Richard Rodriguez’s controversial views discussed at diversity dialogue

Academic Diversity Fellow Carlos Martinez and Director of the Multicultural Center Kathy Martinez held a Diversity Dialogue covering contemporary author Richard Rodriquez and his viewpoints on affirmative action and bilingual education.

The event was a prelude to Rodriguez’s appearance in this semester’s first installment of the Presidential Lecture Series.

The two kicked off the dialogue by presenting a short video biography of Rodriguez’s early life and his overall ideas about bilingual education and affirmative action.

“Richard Rodriguez is controversial,” Kathy Martinez says to begin the video. “He is a gay, Catholic, Mexican-American author who is against affirmative action and bilingual education.”

The video illustrates how Rodriguez’s upbringing and educational background helped shape his viewpoints on bilingual education and affirmative action by referencing Rodriguez’s book “Hunger of Memory.” In it, he speaks out against bilingual education, stating that his native language is his private family language, and English the public one he had an obligation to know.

Rodriguez believes that the implementation of bilingual education “gives students a sense of identity apart from the public.” It is in this context that Rodriguez is also against affirmative action. He believes that affirmative action “creates a black and brown middle class in the name of the poor” and, rather than improve prospects for the poor, keeps things the way they are.

The video ends by asking the audience two questions: “Do you think bilingual education affects the inclusion of non-English speaking students?” and “Do you believe Richard Rodriguez’s view on affirmative action is controversial?”

In addition to the video, two pages of “Hunger of Memory” were handed out, and a few paragraphs analyzed.

Rodriguez’s viewpoints were met with some resistance from the group of young men and women who made up the discussion. Many in the audience were proud of being bilingual and found knowing a second language useful, while others saw where he was coming from but still didn’t fully agree.

Benni Arias, a junior and a regular visitor of the Multicultural Center, said he finds it empowering to be bilingual.

“I believe we need to support bilingual studies because it provides identification for individuals’ pride in heritage and culture,” he said.

Emmanuella Gibson, an administrative assistant, said she can relate to Rodriguez’s childhood experience, but doesn’t agree with his views on bilingual education or assimilation. Gibson was born in Montreal and came with her Haitian family to America as a young girl. Gibson’s mother encouraged her to experience American culture, while at the same time retaining her family’s culture. Gibson believes that one can assimilate without losing one’s family’s heritage. She is, however, excited to see Rodriguez come to FSU, and believes it’s important to hear different perspectives.

When asked what he thought about Rodriguez’s viewpoints, English Professor Carlos Martinez said, “I wholeheartedly welcome Rodriguez’s objections to bilingual education and affirmative action because they keep a very important conversation going, but I am skeptical about some of his conclusions.”

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