Richard Rodriguez was a guest this spring at Calvin Theological Seminary to discuss his autobiography Hunger of Memory. It’s the story of his experiences as an ethnic-minority student who achieved social assimilation and academic success at the cost of alienation from his past, his parents, and his culture.
Rodriguez’s book was the seminary’s “Book of the Semester,” which many faculty, students, staff, alumni, board members, and community groups read.
Referring to his book, Rodriguez shared his discomfort with modern categories of race. “I’ve only met about three ‘white’ people,” he said, arguing that all people are blends of ethnicities and cultures. “And even they were pink or shades of gold, not white. And the black people I know are almost all brown.”
Rodriguez says he is considered Mexican, yet is really a combination of Indian and Spanish, ethnicities that are themselves combinations of other ethnicities. Rodriguez explained how the history of virtually every ethnic group in North America is deeply connected with nearly every other group.
He expressed hope that Americans will “get over diversity” and embrace “brown” as a new way to describe people, not to reference skin color but to capture the underlying unity of all people.
On matters of religion, Rodriguez argued that the migration of Spanish people from Latin America, with their rich Catholic past and more recent Pentecostal renewal, are the greatest hope for “Christian replenishment” and revitalization in North America.
With pain in his voice, Rodriguez observed that Americans have “a problem with poverty.” They believe being poor is to be a failure, to be broken, in need of reform. But in Mexico, the poor are not bent over, he said. They have joy and dignity. They model how poverty, love, and cheerfulness coexist.
Today Rodriguez spends much of his time in other countries. He shared his recent passion to learn more about the religions of “Abraham’s children,” referring to the fact that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all trace their roots to Abraham.