The Achievement of Desire
- Richard Rodriguez
This is the story of a man who found himself through education. His whole life he was eager to read books and learn more and more. He was the kid in class who always raised his hand, and would always be caught reading a book at home all by himself. He came from a middle class Mexican family that had struggled to make it to where they were in the social structure. His parents were somewhat educated, but worked hard to make a living. His siblings were also smart, but Richard always felt like he was by himself. He had great parents but hints that there was never that special bond between them, that his family and school were two different worlds he had to learn to live with. He states “But withheld from my mother and father was any mention of what most mattered to me: the extraordinary experience of first learning,” (p. 623) and he shows how he would not just open up to his parents when they asked what was new. He would just reply with the “same old stuff” answer. His education had culturally seperated him from his parents, the same education that has made him realize this fact and speak out about it.
The “Achievement of Desire”, is a retrospective style essay by Richard Rodriguez. Now, a doctoral graduate in literature from the University of California Berkeley, Rodriguez began his education in the state’s capital, Sacramento. His reflective look at his education, from elementary level to college admittance at Stanford, includes family dynamics, educators, and the introspective self-examination of how these influences affected his childhood…….His success.Richard begins his educational experience with memories of the second grade, a hispanic student out of his cultural realm of language and social status. As a “working-class child”, in a private parochial school, he felt completely out-of-place. His parents, hard-working un-educated, placed him in private school so as to give Richard all the opportunities a good education can provide. Their own lack of education resulting in dead-end hard labor employment only, they wanted more for their three children, Richard being the youngest. Very early Richard sees the differences between school and the affiliation of his home life. His parents speech for instance, was filled with mis-pronounced words, incorrect or out-dated facts were corrected by the pretentious second grader. By the third grade he began to alienate his family by creating physical space between himself and the daily commotion attributed to a family of five. Richard makes a comment about shifting his “allegiance”, from his parents to his teachers with his acts of exclusion from daily family life. As Richard quotes in his essay,”He takes his first step towards academic success, away from his family”. He had chosen school life and its demands, pouring himself solely into his studies. Richard’s older brother and sister were “good students”, with lots of shiny trophies earned by their many academic achievements. Richard mentions an almost “rival” type relationship that exists between he and his siblings. Admitting that he was jealous at the “ease” that his brother and sister portrayed in regards to their academia. Instead, Richard says he felt unconfident and anxious. Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez were supportive of their children, attending each graduation, camera in hand. Meanwhile, Richard gives all the credit of his academic success to his teachers.
In the search for “dedicated” type people, a convent would surely rank high on the list of places to look. Richard knows he was sent to a good school. He Writes, “My earliest teachers, the nuns, made my success their ambition”. The many praises given by his teachers must have been the affirmation needed by the young Richard Rodriguez. He reports quickly conforming to their every action, diction and direction. Over ambitious, while lacking in self-confidence and self acceptance, he found ways of getting undivided attention from his teachers. His teachers compliments had become more important than those of his parents, a shift in respect had occurred. Richard reflects upon a particular instance on returning home from school with the compliment, “I’m so proud, you have almost completely lost your spanish accent”, from one of the nuns. This conforming compliment, set deep in memory like a turning point. Richard took a greater interest in his english class, reading and writing on everything the nuns suggested. He began to blossom socially, feeling more and sounding more like his classmates. According to his mother, the nuns at the precocial school were the best teachers. The school and its academic reputation had high regards in the capital city of California, a state that has been considered to be trend setting and inventive in its education system. Good teachers create great students. Teachers who look beyond their normal curriculum guidelines, those willing to see their students as individuals with varied interests and talents. Educators that evoke self-reliance, self-identity, and the ability to recognize change and growth within ourselves like Richard’s teachers did for him.
Richard Rodriguez the man, finally recognizes the effects of his education and school life on the boy. He reflects on the need to separate himself from his parents and their inclusion in school functions like awards ceremonies or any direct contact with his teachers. The embarrassment of the child, became a shameful act when viewed by the adult Richard. His childhood anger misguided at his parents limitations, became shame as he reached adolescence. Finally realizing his parents sacrifice to send their children to a school they could not afford was an important step towards adulthood for Richard. Describing his father as always laid back asleep in front of the television mouth wide open, snoring, unable to help with homework as a child; now reflects as an adult, the long over-time hours worked to pay for his children’s private education. The secretarial jobs his mother spent years at without chance of advancement in pay or professional status to help cover education costs. The adult Richard Rodriguez gives his gratitude and respect to his parents for their support in his success. He thanks them for the push towards english studies, instead of the anger he held earlier as a child. A published, well-respected author, Richard’s parents “Must be proud”!