Richard Rodríguez is a Mexican American who considers himself neither Hispanic nor American, but Chinese. Rodríguez is most recognized for his previous work Hunger of Memory. In this book, he talks about his education, his process of Americanization, and his controversial views about affirmative action and bilingual education. He was a nay-sayer on both of these controversial topics. A minority who did not want ‘advantage’ or special treatment in America. His views got many critics and his name was associated with that of a traitor.
He was branded as a poncho. A poncho is someone who forgets his true home or culture. Richard, at the time, lived in San Francisco in a neighborhood that is predominantly Chinese. When asked in an interview, “Do you consider yourself American or Hispanic?” Richard Rodríguez answered, “I consider myself Chinese.” Even though he is not Chinese, he uses this as a metaphor for his views towards a multicultural individual and how one is not from one culture, but rather a learner of all cultures depending on where such person may reside and the culture of such place that surrounds that individual.
The comment about being Chinese got him many critics. Critics mocked him telling him he had lost his culture. Rodríguez expresses that culture is something more abstract and complex than is within the individual. Culture is not something you take off like a jacket. He is his culture. All his interactions, knowledge, traditions, friends, music, education, and experiences are what make up his culture.
They are what make him. America made him. America was the melting pot of all cultures. Rodríguez was drawn to the diversity of America. A bilingual, bicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial America leaves one vulnerable to a variety of cultures and influences, Richard believed. He repeats strongly and firmly that America exists.
When Richard Rodríguez was in school, he was a bilingual child. However, his two languages were not Spanish and English, but rather private and public languages. The private language is that which is used at home among trusted individuals. On the contrary, public language is that which must be used outside of one’s comfort zone and must be used to talk to the strangers at school and the rest of the population. His teachers told him to speak up, but he refuse based on them being gringos. He refuses to use his public language. His teachers requested his parents to speak English at home to encourage Richard to speak the language and participate in class. He felt sad that his family changed language whenever he was around them. Rodríguez later realizes what he must change to “make it” in America. He became his parents. He claims that if you are a good student in the classroom you change. The schoolmarm changes bilingual students by making them use “family language” in the classroom. Richard says, “ such a bilingual scheme is bound to fail.” Because “It is a matter not of different words, but different contexts.”
America is a melting pot. Richard Rodríguez understands that his culture is being formed and will be different from that of his father. In America, multiculturalism is a more visible phenomenon. However, Rodríguez believes in the notion of a common culture and dynamic culture. When you hear him, you will hear the Chinese within him, the Mexican, all living in one American.