Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hunger for Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez

I first saw this book on a high school summer reading list at the bookstore in Colorado. Asking about it on the East Coast very few people had heard of it. That different alone peaked my interest. Is the academic interest in Hispanic culture that much larger west of the Mississippi? (Yes, there is a demographic reality that answers my question. But as an "American" isn't the melting pot relevant everywhere?) Lo and behold, my dad, a high school English teacher - who lives in Colorado - had the book on his shelf. So I stole his copy.

It took me seven months to finish this book. I liked it when I started but it was not a compelling enough read to encourage me to pick it up after setting it down. It was only my resolution to finish uncompleted academic books that spurred me to finish. I'm glad I did, but now that I'm done I have more questions than answers.

The premise of Rodriguez's autobiography is his attempt to understand his position in upper-class American academia at the height of affirmative action. He makes some poignant and relevant points about race versus socio-economic status. Having a solid middle class education he did not feel "right" being the recipient of affirmative action scholarships, despite his Mexican heritage. To him those scholarships needed to go to the economically disadvantaged who did not have enough schooling to get into college in the first place. Published twenty years ago, his point is still apt. Too many students suffer at the lower levels and would not succeed in college whether they had the funds or not.

The chapter on Catholicism was, to me, the most interesting. I found Rodriguez's descriptions of his journey with religion more genuine than other chapters. Coming of age in the same era when mass changed from Latin to English, he felt a social and personal disparity with Catholicism. Reading about how immersed his daily personal life was in religion explained some social and cultural issues that I had never considered living in the largely secular world.

The final chapter bothered me. There was too much navel gazing. Too much whining. No conclusions. So what? He had these revelations and then ended the book telling us he was writing a book. He had given up on academia. And? What next?

I wonder how high school teachers teach this book. What point is being made? Why are students being asked to read this as part of a summer reading list? It could have merit in the classroom, depending on how it is presented.

At the end, I'm torn. Glad I read it but don't know that I will spend much more time thinking about it.

**apologies for the size of the picture. Blogger is... picky about formatting picture size.

1 comment:

William J. Burns said...

I gave a copy of Hunger to a Mexican student who was struggling with English. He immersed himself in the book and thanked me for giving it to him as he left class that day. I have had similar responses from other Mexican kids. I did give the book to a Mexican student a few years ago who was the class valedictorian. He chose to critique it and noted he thought Rodriguez was not loyal enough to his people. This kid had come to Denver from Mexico only a few years before I had him in class.