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Rodriguez’s father was orphaned at age eight and went to work as an apprentice for an uncle. He had a third-grade education, but when he was twenty, he left Mexico for the United States with the idea of becoming an engineer. He thought a priest would help him get the money for his education, but this didn’t happen, and he ended up taking a ‘‘dark succession of warehouse, factory, and cannery jobs.’’

Rodriguez’s father went to night school with his wife, but after a year or two he quit and waited for her outside on the school steps. When the children were born, he was working at a ‘‘clean job,’’ first as a janitor for a department store, then as a dental technician, but Rodriguez remembers that his father was always consumed by fatigue. He laughed whenever his son complained about being tired from reading and studying; he could not understand how one could become tired from reading and often mocked his son’s soft hands. Rodriguez’s father never verbally encouraged the children to do well in school.

His father was able to provide for his family a house in a comfortable, middle-class neighborhood ‘‘many blocks from the Mexican south side of town.’’ But the family still felt estranged from the white community that surrounded them in Sacramento of the 1950s. Rodriguez remembers that his father was shy only when he spoke English; when he spoke Spanish with family and friends, he was animated and outgoing.


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Rodriguez’s mother was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a young girl. She and her husband lived a comfortable, middle-class life in Sacramento, California, and succeeded in buying a house in what Rodriguez refers to as a gringo neighborhood. Rodriguez describes his parents as full of optimism and hope for their family’s future. Rodriguez’s mother had better English skills than did his father. She served as the primary communicator with the gringo world beyond the family. After Rodriguez’s parents became more confident of their language skills, his mother learned the names of everyone living on their block and purchased a phone for the house.

As a girl, Rodriguez’s mother had been given a high school degree by teachers ‘‘too careless or busy’’ to notice that she could not speak English, according to her son. She worked as a typist after high school and was proud that she did not have to put on a uniform to go to work and could spell well without a college degree. After Rodriguez began high school, his mother started back to work again in a typing position. She felt strongly that her children should get all the education possible.

Rodriguez’s mother was upset by many of the choices her children made. She complained when her children got older that they were not close, ‘‘more in the Mexican style,’’ like other families. When Rodriguez left for Stanford University, one hundred miles from Sacramento, his mother could not understand why the colleges in their town weren’t ‘‘good enough.’’ When Rodriguez published articles in which he mentioned the family, she was uncomfortable about her private life being exposed, and she wrote to him to ask that he stop writing about the family. She called him Mr. Secrets while he wrote this book because he did not share much about his activities.

Rodriguez sees his parents as having great dignity and aristocratic reserve, and he also portrays their devotion to Catholicism. Both parents wanted their children to be aware that they ‘‘are Mexicans’’ and never to try to pass themselves off as being from...

(This entire section contains 358 words.)

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Other Characters

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Rodriguez’s grandmother spoke Spanish to him when he was a small child. However, he found it more difficult to understand Spanish once he started school and spoke English at home and in class. And while he often did not understand her after his English skills improved, Rodriguez is quick to note this did not lessen the love they felt for each other. She called Rodriguez Pocho—a Spanish word for something that is colorless or bland—to tease him about not being able to speak Spanish very well. He took it as a name for someone who has forgotten his native society while becoming an American.

The last time Rodriguez saw his grandmother, she told him about her life in Mexico with her husband Narciso and how they lived on a farm. She recalled working as a seamstress and that she had to leave Rodriguez’s mother and her brother and sisters to travel to Guadalajara for work. She died a few days later, when Rodriguez was nine-years-old.

The Priest
When Rodriguez was about four-years-old, a white priest from Sacred Heart Church came to the Rodriguez house for dinner. This was a special occasion, as Rodriguez remembers it, because the priest was the first English-speaking dinner guest ever invited to the Rodriguez household. The picture left by the priest was of Christ with a ‘‘punctured heart’’; it still survives, Rodriguez writes, and has hung on the wall of every house his parents have lived in since.

Richard (Ricardo) Rodriguez
Richard Rodriguez is the son of working-class Mexican immigrants to the United States, raised and educated in Sacramento, California, and the third of four children. Spanish was the language spoken inside his home, and when he came home each day from school, he looked forward to hearing a language that was special because it was spoken only among his family and never with gringos. Language made the line between public and private life very discernable for Rodriguez. He always felt like a foreigner outside of the house when he was young, able to speak only a few words of English.




Critical Essays