Richard Rodriguez is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who gained fame as the author of The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982). Rodriguez, born in San Francisco in 1944, comes from a Mexican immigrant family. In 1990, he published Mexico's Children, followed by Days of Obligation: an Argument with my Mexican Father in 1992.
Rodriguez's writing draws on his personal experience. Topics related to immigrants' identity and life are recurrent in his books. The writer could barely speak English before starting elementary school. Regardless of his poor background, he obtained degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University and received a Fullbright fellowship for research in Renaissance literature. Although a promising academic career appeared to be awaiting him, he decided not to start work at university.
In the mid-1970s, Rodriguez gained fame with essays which criticized affirmative action - the policies for granting privileges to groups discriminated on the basis of race, color, religion or gender. Affirmative action aimed to increase the representation of minority groups and women in the workplace and educational institutions. Despite belonging to a minority, Rodriguez wrote that affirmative imposed rigid definitions of majority and minority. Rodriguez had found himself treated as a minority group member throughout his university studies, but was angered by the paradox that the members of the "minority" who progress through the system become entitled to a number of advantages.
Rodriguez's essays were collected in his first book, The Hunger of Memory. Written as an autobiography, The Hunger of Memory was well accepted in the United States. The book was praised for its style and straightforward attitude in depicting the controversial feelings of the "scholarship boy." In 1983, The Hunger of Memory won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and the Christopher Award.
Rodriguez describes the book as ‘‘essays impersonating an autobiography; six chapters of sad, fugue-like repetition." He defines the purpose of the book as the description of the impact of education from his early childhood until his adulthood. In the book, Rodriguez presents himself as a socially disadvantaged child who developed into a middle-class American. One of the central topics of the book is the dividing line of education between the child and the parents. As he furthered his education, eventually finishing a Ph.D. in English Literature, Rodriguez found that he was increasingly alienated from his family. Having become fluent in the language of the intellectual community, he lost touch with the cultural values that he once held in common with his family. According to the author, this separation is the price paid by immigrants for their assimilation into the U.S. society.
While bringing the writer national fame, The Hunger of Memory also provoked criticism from supporters of affirmative action, bilingual education and diversity policies. The author voiced strong opinions against bilingual education and its supporters: "What they don't seem to recognize is that, as a socially disadvantaged child, I considered Spanish to be a private language." Running counter to the multi-cultural trend in the contemporary society, Rodriguez argued that diversity is not a value. According to his understanding "diversity is brother killing brother." Due to his views and criticism of minority policies, Rodriguez was labeled as a traitor of his heritage. He was also described as a coconut — brown on the outside, but white inside.
Days of Obligation also provoked a strong response both from the immigrant community and the conservative members of the U.S. society, as the writer admitted his homosexuality. This book again focused on the issues of ethnicity and identity. Like Hunger of Memory, the book touches upon topics such as Catholicism, ethnicity and education.
Rodriguez's Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002), was written as a personal reflection on "brownness". The writer analyzes various cultural associations of the brown color. Through these reflections, Rodriguez presents his idea of the identity of the Mexican minority in America. According to his observations, while Hispanics become Americanized, the United States also becomes Latinized.