The New, New World: Richard Rodriguez on culture and assimilation

Reason , August/September 1994

Essayist Richard Rodriguez, best known for his 1982 book Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, is usually classified as an iconoclastic Mexican American writer with little patience for political correctness. The description is accurate but incomplete. He is, more broadly, a student of America--a subtle and perceptive observer of the tension between individual and community, self and culture, optimism and pessimism, in contemporary life. He is also deeply ambivalent, especially in his more-recent work, including last year's Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father. In that book, Rodriguez struggles with the loss of optimism, both his and California's, since his youth in -the 1 950s--the discovery of what Thomas Sowell might call "the constrained vision," the knowledge that "much in life is failure or compromise," just as his Mexican father said. For Rodriguez, though, this sense of life's limits is wedded to an appreciation for its possibilities. Editor Virginia Postrel and Assistant Editor Nick Gillespie talked with Rodriguez in Los Angeles in late April.