Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez

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Once I was invited to dinner at his home, and afterwards he read us a long poem. He did not appreciate my uncouth ,unsophisticated , insensitive response. His off the boat Irish wife I knew understood],She was the only person I would run up to and kiss if I saw her ; it was not done then as it is now with kids]. My experience of the Irish nuns was like yours.


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They made everyone feel like; as the saying went; there are 2 kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were Irish. This was not taken as a joke by young children. The only other people they professed any liking for was my people; the French, who the Irish nuns often mentioned in a positive light. I even recall an Irish nun telling the class that in heaven the language spoken is most likely french.


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Really, she said that. No Irish nun or any nun today would even think such a thing. Any french influence on Catholicism, or on US history has been erased, revised ,supplanted with Spanish influences; "the first Catholic martyrs were not French Jesuits but Spanish" ones , I just learned. I saw some tv,program where a new England priest was admonishing himself and the Catholic church in the US, for not having recognized our Lady of Guadalupe all these hundreds of years, as the natural patron saint of the US.

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The Irish nuns made non Irish kids feel inferior. I recall one such nun going on a long rant about how we should not be superstitous; a lot of the Italian -American kids had superstious parents, my Syrian Catholic father was too. When we pressed him on it, he never would clarify but he said it only applied to people who believed in the "superstious" My french mother certainly was not a bit superstious;and she said that she thought all religions were a form of brainwashing, but that she believed in God, And in spite of saying that, she did love going to the mass in a small Polish church where a very old priest presided; She said ,she liked it there because the priest never talked about money, he only talked about God.

Once in the big parochial school church mass my mother attended she yelled out at the priest during his preaching to us to give the church more money; why does not this money ever go to the poor , she yelled? I was mortified. My father supported the Church and told her the church does a lot for the poor! They had such disagreements all their lives. Though she was thrilled with Vatican 2 and complimented all the nuns when they came in wearing secular clothes. I vaguely recall she threw some sort of party for them.

The only religious objects in our home was a crucifix in the kitchen , and a small oval framed picture of Jesus, on my father's dresser, [ a picture of Jesus I've never seen anywhere else]and over my parents bed hung a print of a famous Flemish painting of "Jesus being taken down from the cross".

I remember when my parents bought it; they were fawning over the depiction of the women around the cross. My Italian -American friends had their home filled with religious iconography and I just loved being there and looking at all the pictures and statutes. That is how I wanted my home to be when I grew up. I resented my mother for not having our home.

For my birthday all I wanted was a statue of Mary, When my Italian American baby sitter got me me one as a present I was thrilled. My mother thought I was nuts! Any way; the Irish American nun admonishing the class about how wrong it was to be superstious, after ranting on about it, ended her rant by smirking and saying, get this;that when it comes to the Irish, because it it is SO much part of them, I think God will make an exception and forgive THEM!

I could not believe my ears. And neither no doubt could all the other non Irish kids who heard her say this! Maybe that's why one of my favorite nuns,[besides the very old Italian nun who was always gentle and kind , who said giving homework to kids on weekends and over the holidays was bad for the kids and not fair to the parents, who showed us we did not have to be so driven[maybe also because I was her darling, she said I was a saint I better be and you all too[lol]! She never talked ethnicity and made us all feel equally loved.

Like God was there,] was the other nun I was fond of who had us all breathing a sigh of relief, when, though she was light skinned like the Irish [ and don't kid yourselves, immigrants and their children can't tell a WASP from an Irish person. It is a false paradigm this narrative that once the Irish were not considered white. It is absurd. There exists "white privilege,"[racism] which is a power dynamic that impacts non whites; Black and Asian, but historically regarding all other immigrants,including what today we call "Brown" people, the privileged status was accorded to those labeled a "real American".

Being a "real american" was the privilege. White privilege [racism] was in contrast to Blacks and Asians. Neither did any one else. So in spite of the bigotry they experienced too, they could and did feel superior to the other non English speaking, non English named immigrants in their midst. And it showed. In their attitudes towards other group] told us that she was not Irish, she was Norwegian! The greatest contribution so far of Latinos in the US, has been I think, to change US attitudes around language and the meaning of "under many one".

I understand how MR. Rodriquez,and other Mexican Americans or any non English speaking immigrants or children of immigrants of his generation and before, would appose bi lingual education;and fret about the need to assimilate into the dominant Anglo culture. The Anglos [ and that includes Irish for they speak English] made non English speakers feel inferior for not having ditched their language.

My Syrian [Catholic] father who loved the US for its innovation, creativity ,literature, movies, music ,Dorothy Day who he knew and her group who he was affiliated, did once say to my mother circa the 's;Americans are snobs. My mother replied, they used to be , but they've changed.

Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez

But the waves of immigrants from the seventies on, from the rest of Latin America, have rejected this imperative. They feel no inferiority about speaking Spanish,if anything they feel a superiority[lol] And thanks to their large numbers, and their push back against the Anglo culture, they have prevailed. Now Anglos are learning Spanish,now Anglos will as a matter of course ,use proper Spanish pronunciations for Spanish names. Now Mexican Americans who have been in the US for centuries, are claiming ethnic pride, [whereas they once hid their taco lunches from the Anglo students,I read].

Now Babel and Rosetta stone are companies, because thanks to the Latin immigrants diversity, real diversity that includes language diversity is valued. The table have been turned upside down on the English speaking culture. Now Latino culture is even on par[as American as , as good as] Anglo culture. The Irish american Beto has taken on a Spanish name; that gives him cache, status. But you better assimilate; dress like us, talk like us and try to make yourself even look like us. The Chinese were the exceptions; as long as they were relegated to being our servant class they could keep their language, and were not pressured to assimilate.

Now they are being discriminated against at Harvard.. A facade of diversity is what we had. It gave us cover to say to the world and to congratulate ourselves that we,unlike every nation on earth, could not be nationalistic, for we were made up of immigrant groups. We were "diverse'". And so were only united by our ideals ,And since we could not be nationalistic, which was atavistic, we were more moral then everyone else.

We were the standard of morality for the world. The facade made us perhaps even more nationalistic then most nations on earth. Hence the freak out about Trump using that word; he broke a cherished narrative, the taboo of using that word to apply to US.

Hunger of Memory The Education of Richard Rodriguez

The reality is that speaking more then one language , enhances a person and a nation IF the dominant group says[allows ,perceives, values] it does. It is a negative if the dominant groups devalues it.

Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez

And they did,when MR. Rodriquez was growing up. It was when the South American Spanish speakers over decades [starting in 70's?

These immigrants from Latin America below Mexico are the ones who spearheaded and succeeded in making Multiculturalism a true US value. Disappointing that the title of this interview, "Why the writer Richard Rodriguez refuses to be put into a box," is contradicted by Ms Segura's attempt to place Rodriguez in three boxes: "Despite being a brown, Catholic, gay man, Your source for jobs, books, retreats, and much more.

Why the writer Richard Rodriguez refuses to be put into a box.

Olga Segura January 25, Why the writer Richard Rodriguez refuses to be put into a box The city of San Francisco sits atop the steep hills of northern California. Dominican slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo on sex, identity and Catholicism.

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Hunger of Memory

Why telenovelas are a powerful—and problematic—part of Latino culture. Show Comments 6. Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Great article about Mr. I really do love his writing. Kalamazoo Metal Roofing. Olga Segura Olga Segura is an associate editor at America. Most popular. Sanctions against Brebeuf Jesuit suspended as appeal process continues at Vatican. Honest above all, Rodriguez is a remarkably perceptive witness and a promising stylist who has represented the prominent features of his own education with fresh and vivid insights.

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