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...
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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.