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In his opening words, the Rev. William
Sinkford, president of the UUA, described the origin of the Melcher Book Award as
a memorial to the life and work of Frederic G. Melcher, a successful publisher
and dedicated Unitarian lay-leader. Sinkford told the audience how, in these
trying times, he derived hope and inspiration from Rodriguez's writing.
The Rev. Patrick O'Neill, chair of the Melcher book Award committee, praised
Rodriguez's writing “which speaks for those who have no voice, which speaks for
those who are often excluded from the circles of political power,… which speaks
for those who by their very ‘brownness' are often made invisible in our
society.” O'Neill went on to say that, “In a time when our American mass media
too often tends to speak in the lowest common denomination of language, Richard
Rodriguez rises to speak elegantly and poignantly. In an era when American
culture increasingly fails to celebrate the very indivdualism that gave it its
greatest promise, Richard Rodgriguez rises to offer an intensely resonant
Rodriguez then dazzled the audience with a witty and wide-ranging
presentation that included readings from Brown, personal
reminiscences of his boyhood in Sacramento, CA, and observations on the
“browning” of America. He mentioned numerous examples of the invisibility in
American culture of brown, including the time he was admitted to a Malcolm X
lecture that was restricted to African-Americans because, said Rodriguez, “the
brown boy was invisible.” He described his Mexican-American Catholic aunt's
marriage to an Indian Hindu, and the family Thanksgiving dinners with many
guests in turbans, “not what the Pilgrims probably expected.”
Rodriguez continually testified to the browning of America and the refusal of
many institutions to acknowledge this reality. Speaking at a theological
conference, Rodriguez told of meeting a woman who described herself as a
“Baptist Buddhist.” One theologian rose to say that this was impossible, that a
Baptist Buddhist was a contradiction in terms. “Yet,” said Rodriguez, “I have
seen her. She walks.” And he told the audience of riding from Logan airport to
Cambridge in a taxi driven by a Ghanian who was reading Jane Austen. “This is
very brown,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez ended his talk by saying how honored he was to receive the Melcher
book Award, especially in light of the accomplishments of previous recipients
such as Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Day, and Toni Morrison.
Richard Rodriquez is among us. Entre Nosotros. We say yes to this
phenomenology of Brown, this pen of reconciliation, this color of our future. We
hear the prophet of Mixed Souls in the Americas, this Warbler of Deliverance. We
prize this itinerary of the Brown Millennium that guides us through the Sistine
Chapel, James Baldwin’s preoccupation and Malcolm X’s fierceness, Carl T’s
sadness and Brueghal’s peasants, a year with Lawrence of Arabia and a song with
Mabel Mercer, the dances of Prince Lightfoot, the metaphors of Richard Nixon,
the mystery of the avocado and the cubism of our crucifix. Richard Rodriquez is
a theatrical intruder into the tragedy of race consciousness in our America with
its Latin(o) Lovers, Hispanic fictions and the Puritan I. We express gratitude
at his skill to reveal the brownness of our libraries, the greenness of our
knowledge and we marvel at a courage to write the unpursued scenes of our
democracy even as he takes us through the graveyard of black and white
discourses-to the brown paradox of us.
Why these affirmations for yet another discovery of America?
Because Brown calls us to see through the veils of our erotic history as well
as this writer’s language and learn to love the persons who are becoming—and
yet to come—just behind the words. So, “stick around with” Brown.
—David Carrasco, Rudenstine Professor of the study of Latin
America, Harvard University, for the Melcher Book Award Committee
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Tuesday, April 3, 2012.
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