Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood

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Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood by Richard Rodriguez is a personal essay. Originally published by the American Scholar Magazine belongs to an elite class of thought-leader magazine it is a literacy magazine made for the Phi Beta Kappa society(CLR, 236). This personal essay is directed to people who have gone through the same thing as Rodriguez. People who have their struggles with learning a new language too can relate to some of the things he says throughout his essay.

Rodriguez takes reader back in his life about 30 years to when he moved and started school. Rodriguez was born and raised in a spanish speaking family that moved to California, Sacramento. Rodriguez shows throughout his essay, that you can conquer anything that comes in life even the hardest things like learning a completely new language. Rodriguez, during this essay, talks about when he was a child and the troubles he had with Spanish vs English. Rodriguez shows readers the struggle he had to go through as a child to understand English. English was his public language and spanish was his private language he spoke around his family. Since he didn't know a lot of english his home was his safe place he could escape from the real world there. Rodriguez would slowly start to learn the English language it was struggle at first. Later on that it flips english becomes his safe space once he gets out there and develops a public identity.

While Rodriguez's experiences as a child made him uncomfortable, I have to agree with his claim that developing a public identity requires speaking the public language in this case english. While Rodriguez's argument is important the ease in which he dismisses his family's closeness undermines his argument.

Rodriguez uses his personal experience to support his argument that learning the public language helped him to develop a public identity. Before his schooling he and his family would only use the public language (English) when going to the market/store or going somewhere else to get essentials but other than that the family stayed strictly to their main language, Spanish. Towards the end he explains that he experiences little snippets that reminded him of his past because the strangers he overheard were speaking their private language, and he felt confused to what they were saying.

He says, These instances of hearing a Spanish voice made him flashback to the golden age of his childhood. This shows us that being a part of bilingual education can really shut off one's diverse individuality and the connection between a child and his/her culture that they have grown up and became accustomed to throughout their life. Rodriguez then goes off to explain the thoughts of a bilingualists, and it says, In a sense, he thought that it didn't do as much good as everyone thought it would because his life changed in a more unexpected way then he wanted it to. That bond that an individual has with their heritage and culture makes them feel unique in their own way and makes them feel like they know their place in the world.

Rodriguez uses his time at school to show readers how he grew as a person from not speaking any English to fully grasping the English language in order to support his argument against bilingual education. From the early stages of schooling to the end of it, the change of meaning between the public and private languages and how the roles of them changed. After the nun's went to his house they asked his family to start speaking English as well, and from there the American mainstream became more relevant to Rodriguez's lifestyle. 

The way Rodriguez quickly discards his family's intimacy in favor of a public identity may cause readers to question his judgement. He says, which helps us understand what his life was like before the nun's came over. Now just picture a kid who had a great life and who was culturally sound with his family, but after moving into a new life that new life being english and that close family became driven apart. This is identical to what this boy had to experience at a young age and he himself saw his own family getting broken apart as he grew up because they couldn't find the cultural identification of their relationship.

That cultural bond that they had was crucial, and he even says, . He describes that he saw in his parents, and the discomfort that they were living with on a daily basis. It wasn't only his parents but his sisters and brother who were constantly getting frustrated because the intimacy at home was changing. After the Rodriguez family started to speak English and the children grew more fluent. He describes an instance at home where frustration got the upper hand, It's difficult to even read through these tough times because the reader can just visualize the changes that the family had to go through.

His father became significantly quiet as time went on and he mentions, He not only noticed this muted behavior at home but when his father was out with other men. He noticed, and when he would speak Spanish, he felt like he had confidence and authority, but he continued to be quiet. As children grow up, they create a close bond with their parents and when that bond is broken then they feel helpless and confused, and this is how he felt just going on with daily life not knowing what was going to happen next because his parents could never keep up with him and the language. Rodriguez attitude stands in contradiction to the commonly held belief of family first, which might make readers question if Rodriguez's priorities are similar to their own. If they are different, then his priorities about education might also be different, leading us to question his judgement about the value of bilingual education.

The carefulness with which Rodriguez describes his language use as a child gives a clear picture of how his understanding of language changed as he learned English. Rodriguez catches the reader's attention by describing how life changed when English came into the picture. He explains that his parents spoke with and how He and his family described the Americans as gringos and they use it in a context that seems like they're dealing with some alien that they can't understand but is merely just an American speaking another language than theirs. The phrase gringos is used less and less as he moves on because of the transition when his life becomes the American mainstream.

All in all While Rodriguez's experiences as a child made him uncomfortable, I have to agree with his claim that developing a public identity requires speaking the public language in this case english. While Rodriguez's argument is important the ease in which he dismisses his family's closeness undermines his argument. Throughout the story Rodriguez shows the several hardships he has to endure to finally get his public identity.


All the way from walking in on the first day of class, that is where it all started just with one single step. As the story goes on you see that Rodriguez starts to grow as a person and starts to understand the english language step by step. Still has his bumps in the road but has his family to back him up still since he hasn't totally shut them out yet. In the end, you finally see Rodriguez blosum into this human that started with only knowing about fifty words and someone that only knew the spanish language. To someone who has a great grasp of the english language uses it all the time now and doesn't talk a whole lot of spanish anymore. The only problem with that though is Rodriguez starts to shut out his family and absolutely dismisses them. Rodriguez did finally find his public identity, which he needed to speak the his public language, English.

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Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood. (2019, Mar 13). Retrieved April 20, 2024 , from

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