Richard Rodriguez

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What are the three main points in Richard Rodriguez's essay "Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood"?

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One of Rodriguez's main points is that no child uses his or her "family language" at school, even if the child speaks English at home, as children speak the language of intimacy at home. To the author, Spanish was the language that made him feel recognized and embraced as a member of the family. His next point, however, is that by having such a strong private language, he felt alienated and separated from much of the rest of the world. If he had not learned English in school, he would not have claimed his public identity. In order to gain his public identity and his place as an individual in society, he had to relinquish some of the individuality he had at home. His final point is that by gaining a sense of comfort in public, he lost the intimacy that he had at home when speaking Spanish. However, he felt that to become an individual in American society, he had to at first become part of that society. Before becoming an individual in America, he had to first become a member of the crowd. 

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In his essay, Richard Rodriguez addresses the issue of bilingual education. He argues that it is impossible and unnecessary for a student to use their native language alongside of English in school and public life. He makes this argument using the following three points:

  1. His use of his parent's native language at home (Spanish) impeded his social growth. Because his parents did not know and did not use English in the home, he and his siblings did not learn it, and therefore could not communicate with and effectively become a part of the community. Because of this, Rodriguez thought his family and himself to be something apart from American citizens.
  2. Rodriguez- before he became a proficient speaker of the English language- felt that his native tongue was a "private language." It was something that was not socially appropriate or acceptable, and he needed to feel that he had the right and the obligation to learn and speak the "public language" (English). It was not until he had done this that Rodriguez felt that he was a worthy, fully-fledged member of American Society. He states, "At last, seven years old, I came to believe what had been technically true since my birth: I was an American citizen."
  3. Bilingualists argue that retaining equal use of the home language in school alongside of English allows the student to retain his or her sense of individuality. Rodriguez contests this with a lengthy anecdote about his own transition into English, in which he explores the intimacy of language. He had believed as a boy that the use of Spanish in his family had created an intimacy between them. Spanish had isolated his family from the public world, and therefore created a closeness and codependency that was then lost when he and his siblings made the switch to English. However, as he progressed in age and became more aware of the inflections of emotion and intimacy in every language, he realized that intimacy is made not by the use of the language, but by the people who speak it. He argues that therefore he needed English in order to "seek the rights and opportunities necessary for full public individuality." 

In sum, Rodriguez felt that he was socially alienated by his home language, that he was not a true American until he had mastered English, and that the break from Spanish not only allowed for his development in a public society, but also did not really diminish the intimacy that he felt in his family-even though he had originally tied it to the home language- because intimacy lies within the inflection, not the words alone. 

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