Richard Rodriguez: Education and Assimilation Into American Culture

“Hunger of Memory”, an autobiography written by Richard Rodriguez, was about his childhood into his present day lifestyle and how his past impacted the person that he is today. In the book, he discusses his race/ethnicity as a Mexican-American, his new “Americanized” education, his transition from a fluent and cultural spanish speaker into an excelling English professor, and his family, school, and job experiences that shaped his views and opinions on the society that he lives in, as well as his personal image.

He especially highlights his educational journey, in which he was forced to learn English at a young age and later took a toll on his public and personal life distinctions. As he continued to learn English and assimilate into American culture, he lost touch with his roots and family, resulting in personal and attachment complications in terms of life at home and school, his social life, and relationships.

In the beginning of the book, Rodriguez talks about his childhood household and his life with his family.

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He discussed the “sounds” that he would hear and how they differed from those of the outside world and his private, home life. The sounds would increase in intensity and with a sense of safety and acceptance when he was at home, and when he was outside, he would hear the sounds of los gringos (white people). However as he assimilated into American culture and became more proficient in the English language, it became hard for him to hear, understand, and respond to the sounds in his household: “Once I learned public language, it would never again be easy for me to hear intimate family voices… But that may only be a way of saying that the day I raised my hand in class and spoke loudly to an entire roomful of faces, my childhood started to end” (27).

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Rodriguez use of the word “end” is a hyperbole, representing his transition at young age from a child into a more mature young man. In addition to him being unable to hear the sounds in his house, Richard began to speak less Spanish and ultimately not being able to pronounce word in Spanish without choking on his words. He was even called “pocho” by his own family as they were ashamed and embarrassed that he was losing his culture. Furthermore, later on in the book, Richard’s mother writes him a letter regarding his use of his personal and family life in his writing and explains how she didn’t appreciate it. She wanted him to keep his personal life out of his public writing pieces, however he did it anyway because he felt as though he had found a commonplace between the two worlds; He was no longer afraid to express his personal life in his public writing. Instead, he found a sense of pride and understanding in doing so and became very successful as an English professor and writer/publisher because of it.

In addition to his culture, Rodriguez struggled with forced societal labels. As a dark-skinned Mexican-American from an immigrant family, Richard knew that his life in America would not be easy for neither him nor his family. However in the 1960s, this preconceived notion would change with the introduction of a new system: Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action is defined as “the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously.” It is designed to promote and encourage new opportunities to groups of people (who are typically oppressed) to allow them to compete with or gain the same privileges as majority/privileged groups. Although affirmative action was to be a beneficial new aspect for these less fortunate groups (including Richard), it had many flaws as it subjected these groups into systematic social categories of certain people— minorities. In the education system, affirmative action “rewards” (153) socially disadvantaged groups with scholarships and easier admissions into colleges and jobs as long as they identified themselves as minorities.

Richard struggled to accept the fact that he himself, regardless of what he knew himself to be, was in fact a minority: “Fittingly, it falls to me, as someone who so awkwardly carried the label, to question it now, its juxtaposition of terms—minority student” (153). He follows this up by calling himself a “minority” out of anger and self-pity and saying that he should have never accepted it. This quote, as well as his connotative diction and description of affirmative action establishes character, emotional, and logical appeals. He does not refer to himself as a minority because he doesn’t believe that he is socially disadvantaged in any way and the fact that he is forced to label himself as such humiliates him and degrades his personal image as well as his ego, self-consciousness, and insecurities. He later in the book adds that he was grateful for the opportunities that affirmative action provided for him, however he did not accept them because he wanted explore his options outside of his new found privilege as a minority student and professor. He didn’t want to be forcefully and permanently labeled by anyone other than himself.

In addition to diminishing family relations and affirmative action and education, Richard found himself struggling with his complexion and identity. Richard’s family as well as other Mexicans were ashamed and afraid to have dark-skinned children, due to their fear that they would end up on the same level and be treated the same way as black people were at the time. As a child, he felt as though he was always an outsider because he was the darkest child in his family and his mother equated him to los pobres and los braceros (poor people/ Mexican-Americans or immigrants who were farm/construction workers, typically working for white people). He was so ashamed and embarrassed of his complexion to the point where he was jealous of his brother’s light complexion: “And during those years I envied him his skin that burned red and peeled like the skin of the gringos. His complexion never darkened like mine. I am the only one in my family whose face is severely cut to the line of ancient Indian ancestors” (123). This comment of jealousy and envy characterizes Richard as insecure about himself and his skin color, and also establishes an emotional appeal in which the audience can sympathize with him and his struggle to embrace his complexion. Also, his tone is jealous and frustrated. Despite these early encounters of insecurity, after he gets a summer job as a construction worker (the same job his mother threatened and teased him about) and works alongside other Mexican-Americans, he begins to embrace his dark skin and is “no longer ashamed”(146) of his body. He also draws the conclusion that the one thing that separates him from the other workers was his attitude and education, both of which he obtained by himself through the experience of being an an angry and ashamed dark-skinned young man.

Richard Rodriguez in his autobiography struggles to obtain an education in a new environment, maintain family relationships, and love himself for who he is. As he gets older and becomes a man, he is able to distinguish not only the differences between his public and personal life, but also the flaws in American life and culture. However despite these struggles, Richard independently searches deep within himself for answers and understandings of what he is going through and in the end becomes successful by creating a new life, standard, and label for himself.

Updated: Apr 01, 2022
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Richard Rodriguez: Education and Assimilation Into American Culture. (2022, Apr 01). Retrieved from

Richard Rodriguez: Education and Assimilation Into American Culture essay
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