collectively communicate about the experience of Latinos in the U.S
collectively communicate about the experience of Latinos in the U.S
Copy and pasted professors instructions > > > After reading the following short stories, identify 3-4 main ideas that they collectively communicate about the experience of Latinos in the U.S. In other words, you DO NOT want to summarize each story. You want to think about what they tell us in general about some of the things Latinos experience when living in the U.S. For each main idea, articulate your thoughts on a particular topic you think these sources express about the experience of Latinos living int he U.S. and then support that point with specific references from multiple stories. You don’t need to use ALL the sources for each point, but you’d want to use more than one story as support because you’re not just telling your reader a point that one story makes, but rather, you’re expressing points that they have in common. Make sure you demonstrate that you have read the stories by using specific quotes from each story that illustrate your points.
The stories you need to read for this paper are listed below. They can all be found under the Handouts link. ( P.S I have attached the reads as pdf files)
Aria (from the Education of Richard Rodriguez) – Richard Rodriguez
Daughter of Invention – Julia Alvarez
America – Richard Blanco
Only Daugther – Sandra Cisneros
Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium — 391
were drooling in a caricature of machismo.
Below it, at the bar, two Chicanas
hung at their beers. They had painted black
birds that dipped beneath their eyelids. They
were still as foam while the men fiddled with
their asses, absently;
the bubbles of their teased hair snapped
open in the forced wind of the beating fan.
there are songs in my head I could sing you
songs that could drone away
all the Mariachi bands you thought you ever heard
songs that could tell you what I know
or have learned from my people but for
that I need words
simple black nymphs between white sheets of paper
obedient words obligatory words words I steal
in the dark when no one can hear me.
as pain sends seabirds south from the cold I
to gather my feathers
ichard Rodriguez, who was born in 1946, is considered
one of the foremost essayists in the United States. He
appears regularly on Public Broadcasting Service’
s Jim Lehrer
s first book, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard
Rodriguez (1982), a landmark collection of autobiographical essays, is
one of the most debated texts in U.S. Latino letters. In this aesthetically
beautiful book he discusses significant social and political issues,
using incidents from his own life to illustrate his points, including
the change of language upon beginning school, his alienation
from his family, and a confrontation with affirmative action proR
grams. His points are often well taken, but he omits some important
392 — Richard Rodriguez
aspects of his life — feelings of homosexuality and self-loathing, for
example — that may have affected his choice to separate himself
from Mexican-American culture as a child and young adult. The effectiveness
of the essays suffers from these limitations. Rodriguez’s
second collection of essays, Days of Obligation: Conversations with My
Mexican Father (1992), is a much more mature work, similarly heartfelt
but more nuanced and less prone to broad pronouncements on
the success or failure of U.S. institutions. Still, Hunger of Memory remains
a touchstone in discussions of bilingual education, affirmative
action, and ethnocentrism.
The essays in Hunger of Memory were written and published
separately over a period of years, from 1973 to 1981. The following
excerpt is taken from the final, collected version.
from Hunger of Memory: The Education
of Richard Rodriguez
I remember to start with that day in Sacramento — a California now
nearly thirty years past — when I first entered a classroom, able to
understand some fifty stray English words.
The third of four children, I had been preceded to a neighborhood
Roman Catholic school by an older brother and sister. But neither of
them had revealed very much about their classroom experiences.
Each afternoon they returned, as they left in the morning, always together,
speaking in Spanish as they climbed the five steps of the
porch. And their mysterious books, wrapped in shopping-bag paper,
remained on the table next to the door, closed firmly behind them.
An accident of geography sent me to a school where all my classmates
were white, many the children of doctors and lawyers and
business executives. All my classmates certainly must have been uneasy
on that first day of school — as most children are uneasy — to
find themselves apart from their families in the first institution of
their lives. But I was astonished.
Hunger of Memory — 393
The nun said, in a friendly but oddly impersonal voice, “Boys and
girls, this is Richard Rodriguez.” (I heard her sound out: Rich-heard
Road-ree-guess.) It was the first time I had heard anyone name me in
English. “Richard,” the nun repeated more slowly, writing my name
down in her black leather book. Quickly I turned to see my mother
face dissolve in a watery blur behind the pebbled glass door.
Many years later there is something called bilingual education — a
scheme proposed in the late 196os by Hispanic-American social activists,
later endorsed by a congressional vote. It is a program that
seeks to permit non-English-speaking children, many from lowerclass
homes, to use their family language as the language of school.
(Such is the goal its supporters announce.) I hear them and am
forced to say no: it is not possible for a child — any child — ever to
use his family’s language in school. Not to understand this is to misunderstand
the public uses of schooling and to trivialize the nature
of intimate life — a family’s “language.”
Memory teaches me what I know of these matters; the boy
reminds the adult. I was a bilingual child, a certain kind — socially
disadvantaged — the son of working-class parents, both Mexican
In the early years of my boyhood, my parents coped very well in
America. My father had steady work. My mother managed at home.
They were nobody’s victims. Optimism and ambition led them to a
house (our home) many blocks from the Mexican south side of
town. We lived among gringos and only a block from the biggest,
whitest houses. It never occurred to my parents that they couldn’t
live wherever they chose. Nor was the Sacramento of the fifties bent
on teaching them a contrary lesson. My mother and father were
more annoyed than intimidated by those two or three neighbors
who tried initially to make us unwelcome. (“Keep your brats away
from my sidewalk!”
) But despite all they achieved, perhaps because
they had so much to achieve, any deep feeling of ease, the
confidence of “belonging” in public, was withheld from them both.
They regarded the people at work, the faces in crowds, as very distant
from us. They were the others, los gringos. That term was interchangeable
in their speech with another, even more telling, los
394 ^’ Richard Rodriguez
I grew up in a house where the only regular guests were my relations.
For one day, enormous families of relatives would visit, and
there would be so many people that the noise and the bodies would
spill out to the backyard and front porch. Then, for weeks, no one
came by. (It was usually a salesman who rang the doorbell.) Our
house stood apart. A gaudy yellow in a row of white bungalows. We
were the people with the noisy dog. The people who raised pigeons
and chickens. We were the foreigners on the block. A few neighbors
smiled and waved. We waved back. But no one in the family knew
the names of the old couple who lived next door; until I was seven
years old, I did not know the names of the kids who lived across the
In public, my father and mother spoke a hesitant, accented, not always
grammatical English. And they would have to strain — their
bodies tense — to catch the sense of what was rapidly said by los gringos.
At home they spoke Spanish. The language of their Mexican past
sounded in counterpoint to the English of public society. The words
would come quickly, with ease. Conveyed through those sounds was
the pleasing, soothing, consoling reminder of being at home.
During those years when I was first conscious of hearing, my
mother and father addressed me only in Spanish; in Spanish I
learned to reply. By contrast, English (ingles), rarely heard in the
house, was the language I came to associate with gringos. I learned
my first words of English overhearing my parents speak to strangers.
At five years of age, I knew just enough English for my mother to
trust me on errands to stores one block away. No more.
I was a listening child, careful to hear the very different sounds of
Spanish and English. Wide-eyed with hearing, I’d listen to sounds
more than words. First, there were English (gringo) sounds. So many
words were still unknown that when the butcher or the lady at the
drugstore said something to me, exotic polysyllabic sounds would
bloom in the midst of their sentences. Often, the speech of people in
public seemed to me very loud, booming with confidence. The man
behind the counter would literally ask, `What can I do for you?’ But
by being so firm and so clear, the sound of his voice said that he was
a gringo; he belonged in public society.
I would also hear then the high nasal notes of middle-class
American speech. The air stirred with sound. Sometimes, even now,
when I have been traveling abroad for several weeks, I will
Hunger of Memory — 395
hear what I heard as a boy. In hotel lobbies or airports, in Turkey or
Brazil, some Americans will pass, and suddenly I will hear it again
— the high sound of American voices. For a few seconds I will hear it
with pleasure, for it is now the sound of my society — a re-minder of
home. But inevitably — already on the flight headed for home — the
sound fades with repetition. I will be unable to hear it anymore.
When I was a boy, things were different. The accent of los gringos
was never pleasing nor was it hard to hear. Crowds at Safeway or at
bus stops would be noisy with sound. And I would be forced to edge
away from the chirping chatter above me.
I was unable to hear my own sounds, but I knew very well that I
spoke English poorly. My words could not stretch far enough to
form complete thoughts. And the words I did speak I didn’t know
well enough to make into distinct sounds. (Listeners would usually
lower their heads, better to hear what I was trying to say.) But it
was one thing for me to speak English with difficulty. It was more
troubling for me to hear my parents speak in public: their highwhining
vowels and guttural consonants; their sentences that got
stuck with eh and ah sounds; the 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
I am tempted now to say that none of this mattered. In adulthood
I am embarrassed by childhood fears. And, in a way, it didn’t
matter very much that my parents could not speak English with
ease. Their linguistic difficulties had no serious consequences. My
mother and father made themselves understood at the county hospital
clinic and at government offices. And yet, in another way, it
mattered very much — it was unsettling to hear my parents
struggle with English. Hearing them, I’d grow nervous, my clutching
trust in their protection and power weakened.
There were many times like the night at a brightly lit gasoline
station (a blaring white memory) when I stood uneasily, hearing my
father. He was talking to a teenage attendant. I do not recall what
they were saying, but I cannot forget the sounds my father made as
he spoke. At one point his words slid together to form one word —
sounds as confused as the threads of blue and green oil in the
puddle next to my shoes. His voice rushed through what he had left
396 — Richard Rodriguez
to say. And, toward the end, reached falsetto notes, appealing to his
listener’s understanding. I looked away to the lights of passing automobiles.
I tried not to hear any more. But I heard only too well the
calm, easy tones in the attendant’s reply. Shortly afterward, walking
toward home with my father, I shivered when he put his hand on
my shoulder. The very first chance that I got, I evaded his grasp
and ran on ahead into the dark, skipping with feigned boyish
But then there was Spanish. Espanol: my family’s language.
Espanol: the language that seemed to me a private language. I’d
hear strangers on the radio and in the Mexican Catholic church
across town speaking in Spanish, but I couldn’t really believe that
Spanish was a public language, like English. Spanish speakers, rather,
seemed related to me, for I sensed that we shared — through our
language — the experience of feeling apart from los gringos. It was
thus a ghetto Spanish that I heard and I spoke. Like those whose
lives are bound by a barrio, I was reminded by Spanish of my
separateness from 1os otros, los gringos in power. But more intensely
than for most barrio children — because I did not live in a barrio —
Spanish seemed to me the language of home. (Most days it was only
at home that I’d hear it.) It became the language of joyful return.
A family member would say something to me and I would feel
myself specially recognized. My parents would say something to me
and I would feel embraced by the sounds of their words. Those
sounds said: I am speaking with ease in Spanish. I am addressing you in
words I never use with los gringos. I recognize you as someone special,
close, like no one outside. You belong with us. In the family.
At the age of five, six, well past the time when most other children
no longer easily notice the difference between sounds uttered at
home and words spoken in public, I had a different experience. I
lived in a world magically compounded of sounds. I remained a child
longer than most; I lingered too long, poised at the edge of language
— often frightened by the sounds of los gringos, delighted by the
sounds of Spanish at home. I shared with my family a language
that was startlingly different from that used in the great city around
For me there were none of the graduations between public and
private society so normal to a maturing child. Outside the house
H u n g e r o f M e m o r y — 397
was public society; inside the house was private. Just opening or closing the screen door
behind me was an important experience. I’d rarely leave home all alone or without
reluctance. Walking down the sidewalk, under the canopy of tall trees, I’d warily notice the
suddenly — silent neighborhood kids who stood warily watching me. Nervously, I’d arrive
at the grocery store to hear there the
sounds of the gringo_________________________ foreign to me — reminding me that in this
world so big, I was a foreigner. But then I’d return. Walking back to-ward our house,
climbing the steps from the sidewalk, when the front door was open in summer, I’d hear
voices beyond the screen door talking in Spanish. For a second or two I’d stay, linger there,
listening. Smiling, I’d hear my mother call out, saying in Spanish (words): “Is that you,
Richard?” All the while her sounds would as-sure me: You are home now; come closer; inside.
“Si,” I’d reply.
Once more inside the house I would resume (assume) my place in the family. The
sounds would dim, grow harder to hear. Once more at home, I would grow less aware of
that fact. It required, however, no more than the blurt of the doorbell to alert me to listen to
sounds all over again. The house would turn instantly still while my mother went to the
door. I’d hear her hard English sounds. I’d wait to hear her voice return to soft-sounding
Spanish, which assured me, as surely as did the clicking tongue of the lock on the door,
that the stranger was gone.
Plainly, it is not healthy to hear such sounds so often. It is not healthy to distinguish
public words from private sounds so easily. I remained cloistered by sounds, timid and shy
in public, too dependent on voices at home. And yet it needs to be emphasized: I was an
extremely happy child at home. I remember many nights when my father would come back
from work, and I’d hear him call out to my mother in Spanish, sounding relieved. In
Spanish, he’d sound light and free notes he never could manage in
English. Some nights I’d jump up just at hearing his voice. With mis
hermanos I would come running into the room where he was with my
mother. Our laughing (so deep was the pleasure!) became screaming. Like others who
know the pain of public alienation, we transformed the knowledge of our public
separateness and made it consoling — the reminder of intimacy. Excited, we joined our
voices in a celebration of sounds. We are speaking now the way we never speak out in public. We
398 ~ Richard Rodriguez
alone — together, voices sounded, surrounded to tell me. Some
nights, no one seemed willing to loosen the hold sounds had on us.
At dinner, we invented new words. (Ours sounded Spanish, but
made sense only to us.) We pieced together new words by taking,
say, an English verb and giving it Spanish endings. My mother’s
instructions at bedtime would be lacquered with mock-urgent
tones. Or a word like si would become, in several notes, able to convey
added measures of feeling. Tongues explored the edges of
words, especially the fat vowels. And we happily sounded that military
drum roll, the twirling roar of the Spanish r. Family language:
my family’s sounds. The voices of my parents and sisters and
brother. Their voices insisting: You belong here. We are family members.
Related. Special to one another. Listen! Voices singing and sighing, rising,
straining, then surging, teeming with pleasure that burst syllables
into fragments of laughter. At times it seemed there was steady
quiet only when, from another room, the rustling whispers of my
parents faded and I moved closer to sleep.
Supporters of bilingual education today imply that students like me
miss a great deal by not being taught in their family’s language.
What they seem not to recognize is that, as a socially disadvantaged
child, I considered Spanish to be a private language. What I needed
to learn in school was that I had the right — and the obligation —
to speak the public language of los gringos. The odd truth is that my
first-grade classmates could have become bilingual, in the conventional
sense of that word, more easily than I. Had they been taught
(as upper-middle-class children are often taught early) a second language
like Spanish or French, they could have regarded it simply as
that: another public language. In my case such bilingualism could
not have been so quickly achieved. What I did not believe was that I
could speak a single public language.
Without question, it would have pleased me to hear my teachers
address me in Spanish when I entered the classroom. I would have
felt much less afraid. I would have trusted them and responded
with ease. But I would have delayed — for how long postponed? —
having to learn the language of public society. I would have evaded
— and for how long could I have afforded to delay? — learning the
great lesson of school, that I had a public identity.
Hunger of Memory ‘ 399
Fortunately, my teachers were unsentimental about their responsibility.
What they understood was that I needed to speak a
public language. So their voices would search me out, asking me
questions. Each time I’d hear them, I’d look up in surprise to see a
nun’s face frowning at me. I’d mumble, not really meaning to answer.
The nun would persist, “Richard, stand up. Don’t look at the
floor: Speak up. Speak to the entire class, not just to me!” But I
couldn’t believe that the English language was mine to use. (In part, I
did not want to believe it.) I continued to mumble. I resisted the
teacher’s demands. (Did I somehow suspect that once I learned public
language, my pleasing family life would be changed?) Silent,
waiting for the bell to sound, I remained dazed, diffident, afraid.
Because I wrongly imagined that English was intrinsically a public
language and Spanish an intrinsically private one, I easily noted the
difference between classroom language and the language of home.
At school, words were directed to a general audience of listeners.
(“Boys and girls.”) Words were meaningfully ordered. And the point
was not self-expression alone but to make oneself under-stood by
many others. The teacher quizzed: “Boys and girls, why do we use
that word in this sentence? Could we think of a better word to use
there? Would the sentence change its meaning if the words were
differently arranged? And wasn’t there a better way of saying much
the same things?” (I couldn’t say. I wouldn’t try to say.)
Three months. Five. Half a year passed. Unsmiling, ever watchful,
my teachers noted my silence. They began to connect my behavior
with the difficult progress my older sister and brother were
making. Until one Saturday morning three nuns arrived at the
house to talk to our parents. Stiffly, they sat on the blue living room
sofa. From the doorway of another room, spying the visitors, I noted
the incongruity — the clash of two worlds, the faces and voices of
school intruding upon the familiar setting of home. I over-heard one
voice gently wondering, “Do your children speak only Spanish at
home, Mrs. Rodriguez?” While another voice added, “That Richard
especially seems so timid and shy.”
With great tact the visitors continued, “Is it possible for you and
your husband to encourage your children to practice their English
when they are home?” Of course, my parents complied. What would
they not do for their children’s well-being? And how could they have
400 ‘ Richard Rodriguez
questioned the Church’s authority which those women represented?
In an instant, they agreed to give up the language (the sounds) that
had revealed and accentuated our family’s closeness. The moment
after the visitors left, the change was observed. “Ahora, speak to us
en ingles,” my father and mother united to tell us.
At first, it seemed a kind of game. After dinner each night, the
family gathered to practice “our” English. (It was still then ingles, a
language foreign to us, so we felt drawn as strangers to it.) Laughing,
we would try to define words we could not pronounce. We
played with strange English sounds, often over-anglicizing our pronunciations.
And we filled the smiling gaps of our sentences with familiar
Spanish sounds. But that was cheating, somebody shouted.
Everyone laughed. In school, meanwhile, like my brother and sister,
I was required to attend a daily tutoring session. I needed a full
year of special attention. I also needed my teachers to keep my attention
from straying in class by calling out, Rich-heard — their English
voices slowly prying loose my ties to my other name, its three
notes, Ri-car-do. Most of all I needed to hear my mother and father
speak to me in a moment of seriousness in broken — suddenly
heartbreaking — English. The scene was inevitable: one Saturday
morning I entered the kitchen where my parents were talking in
Spanish. I did not realize that they were talking in Spanish, however,
until, at the moment they saw me, I heard their voices change
to speak English. Those gringo sounds they uttered startled me.
Pushed me away. In that moment of trivial misunderstanding and
profound insight, I felt my throat twisted by unsounded grief. I
turned quickly and left the room. But I had no place to escape to
with Spanish. (The spell was broken.) My brother and sisters were
speaking English in another part of the house.
Again and again in the days following, increasingly angry, I was
obliged to hear my mother and father: “Speak to us en ingles.”
(Speak.) Only then did I determine to learn classroom English.
Weeks after, it happened: one day in school I raised my hand to volunteer
an answer. I spoke out in a loud voice. And I did not think it
remarkable when the entire class understood. That day, I moved
very far from the disadvantaged child I had been only days earlier.
The belief, the calming assurance that I belonged in public, had at
last taken hold.
Shortly after, I stopped hearing the high and loud sounds of los
Hunger of Memory ‘ 401
gringos. A more and more confident speaker of English, I didn’t
trouble to listen to how strangers sounded, speaking to me. And
there simply were too many English-speaking people in my day for
me to hear American accents anymore. Conversations quickened.
Listening to persons who sounded eccentrically pitched voices, I
usually noted their sounds for an initial few seconds before I
concentrated on what they were saying. Conversations became
content-full. Transparent. Hearing someone’s tone of voice — angry
or questioning or sarcastic or happy or sad — I didn’t distinguish it
from the words it expressed. Sound and word were thus tightly
wedded. At the end of a day, I was often bemused, always relieved,
to realize how “silent,” though crowded with words, my day in public
had been. (This public silence measured and quickened the
change in my life.)
At last, seven years old, I came to believe what had been technically
true since my birth: I was an American citizen.
But the special feeling of closeness at home was diminished by
then. Gone was the desperate, urgent, intense feeling of being at
home; rare was the experience of feeling myself individualized by
family intimates. We remained a loving family, but one greatly
changed. No longer so close; no longer bound tight by the pleasing
and troubling knowledge of our public separateness. Neither my
older brother nor sister rushed home after school anymore. Nor did I.
When I arrived home there would often be neighborhood kids in the
house. Or the house would be empty of sounds.
Following the dramatic Americanization of their children, even
my parents grew more publicly confident. Especially my mother.
She learned the names of all the people on our block. And she decided
we needed to have a telephone installed in the house. My father
continued to use the word gringo. But it was no longer charged
with the old bitterness or distrust. (Stripped of any emotional content,
the word simply became a name for those Americans not of
Hispanic descent.) Hearing him, sometimes, I wasn’t sure if he was
pronouncing the Spanish word gringo or saying gringo in English.
Matching the silence I started hearing in public was a new quiet
at home. The family’s quiet was partly due to the fact that, as we
children learned more and more English, we shared fewer and fewer
words with our parents. Sentences needed to be spoken slowly
when a child addressed his mother or father. (Often the par-
402 — Richard Rodriguez
ent wouldn’t understand.) The child would need to repeat himself.
(Still the parent misunderstood.) The young voice, frustrated, would
end up saying, “Never mind” — the subject was closed. Dinners
would be noisy with the clinking of knives and forks against dishes.
My mother would smile softly between her remarks; my father at the
other end of the table would chew and chew at his food while he
stared over the heads of his children.
My mother! My father! After English became my primary language, I
no longer knew what words to use in addressing my parents. The
old Spanish words (those tender accents of sound) I had used earlier
— Mama and Papa — I couldn’t use anymore. They would have been
too painful reminders of how much had changed in my life. On the
other hand, the words I heard neighborhood kids call their parents
seemed equally unsatisfactory. Mother and Father; Ma, Papa, Pa, Dad,
Pop (how I hated the all-American sound of that last word especially)
— all these terms I felt were unsuitable, not re-ally terms of address
for my parents. As a result, I never used them at home. Whenever I’d
speak to my parents, I would try to get their attention with eye
contact alone. In public conversations, I’d refer to “my parents” or
“my mother and father.”
My mother and father, for their part, responded differently, as
their children spoke to them less. She grew restless, seemed
troubled and anxious at the scarcity of words exchanged in the
house. It was she who would question me about my day when I
came home from school. She smiled at small talk. She pried at the
edges of my sentences to get me to say something more. (What?)
She’d join conversations she overheard, but her intrusions often
stopped her children’s talking. By contrast, my father seemed reconciled
to the new quiet. Though his English improved somewhat, he
retired into silence. At dinner he spoke very little. One night his children
and even his wife helplessly giggled at his garbled English pronunciation
of the Catholic grace before meals. Thereafter he made
his wife recite the prayer at the start of each meal, even on formal
occasions, when there were guests in the house. Hers became the
public voice of the family. On official business, it was she, not my father,
one would usually hear on the phone or in stores, talking to
strangers. His children grew so accustomed to his silence that, years
later, they would speak routinely of his shyness. (My mother would
often try to explain: both his parents died when he was eight. He
Hunger of Memory — 403
was raised by an uncle who treated him like little more than a menial
servant. He was never encouraged to speak. He grew up alone.
A man of few words.) But my father was not shy, I realized, when
I’d watch him speaking Spanish with relatives. Using Spanish, he
was quickly effusive. Especially when talking with other men, his
voice would spark, flicker, flare alive with sounds. In Spanish, he expressed
ideas and feelings he rarely revealed in English. With firm
Spanish sounds, he conveyed confidence and authority English
would never allow him.
The silence at home, however, was finally more than a literal silence.
Fewer words passed between parent and child, but more profound
was the silence that resulted from my inattention to sounds.
At about the time I no longer bothered to listen with care to the
sounds of English in public, I grew careless about listening to the
sounds family members made when they spoke. Most of the time I
heard someone speaking at home and didn’t distinguish his sounds
from the words people uttered in public. I didn’t even pay much attention
to my parents’ accented and ungrammatical speech. At least
not at home. Only when I was with them in public would I grow
alert to their accents. Though, even then, their sounds caused me
less and less concern. For I was increasingly confident of my own
I would have been happier about my public success had I not
sometimes recalled what it had been like earlier, when my family
had conveyed its intimacy through a set of conveniently private
sounds. Sometimes in public, hearing a stranger, I’d hark back to
my past. A Mexican farm worker approached me downtown to ask
directions to somewhere. “Hijito … ?” he said. And his voice summoned
deep longing. Another time, standing beside my mother in
the visiting room of a Carmelite convent, before the dense screen
which rendered the nuns shadowy figures, I heard several Spanishspeaking
nuns — their busy, singsong overlapping voices — assure
us that yes, yes, we were remembered, all our family was remembered
in their prayers. (Their voices echoed faraway family sounds.)
Another day, a dark-faced old woman — her hand light on my
shoulder — steadied herself against me as she boarded a bus. She
murmured something I couldn’t quite comprehend. Her Spanish
voice came near, like the face of a never-before-seen relative in the
instant before I was kissed. Her voice, like so many of the Spanish
4 0 4 — Richard Rodriguez
voices I’d hear in public, recalled the golden age of my youth. Hearing
Spanish then, I continued to be a careful, if sad, listener to
sounds. Hearing a Spanish-speaking family walking behind me, I
turned to look. I smiled for an instant, before my glance found the
Hispanic-looking faces of strangers in the crowd going by.
Today I hear bilingual educators say that children lose a degree of
“individuality” by becoming assimilated into public society.
(Bilingual schooling was popularized in the seventies, that decade
when middle-class ethnics began to resist the process of assimilation
— the American melting pot.) But the bilingualists simplistically
scorn the value and necessity of assimilation. They do not
seem to realize that there are two ways a person is individualized. So
they do not realize that while one suffers a diminished sense of private
individuality by becoming assimilated into public society, such
assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality.
The bilingualists insist that a student should be reminded of his
difference from others in mass society, his heritage. But they
equate mere separateness with individuality. The fact is that only in
private — with intimates — is separateness from the crowd a
prerequisite for individuality. (An intimate draws me apart, tells me
that I am unique, unlike all others.) In public, by contrast, full
individuality is achieved, paradoxically, by those who are able to
consider themselves members of the crowd. Thus it happened for
me: only when I was able to think of myself as an American, no
longer an alien in gringo society, could I seek the rights and opportunities
necessary for full public individuality. The social and political
advantages I enjoy as a man result from the day that I came to
believe that my name, indeed, is Rich-heard Road-ree-guess. It is true
that my public society today is often impersonal. (My public society
is usually mass society.) Yet despite the anonymity of the crowd
and despite the fact that the individuality I achieve in public is often
tenuous — because it depends on my being one in a crowd — I
celebrate the day I acquired my new name. Those middle-class
ethnics who scorn assimilation seem to me filled with decadent selfpity,
obsessed by the burden of public life. Dangerously, they
romanticize public separateness and they trivialize the dilemma of
the socially disadvantaged.
Hunger of Memory — 405
My awkward childhood does not prove the necessity of bilingual
education. My story discloses instead an essential myth of childhood
— inevitable pain. If I rehearse here the changes in my private
life after my Americanization, it is finally to emphasize the public
gain. The loss implies the gain: the house I returned to each afternoon
was quiet. Intimate sounds no longer rushed to the door to
greet me. There were other noises inside. The telephone rang.
Neighborhood kids ran past the door of the bedroom where I was
reading my schoolbooks — covered with shopping-bag paper. Once I
learned public language, it would never again be easy for me to
hear intimate family voices. More and more of my day was spent
hearing words. 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. 
dward Rivera was born in Orocovis, Puerto Rico, in
1944 and moved to New York at the age of seven. He graduated
from the City College of New York and received an M.F.A. from
Columbia University. Rivera lives in New York and teaches English
at City College.
Rivera’s Family Installments: Memories of Growing Up Hispanic (1982)
is a series of hilarious, bitingly satirical stories of growing up in New
York City. They are also thoughtful literary examinations of the
culture into which Puerto Ricans were thrown upon their arrival in
New York: Irish-dominated Catholicism, multiethnic neighborhoods,
and cold working-class urban environments. The main character
in Family Installments, Santos Malanguez, spent his first few
years in Puerto Rico. The abruptness of his transition to New York is
conveyed by a jump cut, a cinematic device that brings him from a
classroom with a beloved teacher to a confusing but similar environment
in New York. In the following excerpt, originally published in
1974, he plays with literature and literary tradition while satirizing
the teaching of that literature by someone who has little understanding
of the language in which he is teaching