Who is Richard Rodriguez?

Richard Rodriguez

(1944-)

Richard Rodriguez was born in San Francisco, the third of four children. Fie was raised in Sacramento by hard-working parents who were, in his words, “nobodys victims. Until Rodriguez was five years old, the family spoke only Spanish in the home. He knew a little English, just enough to run errands for his mother at neighborhood stores.

When Rodriguez’s parents enrolled him in the local Catholic school, he struggled. Some of the nuns from the school visited the Rodriguez home and insisted that he practice English there. His parents complied, and the results were soon apparent. He began to feel like an American. He succeeded in school and became an avid reader.

He turned into a star student and earned an academic scholarship to Stanford University. Rodriguez earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University in 1967 and a master’s degree in philosophy from Columbia University in 1969. Then, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English at the University of California at Berkeley.

In 1974, while a student at Berkeley, Rodriguez was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship. He used the fellowship to study at the Warburg Institute in London, where he researched his dis¬ sertation on Renaissance literature. He returned to Berkeley and, as he neared completion of his Ph.D. studies, began to get offers from presti¬ gious universities to join their faculty.

The offers troubled him. He believed the universities were recruiting him over other can¬ didates who were equally, if not more, qualified simply because he was Hispanic. In protest, he wrote the schools and asked to be removed from consideration. For many years, Rodriguez worked odd jobs as a janitor or freelance writer to earn a living.

Then, in 1981, he published a memoir, Hunger ofMemory: The Education ofRichard Rodriguez, which received critical acclaim. In the book, he attacks bilingual education and affirmative action, two social programs that had assisted countless Hispanic Americans and other ethnic minorities to overcome discrimination and economic hardship in the United States.

The book was extremely controversial, but it was praised for its literary quality. Ten years later, Rodriguez published a second memoir, Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father. In it, he addresses his identi¬ fication with Mexican culture and the loss he felt after assimilating into mainstream America.

He also reveals his homosexuality, and he discusses the friends he has lost to AIDS. The book was also a critical success.Beginning in the 1990s, Rodriguez worked as a journalist and essayist for a variety of news organizations, including PBS’s The Jim Lehrer News Hour and the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

In 2002, Rodriguez published a third memoir called Brown, The Last Discovery ofAmerica. In a series of essays, he touches once more on subjects such as what it means to be a Hispanic in America, his relationship with his father, and his hopes for a country where boundaries of race and class no longer exist.