Rodriguez achieved great academic success, beginning his schooling barely speaking English and ending up as a Fulbright Scholar studying in the British Museum. He acknowledges that he went to excellent secondary schools and that he had significant support from his parents. However, he argues that his success ultimately came from his habits as a “scholarship boy” (a term he waits to define). He admits that his academic achievement was due ultimately to the fact that he never forgot how drastically his education was changing him.
Rodriguez is implying that his background as a lower-class, Mexican American student gave him a kind of advantage in the classroom, since it made him so aware of the changes his educating was bringing to his life. This very awareness caused him to push harder in his academic endeavors. (He will go on to trouble this later in the essay.)
When he was working on his dissertation in Britain, Rodriguez encountered Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy, which was unique in that it specifically addressed students like him. He immediately identified with Hoggart’s use of the term “scholarship boy,” an anxious, ambitious student, haunted by the knowledge that he has chosen to become a student and that this choice will forever change him, separating him from the life he used to love. Reflecting on his school days as a child, Rodriguez describes himself as both enthusiastic and sad. He describes how he began to fall in love with books and spent more and more time alone, apart from his family.
Once again Rodriguez is demonstrating his academic training by citing and analyzing quotations from Hoggart’s book. He begins to complicate the idea that his background made him ambitious in an advantageous way by showing that this ambition was also riddled with anxiety about what education was doing to him. Rodriguez is also making broader commentary on the state of educational studies by pointing out how students like him are underrepresented in the existing literature.
Throughout his childhood, people commented on how proud Rodriguez’s parents must have been of him. Rodriguez says that these comments felt ironic to him, because he was painfully aware of how different his parents’ backgrounds were from his own. He briefly describes their life stories, but focuses more closely on what other feelings must have been mixed in with their pride in him. He imagines the humiliation and frustration his parents must have felt when their educated children corrected them in an argument or when he himself became the first of their children to move away for college. Finally, he remembers his first visit home from college and how talking to his parents felt more like an interview than a conversation.
Here Rodriguez begins to explicitly engage with the question of how his parents’ memories differ from his own. He turns his self-examination outward, considering how his education may have affected his parents differently from him. This gesture is inherently a compassionate one and, combined with the intense investment his parents clearly showed in his education, it seems to contradict Rodriguez’s conviction that he and his family are not close. However, his painful description of his visit home from college shows that his experiences as a first generation American are wildly different than those of his immigrant parents, and that these differences have only been exacerbated by his education.
Rodriguez begins to explore his relationship with books. Hoggart writes that the scholarship boy sees books as “strange tools,” and Rodriguez affirms this opinion by reflecting on the almost shameful faith he used to have that books would make him educated. He writes that he first came to love reading because of the feeling of fellowship and connection it gave him. However, he distrusted the idea that reading could be just for pleasure and he instead tried to read as many “important books” as he could. He entered high school having read hundreds of books—including many Western classics—but not truly understanding them.
Rodriguez expands on the idea that the scholarship boy, though successful, is actually a bad student. He expresses a disdain of unoriginality, claiming that he was fundamentally an unoriginal student. This is a complicated statement for Rodriguez to make, as he has made a career for himself of writing original pieces. In passages like these, it seems possible that Rodriguez’s infamously harsh tone has been turned inward, making him hard on himself.
Continuing with the question of the scholarship boy, Rodriguez writes that other students and academics loathe the scholarship boy because the contrast between his shabby clothes and the way he expresses himself remind them that education has remade him. People do not want to be reminded that education is “a long, unglamorous, even demeaning process”—and the scholarship boy cannot help but remind them of this, by his very presence in the classroom.
Though he analyzes what the scholarship boy represents symbolically, Rodriguez does not explicitly delve into how it feels to sit in a classroom and be viewed this way—though, presumably, he has had this experience. As such, this passage seems to recall the admonition of Rodriguez’s editor: “Let’s have more Grandma.” In moments like this one, it seems clear that Rodriguez is working in an essayistic rather than a narrative mode.
Rodriguez recalls the moment of intense disillusionment he felt while working on his graduate dissertation. He began to question if anyone other than his adviser would ever read it; he grew afraid of the library’s silence and dissatisfied with his own sense of loneliness. In this moment, he writes, he finally allowed himself to feel the nostalgia for childhood that he had held back for years. Returning home after his year in England, Rodriguez yearned to feel closeness with his parents, to finally lead “a life less thoughtful.” Instead, he continued to feel an academic’s desire to describe his relationship to his parents in abstract terms. This led to a realization: “If, because of my schooling, I had grown culturally separated from my parents, my education finally had given me ways of speaking and caring about that fact.” Rodriguez writes that it took many more years of schooling for him to trust this habit of abstraction.
The most significant work this passage does is to define a deeper dimension of why Rodriguez is grateful for his education. Not only did it teach him the public language of English, but it also taught him the language and terminology of the university, which has helped him to better understand his relationship with others and, one might guess, with himself. This passage also suggests that only past Rodriguez is “allowed” to feel nostalgia; the Rodriguez penning these pages seems to want to repress the feeling entirely.