Richard Rodriguez (born 31 July 1944) Mexican-American writer, associate editor with the Pacific News Service in San Francisco, an essayist for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and a contributing editor for Harper's magazine and the Los Angeles Times.
- The genius of American culture and its integrity comes from fidelity to the light. Plain as day, we say. Happy as the day is long. Early to bed, early to rise. American virtues are daylight virtues: honesty, integrity, plain speech. We say yes when we mean yes and no when we mean no, and all else comes from the evil one. America presumes innocence and even the right to happiness.
- "Night and Day" in Frontiers (1990)
- Mexico is a nineteenth-century country arranged for gaslight. Once brought into the harsh light of the twentieth-century media, Mexico can only seem false. In its male, in its public, its city aspect, Mexico is an arch-tranvestite, a tragic buffoon. Dogs bark and babies cry when Mother Mexico walks abroad in the light of day. The policeman, the Marxist mayor — Mother Mexico doesn't even bother to shave her mustachios. Swords and rifles and spurs and bags of money chink and clatter beneath her skirts. A chain of martyred priests dangles from her waist, for she is an austere, pious lady. Ay, how much — clutching her jangling bosoms; spilling cigars — how much she has suffered.
- "Night and Day" in Frontiers (1990)
- As you see yourself, I once saw myself; as you see me now, you will be seen.
- Quoting a Mexican proverb in "Night and Day" in Frontiers (1990)
- His name was William Saroyan. He was the first writer I fell in love with, boyishly in love. I was held by his unaffected voice, his sentimentality, his defiant individualism. I found myself in the stories he told... I learned from Saroyan that you do not have to live in some great city — in New York or Paris — in order to write... When I was a student at Stanford, a generation ago, the name of William Saroyan was never mentioned by any professor in the English Department. William Saroyan apparently was not considered a major American talent. Instead, we undergraduates set about the business of psychoanalyzing Hamlet and deconstructing Lolita. In my mind Saroyan belongs with John Steinbeck, a fellow small town Californian and of the same generation. He belongs with Thornton Wilder, with those writers whose aching love of America was formed by the Depression and the shadow of war. ... Saroyan's prose is as plain as it is strong. He talks about the pleasure of drinking water from a hose on a summer afternoon in California's Central Valley, and he holds you with the pure line. My favorite is his novel The Human Comedy... In 1943, The Human Comedy became an MGM movie starring Mickey Rooney, but I always imagined Homer Macaulay as a darker, more soulful boy, someone who looked very much like a young William Saroyan...
Brown : The Last Discovery of America (2003)
- I write about race in America in hopes of undermining the notion of race in America.
- I think brown marks a reunion of peoples, an end to ancient wanderings. Rival cultures and creeds conspire with Spring to create children of a beauty, perhaps of a harmony, previously unknown. Or long forgotten.
Chapter One : The Triad of Alexis de Tocqueville (online excerpt)
- Two women and a child in a glade beside a spring. Beyond them, the varnished wilderness wherein bright birds cry. The child is chalk, Europe's daughter. Her dusky attendants, a green Indian and a maroon slave.
The scene, from Democracy in America, is discovered by that most famous European traveler to the New World, Alexis de Tocqueville, aristocratic son of the Enlightenment, liberal, sickly, gray, violet, lacking the vigor of the experiment he has set himself to observe... His description intends to show the African and the Indian doomed by history in corresponding but opposing ways. (History is a coat cut only to the European.)
- The Indian refuses civilization; the African slave is rendered unfit for it.
But cher Monsieur: You saw the Indian sitting beside the African on a drape of baize. They were easy together. The sight of them together does not lead you to wonder about a history in which you are not the narrator?
These women are but parables of your interest in yourself. Rather than consider the nature of their intimacy, you are preoccupied alone with the meaning of your intrusion.
- A boy named Buddy came up beside me in the schoolyard. I don't remember what passed as prologue, but I do not forget what Buddy divulged to me: If you're white, you're all right; If you're brown, stick around; If you're black, stand back.
It was as though Buddy had taken me to a mountaintop and shown me the way things lay in the city below.
- In Sacramento, my brown was not halfway between black and white. On the leafy streets, on the east side of town, where my family lived, where Asians did not live, where Negroes did not live, my family's Mexican shades passed as various.
- In the Sacramento of the 1950s, it was as though White simply hadn't had time enough to figure Brown out. It was a busy white time. Brown was like the skinny or fat kids left over after the team captains chose sides. "You take the rest" — my cue to wander away to the sidelines, to wander away.
- My parents had come from Mexico, a short road in my imagination. I felt myself as coming from a caramelized planet, an upside-down planet, pineapple-cratered. Though I was born here, I came from the other side of the looking glass, as did Alice, though not alone like Alice. Downtown I saw lots of brown people. Old men on benches. Winks from Filipinos. Sikhs who worked in the fields were the most mysterious brown men, their heads wrapped in turbans. They were the rose men. They looked like roses.
- The first book by an African American I read was Carl T. Rowan's memoir, Go South to Sorrow. I found it on the bookshelf at the back of my fifth-grade classroom, an adult book. I can remember the quality of the morning on which I read. It was a sunlit morning in January, a Saturday morning, cold, high, empty. I sat in a rectangle of sunlight, near the grate of the floor heater in the yellow bedroom. And as I read, I became aware of warmth and comfort and optimism. I was made aware of my comfort by the knowledge that others were not, are not, comforted. Carl Rowan at my age was not comforted.
- Only a few weeks ago, in the year in which I write, Carl T. Rowan died. Hearing the news, I felt the sadness one feels when a writer dies, a writer one claims as one's own — as potent a sense of implication as for the loss of a body one has known. Over the years, I had seen Rowan on TV. He was not, of course he was not, the young man who had been with me by the heater — the photograph on the book jacket, the voice that spoke through my eyes. The muscles of my body must form the words and the chemicals of my comprehension must form the words, the windows, the doors, the Saturdays, the turning pages of another life, a life simultaneous with mine.
It is a kind of possession, reading. Willing the Other to abide in your present. His voice, mixed with sunlight, mixed with Saturday, mixed with my going to bed and then getting up, with the pattern and texture of the blanket, with the envelope from a telephone bill I used as a bookmark. With going to Mass. With going to the toilet. With my mother in the kitchen, with whatever happened that day and the next; with clouds forming over the Central Valley, with the flannel shirt I wore, with what I liked for dinner, with what was playing at the Alhambra Theater. I remember Carl T. Rowan, in other words, as myself, as I was. Perhaps that is what one mourns.
- In the Clunie Public Library in Sacramento, in those last years of a legally segregated America, there was no segregated shelf for Negro writers. Frederick Douglass on the same casement with Alexis de Tocqueville, Benjamin Franklin. Today, when our habit is willfully to confuse literature with sociology, with sorting, with trading in skins, we imagine the point of a "life" is to address some sort of numerical average, common obstacle or persecution. Here is a book "about" teenaged Chinese-American girls. So it is shelved.
- It is one thing to know your author-man or woman or gay or black or paraplegic or president. It is another thing to choose only man or woman or et cetera, as the only quality of voice empowered to address you, as the only class of sensibility or experience able to understand you, or that you are able to understand.
How a society orders its bookshelves is as telling as the books a society writes and reads. American bookshelves of the twenty-first century describe fractiousness, reduction, hurt. Books are isolated from one another, like gardenias or peaches, lest they bruise or become bruised, or, worse, consort, confuse. If a man in a wheelchair writes his life, his book will be parked in a blue-crossed zone: "Self-Help" or "Health." There is no shelf for bitterness. No shelf for redemption. The professor of Romance languages at Dresden, a convert to Protestantism, was tortured by the Nazis as a Jew — only that — a Jew. His book, published sixty years after the events it recounts, is shelved in my neighborhood bookstore as "Judaica." There is no shelf for irony.
- Books should confuse. Literature abhors the typical. Literature flows to the particular, the mundane, the greasiness of paper, the taste of warm beer, the smell of onion or quince. Auden has a line: "Ports have names they call the sea." Just so will literature describe life familiarly, regionally, in terms life is accustomed to use — high or low matters not. Literature cannot by this impulse betray the grandeur of its subject — there is only one subject: What it feels like to be alive. Nothing is irrelevant. Nothing is typical.
- The liberal-hearted who run the newspapers and the university English departments and organize the bookstores have turned literature into well-meaning sociology. Thus do I get invited by the editor at some magazine to review your gay translation of a Colombian who has written a magical-realist novel. Trust me, there has been little magical realism in my life since my first trip to Disneyland.
- My reading was scheduled for the six-thirty slot by the University of Arizona. A few hundred people showed up – old more than young; mostly brown. I liked my "them," in any case, for coming to listen, postponing their dinners. In the middle of one of my paragraphs, a young man stood to gather his papers, then retreated up the aisle, pushed open the door at the back of the auditorium. In the trapezoid of lobby-light thus revealed, I could see a crowd was forming for the eight o'clock reading — a lesbian poet. Then the door closed, resealed the present; I continued to read, but wondered to myself: Why couldn't I get the lesbians for an hour? And the lesbian poet serenade my Mexican audience?
- Americans are so individualistic, they do not realize their individualism is a communally derived value. The American I is deconstructed for me by Paolo, an architect who was raised in Bologna: "You Americans are not truly individualistic, you merely are lonely. In order to be individualistic, one must have a strong sense of oneself within a group." (The "we" is a precondition for saying "I.") Americans spend all their lives looking for a community: a chatroom, a church, a support group, a fetish magazine, a book club, a class action suit... illusions become real when we think they are real and act accordingly. Because Americans thought themselves free of plural pronouns, they began to act as free agents, thus to recreate history. Individuals drifted away from tribe or color or 'hood or hometown or card of explanation, where everyone knew who they were... Americans thus extended the American community by acting so individualistically, so anonymously.