Bilingual education is a controversial topic and so is being a minority in America but perhaps not in the ways most people might think. While it is clear that being able to speak English in America has its advantages as far as jobs and opportunities go it can come at quite a cost to family life and the ways different generations relate to eachother. In the story “Aria” by Richard Rodriguez, the author remarks how being a minority in American society can cause people to see themselves in relation to White America as though being part of White America was the only way to be viewed – almost to the point where no other perspective mattered. This is a common if unspoken belief and the cause of much sadness in Hispanic communities and families.
The story explains the challenges that the author went through as a child of immigrant parents, having to grow up bilingual in American society, as well as the pros and cons of being forced to assimilate to American culture. It also describes the dilemma Rodriguez experiences where he is considered a minority in his class due to his culture, which in a sense is who he is, where he comes from, but in order to be accepted, in order for him to be assimilated, has essentially to give up his heritage by becoming fluent in English. This is ironic as regardless of his fluency in the English language and its idiosyncracies he would always be considered a minority because of the very thing he is being asked to give up and the reader is left wondering whether it is worth it. One thing that caught my attention was how Rodriguez saw that there were many Hispanics in his class who had similar backgrounds, cultures and ethnicity, but avoided speaking their first language which was Spanish. It was particularly poignant when his teachers visited his home, his sanctuary and a place where his heritage was celebrated, to encourage his parents to speak more English at home in an effort to help him at school. As he writes on page 242, “Again and again in the days following, increasingly angry, I was obliged to hear my mother and father: “Speak to us en inglés.”
The quote explains how everything in his life was changing drastically and how upsetting this was for him. The whole essence of what he knew, what he had grown up with as “normal” was being challenged and even his parents were insisting on him speaking “in English”. It was as if the young Rodriguez was being asked to change who he was. He knew he needed to speak English but did not think it could possibly be so important that he had to give up everything that was familiar to him. In time however, as his parents also tried to speak English, and made it the primary language to be spoken in their house, he accepted the situation but there were some negative as well as positive consequences.
Rodriguez grew confident in class and found it easier to talk to people. He made friends and began to realize that it was much easier to live in a society where beliefs and tradition were the same. He also realized that he might have more opportunities if he spoke the “public language” (as he called it). But at home he was losing the intimacy he had enjoyed with his parents as their limited command of English meant that they spoke less and less each day. As Rodriguez states on page 243, “I no longer knew what words to use in addressing my parents. The old Spanish words…would have been too painful reminders of how much had changed in my life.”
This quote shows how being forced to speak English at home had created a gap between him and his parents to the point where it was less painful for Rodriguez to reject his culture, traditions and language than embrace them. Acceptance of White America had become more important! I cannot imagine how his parents must have felt.
In an article written by Romandia Mona she references the factors that have influenced the academic success or failure of native Spanish speaking…