English Essayist Richard St

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Walking toward the space, Rodriguez observes it with bemusement.

He stops beneath a sycamore tree, peering past its trunk as if studying the ghost of the building that once stood there—the yellow house at 935 39th Street, the house where Rodriguez grew up. The emergency entrance to the hospital was over there.

And the church was very much the focal point for the family from the beginning. Victoria Rodriguez hosted traveling Mexican nuns for lunch, exchanging prayers and offering donations for their homeland.

“My dad was very, very, very religious,” says Sylvia Schnetz, Rodriguez’s older sister who today lives with her husband near Land Park. They welcomed a nearby Spanish family that harbored a chihuahua and the church janitor, Fidel.

“The pope can moderate his position on gays right now,” Rodriguez says, citing Pope Francis’ vague approval of gay priests in comments made this summer.

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“But the church is not going to moderate its position on abortion, or on women’s control of their own bodies, anytime soon.” Yet Rodriguez is neither a crusader nor a mere contrarian.

“The light of twilight on a summer night, it was just enchanting,” he says, unspooling another thread of memory from his youth at 39th and J. (The tack worked.) The family temporarily moved in with young Richard’s aunt and uncle, who resided on Folsom Boulevard near 35th Street.

His parents decided against settling in the bustling Mexican community at the southern end of the city, opting instead for tony East Sacramento, mere steps from Sacred Heart. The masses were all in Latin, and girls had to have their heads covered with some kind of a hat or a veil. But when we grew up, that’s how it was.” Rodriguez and his three siblings found themselves growing up in a neighborhood of budding diversity in which they were, nevertheless, the only Mexican family.

Rodriguez reports on this phenomenon from deserts in the East and West.

In one chapter he visits Jerusalem to survey the shared foundation of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

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