Read Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father by Richard Rodríguez Free Online
Book Title: Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father|
The author of the book: Richard Rodríguez
Edition: Penguin Books
Date of issue: November 1st 1993
ISBN 13: 9780140096224
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 696 KB
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This is a short discussion essay I wrote in Spring 2007 regarding this book:
What if I Am You?:
Cultural Hybridity in Richard Rodriguez’s Days of Obligation
What if we are not diverse? What if I feel myself becoming like you? What does that mean? What if I find myself weeping reading your story? What if I find myself walking like you do? What if I find myself singing your songs?
Richard Rodriguez’s desire for a common culture—along with his stance on affirmative action and bilingual education—has led to passionate controversy. According to many Chicano/a historiographers, “his work may be irredeemable” (Decker 125). Tomas Rivera, author of the acclaimed And the Earth Did Not Swallow Him, has even suggested that Rodriguez’s writing is a result of an “inferiority complex” that “clearly illustrates a colonized mind” (as quoted in Decker 124). I would argue that Days of Obligation is indeed the result of a colonized mind. In fact, Rivera’s accusation is central to the deeper theoretical undercurrents that are flowing beneath Rodriguez’s lyrical prose. However, a “colonized” view does not necessarily need to be analyzed negatively, and instead can be filtered through the contemporary theory of “cultural hybridity”.
Days of Obligation is packed with examples of cultural hybridity. This term is used to describe a new theoretical approach to the study of culture, particularly in relationship to globalization. Renato Rosaldo comments that “hybridity can be understood as the ongoing condition of all human cultures, which contain no zones of purity because they undergo a continuous process of transculturation” (1995). Rodriguez is a strong advocate for this hybridized, Creolized, “Must-go Soup” view of ethnic and racial identity. His term brown is synonymous with hybridity. The real “browning of America” has little to do with skin color. In an interview, Rodriguez explained : “I am impure, I am mixed, and I am both raped and rapist, and I am both aggrieved and sinned…that notion of being both parties in history…to be really brown is to be impure” (182). In the view of Richard Rodriguez, to identify oneself only as a Chicano/a or a Mexican American takes away from the true complexity of one’s racial and ethnic identity and furthers the segregation of humanity.
In Days of Obligation Rodriguez describes modern Catholicism as an Indian religion that will assume the “aspect of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Brown skin” (20). The use of brown in this passage is both literal and metaphorical. The Catholic Church has an extremely high percentage of Latin American members who have been classified, albeit often incorrectly, as brown-skinned. He is also referring to ideological fusion, the deflowering of tradition, and the deeper browning of an existing brown-that-was-never-really-pure-anyway.
Mexico City is described as the embodiment of contemporary hybridity:
In the distance, at its depths, Mexico City stands as the prophetic example. Mexico City is modern in ways that “multiracial,” ethnically “diverse” New York City is not yet. Mexico City is centuries more modern than racially “pure,” provincial Tokyo…Mexico City is the capital of modernity, for in the sixteenth century, under the tutelage of a curios Indian whore, under the patronage of the Queen of heaven, Mexico initiated the task of the twenty-first century—the renewal of the old, the known world through miscegenation. Mexico carries the idea of a round world to its biological conclusion. (25)
In this passage, Rodriguez uses Mexico as Earth’s future. With rapid increases in travel and mass communication, the world is becoming browner by the second. We must become accustomed to a demanding flow of cultural exchange and cultural clash, because there are fatal consequences for those who cannot graft onto the global tree. It is this philosophy that informs his view on affirmative action and bilingual education.
Americans are often defined as the ultimate culture snatchers. I’ve often heard sentiments in field research such as “Why can’t Americans just be themselves?” and “Why do whites have to steal our culture?” With increasing speed, the United States has become one haphazardly stitched New Age patchwork quilt. Addictive borrowing is the culture. Rodriguez speaks to this in Days of Obligation:
No belief is more cherished by Americans, no belief is more typical of America, then the belief that one can choose to be free of American culture. One can pick and choose. Learn Spanish. Study Buddhism… My Mexican father was never so American as when he wished his children might cultivate Chinese friends. (171)
When Rodriguez calls for a common culture he is speaking of hybridity, not assimilation. Ethnic assimilation has never been very efficient (Lahood). When Europe swallowed the Americas, it processed those cultural calories and, as the old saying goes, you are what you eat. Richard Rodriguez was born a mestizo—brown, impure, untraditional—in an America still being digested by a gorged European belly. As a mestizo he is both the colonizer and the colonized; he cannot help but express a colonized view. However, Rodriguez does not see his plight as inherently negative or conformists. As a unique individual he has the power to contribute to the beautification of the burgeoning browness. In Rodriguez’s own words, “to argue for a common culture is not to propose an exclusionary culture or a static culture. The classroom is always adding to the common text, because America is a dynamic society” (170).
Decker, Jeffrey Louis. "Mr. Secrets: Review of Days of Obligation: an Argument with My Mexican Father by Richard Rodriguez". Transition 1993(61): 124-133.
Lahood, Greg. Paradise Bound: A perennial tradition or an unseen process of cosmologiacal hybridization. Anthropology of Consciousness. 2008(18), 2008 [Forthcoming].
Rodriguez, Richard. Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father. Viking Penguin USA, 1992.
Rosaldo, Renato. “Foreward” to Garcia Canclini’s Hybrid Cultures: xi-xvii, 1995.
Torres, Hector A and Richard Rodriguez. “ ‘I Don’t Think I Exist’: An Interview with Richard Rodriguez”. Melus 2003(28):164-202.
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