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Richard Rodriguez Family Values Essay

January 05, 1995|By Richard Rodriguez. and Richard Rodriguez is the author of "Days of Obligation" and is a essayist on the MacLehrer-Lehrer News Hour.

Family values: it has become a political mantra. We use the term to criticize welfare mothers; as a way of abhoring the calamity of inner-city kids murdering kids; to attack the lifestyles of homosexuals and decadent Hollywood.

The only trouble is, there is no such thing as family values in America, never has been. Our culture was formed in an act of adolescent defiance against a mad British king. To this day, we are disrespectful of authority. Pop. Dad. Father. The old man is a figure of mockery in American culture, Homer Simpson, Archie Bunker, mad King George.

The other day I asked a friend from South America who is 29 years old why he is still living at home. "It would be an insult to my parents to leave their home before I get married," he replied.

In the United States, we show how much we love our children by raising them to leave home. We do not expect our kids to hang around. We don't like a mama's boy. We like our daughter to stand on her own two feet.

Today's irony is that those same Americans who most loudly profess family values are the very ones most suspicious of recent immigrants from south of the border and Asia. In California a common complaint against Chinese immigrants is that they are too tribal, too family oriented. And those Mexicans. When are the Mexicans going to learn English and give up their family language?

All over the world, from Peruvian villages to Chinese cities, the siren call from America is the first-person singular pronoun, "I." Leave your parents behind; leave your home; come to America and become someone new. No greater glamor do we offer the world than the first-person singular pronoun.

The price we pay for our famous individualism is loneliness. Eighteenth Century Protestants who fled the tyranny of the British crown used to gather in New England to share the experience of being alone before God. Now we talk on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" about our solitary lives.

We have grown dangerously homesick. We think we remember our leafy hometown-the way people greeted each other; how polite children were. Of course, we conveniently forget the individual reasons we left home.

If our national strength has been our individualism, our blindness is that we refuse to recognize our ties to one another. Today, on the cultural left, there is much talk about multiculturalism. Today we celebrate diversity. It is much easier than confronting our commonality.

On the cultural right, Americans morally separate themselves from the inner city, from non-Christians, from their gay children, from their own television sets, to insist on family values. The question for the future is this: Can we Americans moderate our individualism long enough to recognize that we share values in common, that our lives are intertwined, that we belong to an American family?

What Americans share in common is the notion that we share nothing in common at all.

...Imagination” In his essay, “The Achievement of Desire,” RichardRodriguez informs readers that he was a scholarship boy throughout his educational career. He uses his own personal experiences, as well as Richard Hoggart’s definition of the “scholarship boy,” to describe himself as someone who constantly struggles with balancing his life between family and education, and ends up on the side of education. In recognizing himself as a “scholarship boy,” he shows that he has gained what sociologist C. Wright Mills terms the “sociological imagination,” which “enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals” (Mills 8). Rodriguez’s writing style switches back and forth, between his biography, which is mainly focused on himself, and the definition of the “scholarship boy,” based on Hoggart’s definition. We as readers are easily able to see that Rodriguez is not the only person who has struggled with loss, confusion, loneliness, and nostalgia, but is actually just one boy in a sea of many “scholarship boys.” During his last year as a graduate student, Rodriguez traveled to London, and was with many other scholars. When he finally feels as if he has found a community that he belongs to, he realizes that he has joined a “lonely community” (530), filled with “the faces of young men and...

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