timothy. “Violating the Boundaries: An Interview with Richard Rodriguez.” Michigan Quarterly Review 38 (Summer, 1999). Rodriguez discusses his sense of community and Chicano literature.