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Rodriguez, Richard (b. 1944)  
 
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He accepts the latter criticism to the extent that he describes himself as "a morose homosexual" rather than a gay one. "I'm melancholy," he confesses. At the same time, however, he refuses to be apologetic about his sexuality. In a 1998 essay, he declared "As a gay man, I do not expect other Americans--male or female--to approve of my sexuality. But I demand the right to be. And I refuse to be saddled with responsibility for what is wrong with male-female relations."

Characteristically, Rodriguez also refuses to be a role model for any of his identities and rejects the notion that he has an obligation to be a "cheerleader" for homosexuals any more than he does for Mexican-Americans.

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Similarly, he dislikes being pigeon-holed as a "gay writer" or a "Hispanic writer." He sees these labels as limiting and as not acknowledging the various, often conflicting, influences and identities that individuals possess.

Rodriguez also feels "at odds" with his church. Although he identifies as a Roman Catholic, he is acutely aware of the ways in which his homosexuality and his church clash. He bemoans the fact that the Roman Catholic Church regards his way of loving as sinful, but he sees the disagreement on this matter as a kind of family disagreement, pointing out that he regards the Pope as also sinful.

Rodriguez points to the clash between his sexual and religious identities as an example of how today many people live within multiple, often conflicting, cultures and must learn, sometimes painfully, how to negotiate those cultures.

Brown: The Last Discovery of America

Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002) completes the biographical trilogy Rodriguez began in 1982 with Hunger of Memory. In this book, Rodriguez characterizes America as brown in the same way that he is personally brown: "a glorious blend--descendent of the Conquistador and the Indian, a gay man and also a Roman Catholic, culturally descended from both the Spanish and the English empires, half-way between the greenness of youth and the white of old age in his middle years--a melt-down that far surpasses the color of his skin."

In discussing identity and race in America, Rodriguez uses "brown" as a metaphor for in-between states of being. He says, "I write about race in America in hopes of undermining the notion of race in America."

In Brown, homosexuality is a prominent subject, surfacing in his discussions of a variety of figures, ranging from Mabel Mercer to James Baldwin.

Homosexuality in NewsHour Essays

In his low-key way, Rodriguez occasionally discusses homosexuality in his NewsHour essays. In a prescient 1998 essay, he observed that the homosexual oppression has always been silence: "wanting to say, not being able to say the love that dare not speak its name. No wonder that the language of homosexuality was best expressed through irony, double entendre, and code words." He went on to predict that "the cultural war ahead will be a struggle between language and silence."

In a 2001 essay prompted by an exhibit of photographs (later collected into a book by David Deitcher, Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918), Rodriguez draws upon his own experience as a gay man in decoding sexual meaning that society insists be cloaked: "At the simplest level, these tintypes and daguerreotypes sadly remind us how fragile friendship is, how time undoes the hand's clasp. But the sexual meaning of these images must trouble us, reminding us how much we do not understand about the human heart. As a homosexual man, especially in those years when my emotion was less easily described in public, I learned the habit of reading between the lines, deciphering glances or gestures' possible meaning. Sometimes I was right in my conclusions. Sometimes people told me I was being too literal."

In a 2004 essay prompted by the same-sex marriages in San Francisco, Rodriguez pointed out that homosexuals are taking their place within the American family. He ends the piece with this observation: "When I saw the couples at city hall waiting, often with their children, I realized that for pragmatic reasons--schooling, hospital emergency rooms, medical insurance--America is going to have to acknowledge the notion of gay unions if only for the sake of the children. But I also saw your uncle there at city hall, your niece, your cousin, your accountant, your clergyman, members of our American family--he and he; she and she. People who have internalized a huge burden of loneliness in their lives suddenly stepped forward in the light of day to announce themselves publicly. Each said 'I do,' searching in America for 'we.'"

Conclusion

Rodriguez has produced documentaries for the BBC, and was the subject of a two-part profile on Bill Moyers' World of Ideas PBS television program.

In 1997, Rodriguez received a George Foster Peabody Award, one of television's highest honors, for his NewsHour essays on American life. He has also won the Frankel Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the International Journalism Award from the World Affairs Council of California.

An editor with Pacific News Service in San Francisco, Rodriguez also serves as a contributing editor for Harper's Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, and the Sunday Opinion Page of the Los Angeles Times.

A gadfly who often speaks uncomfortable truths in a nagging voice, Rodriguez has nevertheless become one of the most visible Hispanic intellectuals in the United States. For all his nagging, however, his message is essentially optimistic: America, he believes, is creating a post-racial culture. The "children of mixture . . . do not know prejudice. They belong to no continent; they belong to the world. That is my optimism."

He lives in San Francisco with his partner of many years.

Victoria Shannon

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    Bibliography
   

"Discussion Following Presentation by Richard Rodriguez." Penn National Commission (June 12, 1997): http://www.upenn.edu/pnc/rodriguezdisc.html

London, Scott. "A View from the Melting Pot: An Interview with Richard Rodriguez." www.scottlondon.com (July 25, 2008): http://www.scottlondon.com/interviews/rodriguez.html

Moyers, Bill. A World of Ideas with Bill Moyers: An American Story with Richard Rodriguez, Parts I & II (March 9, 1993). New York: Public Broadcast System, 1993.

_____. A World of Ideas with Bill Moyers: Victim of Two Cultures: Richard Rodriguez (February 8, 1996). New York: Public Broadcast System, 1996.

Rodriguez, Richard. Brown: The Last Discovery of America. New York: Viking, 2002.

_____. Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father. New York: Viking Press, 1992.

_____. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, An Autobiography. New York: Dial Press, 1982.

_____. "My Heterosexual Dilemma." Pacific News (October 16, 1998).

_____. "Remarks of Richard Rodriguez." Convocation on Providing Public Library Service to California's 21st Century Population, Convocation Proceedings. Shirley Keller, Coordinator. Sacramento: California State Library, 1997. http://www.library.ca.gov/lds/convo/convoc21.html

Rosenblum, Keith. "Anticipation: Interview with Richard Rodriguez." Latino Perspectives Magazine (October 2006): http://www.latinopm.com/Latino-Perspectives-Magazine/October-2006/Anticipation-Interview-with-Richard-Rodriguez/

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Shannon, Victoria  
    Entry Title: Rodriguez, Richard  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated August 15, 2008  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/rodriguez_r_arts.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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