| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Richard Rodriguez is probably the best-known Mexican
American writer today, his fame propelling him to regular appearances on radio
and television talk shows and even to the pages of People magazine. His essays
have appeared in prestigious journals and newspapers such as the American
Scholar and the Los Angeles Times. Rodriguez is also perhaps the most controversial
of contemporary Latino authors, having been applauded by the political right,
especially in his early career, for stands against affirmative action and
bilingual education, and vilified by the left for precisely the same positions.
In any event, Rodriguez commands attention for the thoughtfulness and
craftsmanship of his prose and his willingness to take on provocative issues.
Over the years, Rodriguez has become less susceptible to easy political
categorization as his arguments have become more nuanced.
was born in San Francisco, the child of Mexican immigrants ambitious for their
four children and eager for admission into the American middle class. The
Rodriguezes soon moved to Sacramento and brought a “gaudy yellow” house among
white bungalows “many blocks from the Mexican south side of town.” Sensitive
and introspective, Richard began Catholic school armed with only a few words of
English. As Rodriguez recalls in his autobiographical narrative, The Hunger of
Memory, his movement through the American educational system to affluence and a
certain celebrity was wrenching both to himself and to his parents. Quickly
noticing Richard’s academic gifts, the nuns insisted that he speak English at
home to accelerate his intellectual development, thereby opening a cultural
chasm between boy and parents that only widens. Rodriguez observes that he had
to choose between the “public identity” of the American mainstream and the
“private identity” of his parents’ Mexican home, finally concluding that
assimilation is a “necessity.” In Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez seems willfully
ignorant that large immigration movements—like the one that brought his parents
to the United States—typically create bi-directional acculturation, immigrants
and native-born residents transforming and revitalizing one other. Furthermore,
Rodriguez ignores the well-established fact that many—perhaps most—of us have
rich and varied identities that allow us to function in a number of cultural
Days of Obligation, Rodriguez blends autobiographical explorations with musings
on such topics as Mexican history and character, the California missions, and
the AIDS epidemic. Sprawling and sometimes opaque, Days of Obligation
nonetheless reveals a more mature Rodriguez, uncomfortable with some of the
facile conclusions of Hunger of Memory. Here, very much aware of his mortality,
Rodriguez wishes to understand his parents’ cultural heritage, which earlier he
had been all-too-willing to jettison. Hunger of Memory ends with a family
Christmas dinner at which Rodriguez and his father have almost nothing to say
to each other; in Days of Obligation, we seen Rodriguez throughout beseeching
his parents for more information about Mexico and their lives there.
selection reproduced in the book comes from the chapter “Complexion” in Hunger of
Memory. Rodriguez treats the complex of attitudes he encountered because of his
dark skin: from his family, from Anglo outsiders, from himself. One of
Rodriguez’s virtues as a writer of autobiography is to reveal honestly his
insecurities, even in connection with such difficult issues as his adolescent
Raymund A. Paredes|
University of California, Los Angeles
In the Heath Anthology
from The Hunger of Memory
There are no Cultural Objects for this author.
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?
There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.
A View from the Melting Pot: An Interview with Richard Rodriguez
Transcripts of a radio interview with Scott London for Insight and Outlook.
PBS Online Newshour: Off Camera
Texts of Rodriguez's award-winning essays on American life.
Remarks of Richard Rodriguez
A speech given by Rodriguez for the Convocation on Providing Public Library Service to California’s 21st Century Population.
An archive of Rodriguez's many essays for Salon.com.
The New, New World
An interview conducted by Virginia I. Postrel and Nick Gillespie, primarily about culture and assimilation.
Antonio C. Marques, "Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory and the Poetics of Experience," Arizona Quarterly, 40 (Summer 1948): 130-141
Raymund A. Paredes, "Autobiography and Ethnic Politics: Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory" in James Payne, ed., Multicultural Autobiography, 1992
Tomas Rivera, Richard Rodriguez' Hunger of Memory as Humanistic Antithesis," MELUS, 11 (Winter 1984): 5-12