By Arturo Madrid Washington D.C. Nos equivocamos. Or so Richard Rodriguez says. He has been saying it for some time now, in articles published in the American Scholar, Change, The Columbia Forum, College English and other prestigious journals, and on the lecture circuit. Now he is saying it in book form in Hunger of Memory, subtitled “The Education of Richard Rodriguez,” published by Godine, which is no small-potatoes vanity press, and is getting big play \(Time, The New York Times Book Review, Newsweek, Atlantic That we made a mistake about, we attempted to penetrate American society. Bilingual education and affirmative action are not the proper vehicles: assimilation, he argues, is the only way to go. The former succeeds only in delaying it probably even proscribes access to public life; the latter serves only to call into question the value of those who are genuinely meritorious \(namely Rich-heard RoadWhat we have to do, he says, is to learn English. This will permit us to acquire a public persona, which in turn will provide us access to the advantages and benefits of American society. The proof he offers is himself. Hunger of Memory is an autobiography, Richard Rodriguez’s politico-intellectual journey from social disadvantage to social acceptance, from public alienation to public integration, from working-class Mexican America to middle-class White America. It is, he says, a kind of pastoral, a middle-class pastoral \(the pastoral is a literary form in which the rich and powerful pretend that be poor and game, one to be avoided, particularly by middle-class Mexican Americans who only recently were lower-class mexicanos. He has resisted it, he tells us, despite the urgings of his editor to forget bilingual education and affirmative action and give him more “Grandma.” No. Richard’s first book will be a gloss of his earlier work, a collection of “. . . essays impersonating an autobiography; six chapters of sad, fuguelike repetition .. . the life of a middle-class man.” L’astima, we could have used more “Grandma.” Richard is the son of mexicanos who settled in a gringo neighborhood in Sacramento, California in the 1950s. The only hostility they apparently met was the only Western one that is not based on race, color, or creed: “Keep the hell off my property.” Richard remembers it only in terms of children \(“Keep your ents apparently had no problem dismissing. The only real issue was Richard’s education. Halfway through his initial school year the nuns from the parochial school he and his older brother and sister attended visited his parents. Did the children, they wanted to know, speak only Spanish at home? Yes? That explained the ‘difficult progress’ Richard and his siblings were making at school. Could Mr. and Mrs. Road-ree-guess encourage their children to speak English at home? Yes. And that was the beginning of the end of Richard’s `extreem alienation’ of his profound sense of being the ‘other’: his discomfort at `speaking English poorly’; his acute embarrassment over his parents’ highwhinning vowels,’ guttural consonants,’ `eh’ and ‘A’ sounds, ‘confused syntax,’ `hesitant rhythms,’ softer voices’; his reluctance to leave the protective intimacy of his home. Once he learned a public language, he acquired a public identity, was truly an American citizen. And after that there were no problems, except of an existential nature the temporary loss of intimacy as English became the medium of communication in the household. Father Rodriguez, however, grew increasingly silent; Mother Rodriguez painfully rationalized her children’s unwillingness to speak Spanish to friends and relatives. Richard went on to become an excellent student, albeit ‘always unconfident . . . Too eager, too anxious an imitative and unoriginal pupil.’ Richard read voraciously, although always ‘for credit’ and for praise. Richard wrote extensively and well, but it wasn’t a skill he regarded highly. Richard won prizes, which he hid from his parents. Richard excelled in graduate school \(Columbia and Berfirst-class Ph.D., a prestigious post-doc, a four-year stint at Yale, acceptance of his book on the Renaissance pastoral by Harvard University Press, a Guggenheim, followed by a tenured appointment at Stanford . . . but for a snake in the garden. Richard unfortunately came along at the wrong historical moment. The Civil Rights Movement hit university campuses while Richard was an undergraduate and its fallout, particularly affirmative action, began progressively to pollute the world Richard had worked so hard to penetrate. The Civil Rights Movement made Richard something he didn’t want to be. What he had wanted to be for ever so many years was a Middle American. And now he was being made a Mexican American, a minority. His first experience of it, unlike that of the rest of us, was not a negative one. An English professor in 1967 commented on one of his papers: ‘Maybe the reason you felt Dickens’ sense of alienation so acutely is because you are a minority student.’ Soon thereafter he ceased to be exotic. No longer, he says, would people ask if he were from India or Peru. At first he accepted the label, joined the Civil Rights Movement, supported broadened ac cess to higher education, and of course, enjoyed its benefits: financial aid, admission to graduate school, felowships, summer grants, perhaps even his Fulbright year at the British Museum. But progressively he became uncomfortable with the term. It reminded him of the alienation he had felt in his youth from the majority society, and he was no longer that person: “I was not in a cultural sense a minority, an alien from public life.” And the reason he no longer was a minority, he says, was because he had become a student. That is, he had learned English, done well in school, gotten admitted to Stanford on a competitive basis, and was not mistaken for a dumb Mexican. In 1973 he published two essays explaining how education had rescued him ‘BOOKS AND THE CULTURE Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez By Richard Rodriguez Godine, Inc. In the last issue of the Observer, Ed Garcia wrote of his empathy and admiration for Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory. In the essay following, Arturo Madrid takes the opposite tack.