Richard Rodriguez- Aria: Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood
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Richard Rodriguez has garnered significant media attention over the last twenty years by presenting the unique figure of a Hispanic person who is vocally against such policies as bilingual education and affirmative action. In “Aria: Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood,” Rodriguez recounts his own harsh initiation into the world of English speaking. Although this experience represented a traumatic break from the insulated comfort of his Spanish-speaking early childhood, Rodriguez now views his English education as a life-changing event, one that instilled in him the belief that he had something of value to add to the public discourse. In this essay, I will discuss the role that perseverance played in helping Rodriguez to form a public identity.
Perseverance is generally understood to mean unremitting persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose, regardless of the obstacles or hindrances that exist. Also, the term has the connotation of being a commendable diligence in pursuing a particular end, rather than having the negative connotation of inflexibility or inability to change of words like ‘stubborn’ or ‘obdurate.’
Although perseverance is key in helping the young Rodriguez begin on his course of learning the English language, it is initially not his own perseverance that accounts for his realization of the social and psychological importance of knowing the primary language of the dominant culture. In fact, Rodriguez first met the efforts of his would-be teachers with a stubborn resolve to resist his immersion in the new language.
Rather than his own perseverance, it is the perseverance of the adult authority figures around him that finally breaks him out of his sentimental attachment to the Spanish language and suggests to him the advantages of being fluent in English. Initially, Rodriguez describes himself as being “angry” and feeling “grief” at the persistent efforts of his teachers to inculcate him into the English language, and he defies their efforts to connect with him for nearly an entire school year before his teachers take the step of taking further action. He describes his teachers as having an “unsentimental” view of their duty to teach English, and they are unrelenting in their attempts to engage Rodriguez in the class’s English conversation.
With the realization that Rodriguez is not going to respond to their attempts without further external motivation, the teachers pay a visit to the Rodriguez household, where they suggest that the family begin speaking some English in the home to encourage their children’s progress in the language. At this point, Rodriguez’s parents’ perseverance is highlighted. His parents immediately agree to forsake their native language, in which they are much more proficient and able to express themselves, in order to ensure “their children’s well-being.” Despite their own lack of fluency, they are committed to bestowing this advantage on their children, and they continue to do so throughout the span of time described in the essay, even when their children’s level of English proficiency far exceeds their own.