Prologue–Chapter 1

In this memoir, Richard Rodriguez considers the ways in which his education isolated him from his family, background, and culture.
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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. alumna
    a woman who has received a degree from a school
    One time my audience is a convention of university administrators; another time high school teachers of English; another time a women’s alumnae group.
  2. bilingual
    using or knowing two languages
    I have argued particularly against two government programs—affirmative action and bilingual education.
  3. notorious
    known widely and usually unfavorably
    I have become notorious among certain leaders of America’s Ethnic Left.
  4. dupe
    a person who is tricked or swindled
    I am considered a dupe, an ass, the fool—Tom Brown, the brown Uncle Tom, interpreting the writing on the wall to a bunch of cigar-smoking pharaohs.
  5. indelible
    not able to be removed or erased
    Perhaps because I am marked by indelible color they easily suppose that I am unchanged by social mobility, that I can claim unbroken ties with my past.
  6. gullible
    naive and easily deceived or tricked
    Mistaken, the gullible reader will—in sympathy or in anger—take it that I intend to model my life as the typical Hispanic-American life.
  7. parable
    a short moral story
    Finally, my history deserves public notice as no more than this: a parable for the life of its reader.
  8. guttural
    relating to or articulated in the throat
    It was more troubling for me to hear my parents speak in public: their high-whining vowels and guttural consonants; their sentences that got stuck with ‘eh’ and ‘ah’ sounds; the confused syntax; the hesitant rhythm of sounds so different from the way gringos spoke.
  9. feigned
    not genuine
    The very first chance that I got, I evaded his grasp and ran on ahead into the dark, skipping with feigned boyish exuberance.
  10. ghetto
    a poor densely populated city district
    It was thus a ghetto Spanish that I heard and I spoke.
  11. diffident
    lacking self-confidence
    Silent, waiting for the bell to sound, I remained dazed, diffident, afraid.
  12. incongruity
    the quality of disagreeing
    From the doorway of another room, spying the visitors, I noted the incongruity—the clash of two worlds, the faces and voices of school intruding upon the familiar setting of home.
  13. accentuate
    stress or single out as important
    In an instant, they agreed to give up the language (the sounds) that had revealed and accentuated our family’s closeness.
  14. bemused
    perplexed by many conflicting situations or statements
    At the end of a day, I was often bemused, always relieved, to realize how ‘silent,’ though crowded with words, my day in public had been.
  15. unsuitable
    not capable of being applied
    Mother and Father; Ma, Papa, Pa, Dad, Pop (how I hated the all-American sound of that last word especially)—all these terms I felt were unsuitable, not really terms of address for my parents.
  16. garbled
    lacking orderly continuity
    One night his children and even his wife helplessly giggled at his garbled English pronunciation of the Catholic Grace before Meals.
  17. render
    show in, or as in, a picture
    Another time, standing beside my mother in the visiting room of a Carmelite convent, before the dense screen which rendered the nuns shadowy figures, I heard several Spanish-speaking nuns—their busy, singsong overlapping voices—assure us that yes, yes, we were remembered, all our family was remembered in their prayers.
  18. assimilation
    the process of absorbing one cultural group into another
    (Bilingual schooling was popularized in the seventies, that decade when middle-class ethnics began to resist the process of assimilation—the American melting pot.)
  19. prerequisite
    something that is needed or obligatory in advance
    The fact is that only in private—with intimates—is separateness from the crowd a prerequisite for individuality.
  20. tenuous
    lacking substance or significance
    Yet despite the anonymity of the crowd and despite the fact that the individuality I achieve in public is often tenuous—because it depends on my being one in a crowd—I celebrate the day I acquired my new name.
  21. raucous
    disturbing the public peace; loud and rough
    Such moments were never as raucous with sound as past times had been when we had had ‘private’ Spanish to use.
  22. alienated
    socially disoriented
    Their argument goes something like this: Children permitted to use their family language in school will not be so alienated and will be better able to match the progress of English-speaking children in the crucial first months of instruction.
  23. ambitious
    having a strong desire for success or achievement
    In earlier decades, persons newly successful and ambitious for social mobility similarly seized upon certain ‘family words.’
  24. obliterate
    make indistinct or invisible by obscuring or concealing
    I listen with excitement as the words yield their enormous power to sound—though the words are never totally obliterated.
  25. artifact
    a man-made object
    As public artifact, the poem can never duplicate intimate sound.
Created on June 12, 2014 (updated August 20, 2018)

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