Hunger of Memory
Richard Rodriguez in chapter 2 of his book “Hunger of Memory” speaks and analyses his own life. How from an early age he came to understand the changes that occurred inside him. He mainly refers to his experiences in school, opposed to the ones he had at home.
Son of Mexican immigrants, Rodriguez was a working-class child. His parents had only received the basic education, and as they struggled for a better life in the US, they came to realize its importance.
They too once had dreams, that they left behind, as the necessity to cover basic needs and daily fatigue, stopped them from fulfilling them and made them forget. Naturally, they invested all their ambitions in their children. They urged and pushed them into studying and progressing as they knew that a good education level was the key to a better life.
The younger son, Richard Rodriguez, was somehow different from his brother and sisters. Very early in his life he came to realize the changes that education brought upon him.
He found himself torn between two worlds: the one of school and the one of family life. He began to admire his teachers and look upon them, more than his parents. He desired their knowledge and authority. As he mentions in the book “… I began by imitating their accents, using their dictions, trusting their every direction”1.
As a child he came to love books and seek knowledge. Education for him was a choice. He chose to become a good student. His family background became an obstacle. His parents never read a book, couldn’t help him with his homework, wouldn’t read him bed time stories. His eagerness to learn was persistent. Trying to concentrate he isolated himself from his parents. He began to feel ashamed for them, their level of education, their poverty, their accent, their presence. These feelings filled him up with guilt. He tries to keep his family life and educational life separated as their cultural differences are too strong to comply. Eventually the balance is lost.
His academic achievements very often bring him facing the same quotation “Your parents must be very proud of you” 1. He hides his shame for the lack of education of his parents behind a smile. He knows that they are proud of him, but is certain they do not understand him.
As he continues with his education, communicating with his parents becomes more and more difficult. They are attempting to reach out to him, asking him about his life, his college, but he finds no common language to express himself and hides his passion for his academic accomplishments behind simple words and phrases about things they understand.
He isolates himself. In order to be more educated and gain appraises from his teachers and professors he reads hundreds of books, he seek isolation to concentrate. He becomes hard on himself thinking that education could not be enjoyable.
Later on, at the end of his educational life, Rodriguez is able to look back in the past, to who he was, before he entered the classroom. He is now able to admit that:
“A primary reason for my success in the classroom was that I couldn’t forger that schooling was changing me and separating me from the life I enjoyed before becoming a student.” 1. After research he identifies himself as what Richard Hoggart refers to in his book “The uses of Literacy”, a “scholarship boy”. In this term he sees himself a boy, trying to mentally cut himself off his family in order to “get on”. He sees how bad of a student he was, memorizing information, not thinking for himself but eagerly adopting the thoughts of others and especially those of his teachers. He saw the scholarship boy that no classmate and even some teachers liked. He recognizes the exaggeration in his enthusiasm for education.
Facing his fear to long for the past, he attempts to return home and spends time with his parents. Still filled with emotional uncertainty his return home is a step of reaching back to his routes. Searching for that feeling of belonging he doesn’t focus on the differences that made him once feel ashamed of them, instead he starts recognizing their similarities.
It does not take him long to understand that the changes that schooling brought upon him are so deep, that all his actions, desires and thoughts are dictated by his academic background.
Beautifully given, Richard Rodriguez, captures the struggle of a child and later on adult to cut off from his family environment in order to seek progression. The conflict between the emotional bonds with the family and the excitement of knowledge often makes children reject the authority of parents, thinking less of them, idealizing teachers and fills them with of feelings of shame and guilt. Usually not even admitted, Rodriguez courageously identifies himself as a “scholarship boy”, that at the end of his educational career comes to realize, that all that he is, all that he has done, no matter how hard he tries to escape it, is the outcome of the changes that schooling caused him.
It takes a lot of strength and deepest knowledge of oneself, in order to be able to look back and dig into your childhood. It is a fact that students are usually confused when they first go to school. They face a whole new world, with different rules and role models. Especially for the working class children, the cultural differences are so strong, that most children find it hard to completely fit in schooling environment, ending up with the minimum education. Behavior and language used at home, is usually the one discouraged at school. In order to succeed in schooling the child is obligated to seek isolation and to progressively cut off from the family. Going through this painful procedure, children are sometimes able to balance these two different worlds of their life, sometimes they are not.
Education changes us all, other more, others less. Yet the ones mostly affected are the ones that are able to understand and identify at that particular time that the change occurs. This is a freighting experience, especially for a child that still needs the emotional support from its family and yet is excited to explore all the opportunities of knowledge that are ahead.
1This quotation is from Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory, chapter 2: The Achievement of Desire