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Richard Rodriguez’s “Aria” Essay

In Richard Rodriguez’s “Aria: A Memoir of Bilingual Childhood” he discusses his views on bilingual education by sharing his own childhood experience. Simply put, the story is about how out of place Richard Rodriguez felt in school, not knowing the language of his peers. To make this transition easier on children some believe teaching in the native language of the child is the solution. Richard Rodriguez strongly disagrees with this method of education; he has seen first hand how much easier it is to adapt to a culture if you speak the language.

Rodriguez went to a school where all his classmates were white and came from wealthy households. This was not the most welcoming atmosphere being a non-English speaking Hispanic to come from a home of working-class Mexican immigrants. At home everyone spoke Spanish, so naturally his home was a sanctuary for him; being the only place that he could find refuge. The teachers were not very sympathetic to Richard, they would call on him and ask questions to which he would respond with a mumble and they would get angry. Naturally this scared him and he refused to take orders from the nuns at school. Rodriguez felt like if he learned this public language it would ruin his family life.

For months he continued to resist orders and the language of the public for fear of losing the bond in his household. Because of his slow progression the nuns at school came to Richard’s house and communicated with the parents that their children would need to hear more English in the household in order for them actually take it in. So from then on only English was spoken in the home and he began to learn the language of the public. “But diminished by then was the special feeling of closeness at home. Gone was the desperate, urgent, intense feeling of being at home among those with whom I felt intimate. Our family remained a loving family, but one greatly changed. We were no longer so close, no longer bound tightly together by the knowledge of our separateness from los gringos.”

Bilingual education involves teaching all subjects in school through two different languages. In the 50 states of the U.S., proponents of the practice argue that it will help to keep non-English-speaking children from falling behind their peers in math, science, and social studies while they master English. Opponents of bilingual education argue that it delays student’s mastery of English, thereby retarding the learning of other subjects as well. Rodriguez opposes the practice of bilingual education because it delays the child’s assimilation into society. While being thrown into a new world that the child is being forced to learn, they suffer because in a way their identity is lost. But it is only then while they are suffering from this transition into a new world, that they are forming their new identity in it. “[Bilingualists] do not seem to realize that a person is individualized in two ways. So they do not realize that, while one suffers a diminished sense of private individuality by being assimilated into public society, such assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality.”

It is not only hard for the child to make to make the transition from one language to the next but it can be difficult for a child to see their parents struggle with the language barrier and trying to communicate with society. This can make the child’s motivation to learn, lessen because they do not want to be associated with people that their parents have problems communicating with. ” It was more troubling to hear my parents speaking in public: their high-whining vowels and guttural confused syntax; the hesitant rhythm of sounds so different from the way gringos spoke. I’d notice moreover, that my parents’ voices were softer than those of gringos we would meet.” When Rodriguez was young he associated comfort with certain sounds, sounds of his language and sounds around his home.

Any different sounds than the ones at home seemed unnatural and he wanted nothing to do with them. He was very conscious of the sounds around him because the ones outside his home were so different that he could easily differentiate the two. ” At the age of six, well past the time when most middle class children no longer noticed the difference between sounds uttered at home and words spoken in public, I had a different experience. I lived in a world compounded of sounds. I was a child longer than most. I lived in a magical world, surrounded by sounds both pleasing and fearful. I shared with my family a language enchantingly private-different from that used in the city around us.”

After Rodriguez grew older he could no longer differentiate the sounds of home from the sounds outside so distinctly. He began to learn the English language and stopped hearing ” the high troubling sounds of los gringos.” After Rodriguez and his siblings became comfortable with the English language and the people speaking it, so did his parents. He grew to learn who he was and find his public identity but unfortunately although his parents progressed they were still far behind. This led to less conversation at home and more distance between family members. ” If I rehearse here the changes in my private life after my Americanizations, it is finally to emphasize a public gain. The loss implies the gain. The house I returned to each afternoon was quiet. Intimate sounds no longer greeted me at the door.”

1. Bilingual education. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 19 Oct 2006, 22:10 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 25 Oct 2006.


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