In his memoir, Rodriguez writes of being sent to a school where the students were mostly white and English speakers, unlike himself, the son of Mexican immigrants. His parents moved into an area of Sacramento populated mostly by whites and did not try to assimilate or encourage Rodriguez to; they referred to people unlike themselves as "los gringos" or "los americanos" and spoke only Spanish at home.
At school, Rodriguez was expected to learn and speak English, "a public language." He quickly came to think of Spanish as "private" and English as "public." When nuns from his school came to ask his parents to speak English at home, too, to help him, his parents readily agreed. It was difficult for him to accept, but he complied when his parents told him: "Speak to us en ingles."
Rodriguez became fully bilingual and English became his primary language, but he felt that it resulted in a loss of closeness within his family and a loss of connection to his birth culture.