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There exists in the majority of people a schism between their public lives and their private lives. Trust and honesty are essential to our society and the truth should be complimentary, not earned. Richard Rodriguez, a writer and public speaker, expertly illustrates his own experience with this type of double life in his autobiography, Hunger of Memory. Rodriguez situates his individual experiences with education in such a way as to expose what he sees as the fallacious logic behind bilingual education and affirmative action. He uses arguments to propagate the systematic problems with such programs. His autobiography explains in great detail the entangling problems all American children face by instituting bilingual programs and affirmative action endorsements.
For a great portion of the book Rodriguez focuses on the use of language in his life. Rodriguez writes, "This autobiography, moreover, is a book about language" (6). He describes his childhood in detail. At the beginning of the book, Rodriguez described himself as a boy who spoke primarily Spanish. His parents are described as middle-class Mexicans who struggled with English. At an early age his parents taught him to speak Spanish, which became his primary language. Spanish was the language he spoke at home while English was the language spoken by los gringos. Rodriguez argued that the reason he was unable to assimilate to the American culture was because of his language barrier. He resentfully recalls a playful teasing nickname he received: pocho, he interprets this name as a Mexican-American who is forgetting his native Spanish language and feeling guilty about it. These guilty emotions stem from him completely closing the door on his family and only dedicating his life to education.
He grew up thinking that English was a public language while Spanish was a private one. Through the next 6 months to year of school he started to pick up English much more fluently but kept on talking in Spanish when he was at home. Rodriguez's change of language from Spanish to English was forced upon him by the nuns who taught at his school. His parents were asked to speak English at home. This event changed everything and Rodriguez became disturbed and he tried not to follow through with it. Rodriguez thought that if he talked in English to his parents he would not feel intimate and their closeness would be gone. He became more Americanized and less private because he didn't want anything to do with his cultural roots. This rejection of his native Spanish language is only the beginning of his future rejection of bilingual education for Mexican-Americans in the United States. Proficiency in the English language became Rodriguez's revelation of his American citizenship or nationality.
Affirmative action made it possible for him to received an education and become one of the first Hispanic students in higher education. Even from an early age, Rodriguez was a successful student. Everyone was extremely proud of Rodriguez for earning awards and graduating to each subsequent level of his education. But all his success was not necessarily positive. In fact, we see that his education experience is a fairly negative one. One negative that Rodriguez endures is his solitude. Education compels him to distance himself from his family and heritage.
Bilingual education offers a completely different world for students of different ethnic backgrounds and thus creates a comfort zone limiting the risk-taking factor necessary for the maturation of a child to an adult. Rodriguez argues supporters of bilingualism fail to realize "while one suffers a diminished sense of private individuality by becoming assimilated into public society, such assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality" (26). Rodriguez may not like bilingualism but he makes it know that without assimilation one cannot achieve a higher standing not only educationally but socially as well.
As Rodriguez grows older, however, and his education takes him into the larger United States community, his parents are told by a school official that his Spanish speaking is "holding him back"; this official urges the parents to help him "be a success" by speaking more English around the house.(37) What parent could refuse such a request? With this visit, the private family sphere is punctured, and the close-knit family alters so that Rodriguez can meet public standards for his academic abilities and the goals he should pursue. Private, intimate language exchanges with his family are, with the best intentions, denied Rodriguez, but his parents maintain the Spanish language for themselves and his siblings. He feels increasingly isolated, and his studies draw him away from the family into books, homework, and daydreams. Rodriguez becomes alienated because America has a sense of ownership of intelligent children, and as a society it believes, especially in immigrant families, that disrupting the authority and love of the parents to train a child to be useful to the mainstream is to do the child a favor. In the case of Rodriguez, he did not understand why he had to embrace English as a child; but only to assimilate which ultimately worked against the relationship between him and his family.
Rodriguez details the many crossroads he encounters as he becomes more a product of his education than of his family. He shows the politics at work in a working-class boy's life. He feels, in retrospect, that the goal of education for gifted children is to make them all individualistically oriented, competitive, and primed to desire and pursue middle-class ideas of success. All the "brown" people, along with those who are any "color" but white, must have their ethnicities, their class origins, and even their religion sanded away, so they will be the same as any successful White American--or at least not a threat to those who are already successful. According to an article by Blau, Francine, and Anne Winkler shows that federal contractors tend to fall short of their employment goals for women and minorities, suggesting that they are indeed goals and not quotas. Evidence suggests that the likelihood of more productive men or whites being passed over in favor of less productive women or minorities is low. And the fact that women and minorities still earn less than men and whites, all else equal, also indicates that reverse discrimination is not the norm. He says that without affirmative action, women and minorities are likely to have fewer opportunities available to them or may invest less in education and training because they think that it will not pay off down the line (Blau 39). Rodriguez saw something very similar as a child when his mother explained to him that being a minority only got you jobs as los probes. This caused Rodriguez to dislike being tied to the word minority or culturally disadvantaged.
Rodriguez focuses his negative feelings about affirmative action. He wrote several articles against affirmative action, and one of his reasons was that, "The policy of affirmative action, however, was never able to distinguish someone like me (a graduate student of English, ambitious for a college teaching career) from a slightly educated Mexican-American who lived in a barrio and worked as a menial laborer, never expecting a future improved" (Rodriguez 151). Rodriguez finishes his coming-of-age story with a description of what it means to be a "scholarship boy" throughout college and graduate school. The illusion of the scholarship recipient as special or superior or even a welcome addition to an institution is rudely shattered as he realizes that richer students perceive him as an inferior or an exotic pet--a trophy of the liberalism of privileged students. Throughout his exploration of his higher-education experiences, Rodriguez shows that affirmative action hurts the students it serves by singling them out as being somehow inferior, by presenting them as unworthiness who, because of so-called past oppression, will now be given unfair advantages among other students. Rodriguez believes that affirmative action has cost him his family, as well as the chance to be a man like his father, whom he respects deeply. Rodriguez feels his years of education have given him selfish and self-indulgent ways that prevent him from attaining the family-oriented, self-sacrificing, and morally serious characteristics embodied in his father
According to an article by Anita Allen, she explains how affirmative action might be negative but she argues that educational policy leaders need to reform the meaning of affirmative action by focusing more on the benefits that are reaped by society, rather than simply individual students, through the initiative. She gives us examples of her life experience, that without affirmative action she would not be the successful person she is today (Allen 254). Rodriguez's separation results from the uneasy movement from the private to the public
According to Richard, separation is a good and necessary thing, but there is also a cost for it. The separation allows Richard to move away from the family into a new family. This new family is being a citizen. So, the movement between the separation is a necessary step in order to gain citizenship. He initially views the development as a positive but he sadly realizes there is cost toward citizenship. He loses a private individuality by being assimilated. American culture has made Rodriguez refuse the academic job that both he and his jealous colleagues feel he has won because his race makes him a prize. The novel ends with a sense of defeat, even as he has reclaimed himself from a process that forced him to reject his family's values. Sadly, Rodriguez's fine education ensures that he can never return and fit naturally into the family or culture he has lost.