Being-Not Being: Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory
In his narrative about growing up a second-generation immigrant in California, Richard Rodriguez skillfully examines the push/pull of negotiating his Mexican, Mexican-American and American identities. The alienation these conflicting identities create plays itself out in the ways Rodriguez depicts his quest for education, his particular brand of Catholicism, and the tension resulting from his bilingualism. This anxiety is apparent, for instance, in his pursuit of education. While gaining access to education brings a much-craved order, inspires pride and allows him to carve out an identity, it also propels him away from his home life, isolates him from his family, feminizes him, and thrusts him into a public sphere in which he is not altogether comfortable. This wavering between worlds, the conflict between simultaneous loving and loathing, and the chaos and confusion his hybridity bring about are what I found most palpable about Hunger of Memory. His sense of identity is continually shattered and then reconstituted by books, language, and social and professional contracts. Here are some questions the text brings up: Does Rodriguez become complicit with the forms of oppression he claims to be writing against? What problems arise for bilingual children and is bilingualism politicized?