This story is basically a retelling of something that happened to the author when he was younger. Instead of being just about a specific event, the story focuses on how the author’s bilingual education affected his development growing up. Throughout his essay, he tries to show that this education enables the individual to overcome the language barrier experienced by his parents and helped him integrate more fully into American society. The major influence of this education came through the way in which his name was pronounced.
Although his name at home was pronounced ‘Ri-card-o’, at school, he became ‘Rich-heard’. This shift in reference helped him to realize that he had an identity outside of the house – a public identity that enabled him to join the rest of the world. Before this change, he had been nervous every time he heard the gringo speech that constantly reminded him that he didn’t belong, but with his new name, he gained confidence that there was a place for him. He began using this language more often and stopped thinking of himself so much as a disadvantaged child and instead thought of himself as a public citizen. “The social and political advantages I enjoy as a man result from the day that I came to believe that my name, indeed, is Rich-heard Road-ree-guess” (Rodriguez). This acknowledgment to himself enabled him to lose his fear of public expression, but it also helped him lose his childhood.
This realization that he was actually a public citizen helped him also realize that he was really an American citizen and a part of American society. Before he had accepted this idea, he had a difficult time communicating with his teachers because his low level of English made it hard for him to form complete thoughts. Since his home life didn’t really foster use of the English language and his teachers didn’t really understand him, he stayed quiet in school all the time and simply struggled as well as he could. After he acquired his American name and the nuns encouraged his family to use English more often in the home, he began using English more often and began to discover that he could make himself be understood and take part in the public discussion. After he got angry and was forced by passion to express himself using English, he realized he did have the power to create change in the public sphere.
Although no one really likes to give up their childhood altogether, this transition from Spanish to English, private to public, helped Richard overcome the painful loneliness of his difficult childhood years. At the end of his essay, Richard says, “the day I raised my hand in class and spoke loudly to an entire roomful of faces, my childhood started to end” (Rodriguez). As soon as he gained confidence using English in public, his life changed for the better as he began being understood and realizing that he had something worth contributing to the world. He began speaking with the neighbors and using the telephone with confidence as a tool for communication.
It is sad, reading this essay, to realize how isolated children of another language feel in this country and that the only way they can find a way to fit in is to give up their childhood identity. It would be better if we could find a way to let these children communicate without giving up a painful childhood – painful because of the communication barrier that exists between English and Spanish speaking Americans. Although it helped Richard become a “member of the crowd” as he overcame the language barrier, there should be a better way.