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The American Dream is viewed differently by everyone depending on their goals while also reflecting on their background. Richard Rodriguez, the author of his autobiography entitled Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, delves into the world of growing up the son of two Mexican immigrants while figuring out his own desires and how he can make them realities despite his limited resources due to their middle-class socioeconomic status. From an early age, Rodriguez insisted on improving his language skills and surpassing the knowledge expectations of average foreigners.
His thirst for books, lessons, and extra tutoring time began the minute his English was perfected. Starting out with the ‘English-only’ rules in his household feeling “like a game”, the intensity took away his families “closeness” and set him out on an adventure that would seemingly never end (Rodriguez, 20).
Immigrating from another country and setting up the roots for a growing family is not something that can happen over night with ease.
Rodriguez’s mother and father began a life in the United States in hopes of bettering their children. His mother started out as a typist addressing envelopes in letter shops, but had continual “optimism for advancement” (57). As her skill and knowledge of English simultaneously increased, she upgraded to a full-time office job enough to make her and her husbands combined salaries “middle-class wages” (57). While looking for more work in hopes of expanding her services and knowledge even more, the opportunity to be a part of the governor’s staff that would also require her to use Spanish came about.
Misspelling one homonym “guerillas” as “gorilla” she was sent back to her previous position and left her “ambition in the hands of her children” (58). Her pride was strong when she felt she was making it in the world despite her lack of a college degree, however that couldn’t last forever. She instilled in her children’s minds from a very young age to “get all the education you can” because “with education you can do anything” (58). This idea stuck with Rodriguez and fuelled all of his endeavors.
With increasing knowledge helping him to defy the odds of his background, Rodriguez felt severe backlash from Latino Activists. He was a minority an admitted to accepting his “label”, but believing in affirmative action, remembered he was not “socially disadvantaged” (157). The wholesome, early schooling he received gave him the tools to not let the idea of being a “minority” alienate him (157). As a “beneficiary” of affirmative action he was told that he was “unrepresentative” of lower-class Hispanics but was a minority “whether he liked it or not” (159). Affirmative action is a program designed to ease out discrimination by granting special rights to minorities socially and in the workplace. When offered jobs he thought were given to him through pity, he declined; he never accepted a hand out and wanted to actually feel that his credentials were deserving of the positions he earned. In no way was Richard Rodriguez trying to minimize the importance of his “racial pride” like those around him criticized, he was simply trying to evolve in order to shed light on his Hispanic counterparts.
Richard Rodriguez’s father viewed education as a plot to escape from a life of simple labor. He began his life working as an apprentice until he grew the courage to travel to America.
Here, his dreams of becoming an engineer foiled and instead he took up “warehouse, cannery, and multiple factory jobs” (59). He attempted to attend night school with his wife in order to obtain some credentials but the only thing that came of it was exhaustion. He went on to be a janitor and a dental technician, but his overall view of work became “pessimistic” (59). He “despised the trivialization of higher education” and regarded it as leisurely work that wasn’t worth while. The conflicting opinions given off by Rodriguez’s mother and father didn’t make the choices he had to make easy. There are always multiple paths to go down in life, usually one laborious and one education-oriented. Rodriguez’s dream of a greater life than what his parents had was the main influence on those decisions. Constantly striving to be better, education seemed like his best bet because his mother instilled in him that “with it you can do anything” (58).
Mexican-immigrants looking in on the Rodriguez family would probably argue that they were already living the American Dream. His parents chased down their desires in the free world and made them into a reality when settling in a home that was “gaudy yellow in a row of white bungalows” (11). They lived among the “gringos” and refused to act like their lives were any different than theirs (10). Though they still had to carry out their lives and support themselves, it is just a dream to be in the free world for some. They were on the cusp of middle-class, and both parents had to work in order to maintain their lifestyle, but nothing was more satisfying to them than providing a stable living environment for their children. Oppression and dictatorship drive people away for their homelands in hopes for opportunity in the workplace and for a welcoming place in society. America fits every category for a great place to live and raise a family and sometimes when it is just handed to us we can’t recognize the true value it has. Rodriguez didn’t necessarily have to work for his freedoms and the privileges he had, so his dreams were able to expand beyond just simply ‘getting by’.
Rodriguez feels embarrassed by his parents and their lack of English speaking ability. An “accident of geography” placed him in an all white community and school, all with children who had parents with white-collar jobs (9). Soon after beginning school, nuns came to his house and pleaded with his parents to establish an English-only household. This was a useful tactic to allow the children to freely practice their new words without any judgment, however as a result of this Rodriguez grew up to be a “victim of a disabling confusion”- unable to break the language “barriers” between him and his parents (28). His parents were supportive of him in all of his learning efforts, but during this he became a “pocho” which is a Mexican-American who, in becoming an American, forgets his “native society” (29). The concept of Rodriguez failing to remember his Spanish which is also his heritage and then his parents being unable to understand English and speak it freely to adults important to him put pressure on their relationship. The strain that came from inabilities to communicate with each other completely as well as Spanish family members or high-society white teachers caused the two groups to limit their time with one-another by default. Though it seems trivial and like it is a problem that has a solution, I can see where Rodriguez’s frustrations come from. As a child of relatively older parents, I have struggled with issues of them just not knowing what I am talking about. Explanations are certainly not difficult, but it is nice when those you are speaking to are on the same page as you automatically. This makes for easier flow of discussion and also more things to relate to, creating a more diversified and fulfilling relationship.
Richard Rodriguez devoted his life to education. Once he realized that he wasn’t the same as the other children in his class, being automatically a minority, his dedication to growing as a person and as an American never ceased. After his early education, he went on to high school, Stanford for college, then graduate school. His “yearning became a preoccupation” and his life became consumed with it (76). Though his parents couldn’t afford the schools he was attending, he worked hard for scholarships and internships and vowed to do anything to be given the opportunity to complete school. His American Dream was to defy the odds of typical Mexican American life. He refused to settle for menial jobs like his parents, to be known as the gringo down the street, or to not be clearly understood by English-speakers. The cravings he had for knowledge came from the roots of seeing his parents battling for better lives. His mother knew that if she had just gone to college she would be automatically better off and his father knew the same and just refused to admit it. His parents, in my view, achieved their American Dream simply by creating the opportunity for a better life for their family. Rodriguez cannot deny how much he appreciates their efforts, but still knows his true desire is to have more. He wants to have what they never did all while making them proud of the son they raised. He may have picked his “education over his family”, and felt shame for pushing his parents away in order to reach his goals, but in the end he did it with them in mind. Rodriguez grew culturally separated from his parents in his journey, but the education he acquired gave him ways of “speaking and caring about that fact” (77).
American Dreams vary in the fact that they depend on what people already have. Those who are well off only wish to obtain more things’ or to be better people in their spare time.
When underprivileged citizens are thrown into the pot their dreams are more inspiring, just like Rodriguez’s. His ideal American Dream was to be the best version of himself that he could possibly be by soaking up all of the knowledge he was exposed to. He dreamt of a day where he wouldn’t be seen as a Mexican-immigrant couple’s by-product and could flourish as the intelligent human being he was all along. Though dreams can be expensive in the damage they do to relationships and bank accounts along the way, if the people that say they love you truly do- they will only want your happiness. Richard Rodriguez jeopardized his relationship with his family and his meaningful heritage, but he constructed a noble life for himself in the end.
Though he abandoned his humble belongings, he saw that necessary in order to become the person he wanted to be. Dreams come true if you keep yourself focused and strive for a beneficial outcome just like Rodriguez. The American Dream can take any form, but it is imperative to find the correct form for yourself, not just follow the path others plan.
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