Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural
What ethnicities comprise our American history? Rumor would have you to believe it was mainly black and white, with a few other minority races peppered in for effect. Takaki dispels this rumor and brings to life the rich history that is really made up of, providing a very candid overview of just how rich in diversity our history really is. He covers the European (including those of Irish, Jewish, and Italian descent) and African American scope, but also goes into detail on the Latino, Japanese, Chinese, and American Indian roots that create the true melting pot theory of the . I will cover the three main themes I believe Takaki was discussing in his book of: injustice, inequality, and change.
The first theme and major argument Takaki introduces to us through his writing is that of injustice. Throughout history it seems that has thrived on the theory of ï¿½may the strongest man win.’ Accounts of injustice were liberally given throughout the book, and shocking in their poignancy. He takes us through not only the familiar happenings of the American Indians losing their land through brutal force, but also takes us in for a more thorough look at how and why these injustices came about. He shows us how the legal system played such a huge part in helping the colonists to take away the rights and properties (including land) of the American Indian and leaves us awestruck at just how unjust the practices really were. He leaves our heart aching for those American Indians who were killed, lost everything known to them including their culture and life as they had known it, and placed in Reservation Camps. He details how their very lives were stripped away from them, and their cultural identity taken away just because they were ï¿½different’ and because they had something the stronger group wanted (their land). He shows how the differences in religion and lifestyle of the American Indian posed a threat to the newcomers, and how they were overpowered and beaten down because of it. He shows how greed and power overshadow humanity and fairness and leaves you with a sense of shame almost in being a part of a nation where one party of people are permitted and even encouraged, to take advantage of those who can be taken advantage of. The promises made to the American Indians from the white man that were broken over and over again are noted in great detail, and the climax of Wounded Knee, as was discussed in the book and in our class discussions just leaves you feeling outraged, and then numb. How could such injustices come about? As Takaki goes along, we see that these injustices were not only secluded to the American Indians but were applied to any and all ethnicities that existed outside of the white man’s world.
As the book progresses we see how unjustly the hardest laborers, the very backbone of our society were treated. We see the injustices of slavery and how even when ï¿½freed’ from their duty poor slaves were trapped in a life of servitude by debt incurred in an unjust legal system. We see Latinos teaching the art of gold mining to the Anglo Saxons and then being driven from the land as if they were dogs, we see how the Mexicans were so integral in the creation of the railroad and then driven from their lands by their very creation. We learn of how the Chinese created the agricultural industry of California and yet were shunned by Anglos as inferior. We are told of how the Japanese were so instrumental in the cane fields and yet still pushed into a world of seclusion by the vast injustices of the ï¿½American Way of thinking.” We are taken through the life and times of the Jewish settlers who came to get away from injustices in Russia, filled with hopes and dreams of living in the land of American but who are met with the brutality of working in industries such as textiles that took up most of their living time and offered little pay and terrible working conditions. We are shown how unjustly Black Americans were treated, and how time and time again the laws of the land catered to the higher class of society, that which consisted of mostly Anglos.
The inequality theme is consistent throughout Takaki’s writing as we see stark discrimination taking place in every race and throughout every timeframe in history, including the one we live in now. is quotes as being the ï¿½land of the free’ but for those who are not of the Anglo Saxon race, we see this is not so. One stark contrast that really drove this point home for me was when Takaki was discussing how the Mexicans, who were vastly discriminated against by the whites, were told they could not dine in a restaurant unless they were to be seated with the blacks. The person in the example given exclaimed that he would be far too shamed to eat with the inferior blacks and was outraged at such a suggestion. Should not the groups who are so fully discriminated with seek racial harmony? Instead it appears that each ethnic group carried their own prejudices, adding to the inequality factor exponentially without even realizing they were doing so. So in theory, were any of the people discriminated against doing their part to create racial harmony? Were the empathetic to those who were discriminated against in other areas of multiculturalism? It appears that in many cases they were not.
Takaki shows us many types of discrimination that occurred/occur, not only focusing on race, but also introducing the discriminations that came along with religion, class, and power. Again, the legal system was noted as being an integral part of the discrimination that was taking place, allowing for the mindset of the time to be put into play within the legislation and other decisions of the court. Unfair conditions that promoted inequality rather than healing it were handed down time and again, and improvement was slow in coming.
Change was the third theme that came about in Takaki’s reading as we saw the people being treated unjustly and unequally coming together to find ways to improve their conditions and allow them to truly be a part of the American culture. So many contributions were made via different ethnicities and as those realizations came to the forefront, changes were slowly made. One example given was of workers in different areas coming together and striking to gain better employment conditions and wages. This was successful in many areas as we saw working conditions slowly being improved.
Another area of change, and a very profound one, was cited in the recounts of the servings in war that were given by Takaki. We see where Japanese citizens fought side by side with the Americans, proving their worth as translators and their loyalty to their new homes by remaining in the fight. We see blacks and whites side by side in the war, fighting for the same cause. We see the American Indian, so badly treated by their own homeland dying in large quantity to prove their worth to their country. The war brought about many changes as people began to see that these other ethnic groups were vital to the American culture and society and that they deserved their place in time.
We also saw changes coming about in the legal system where groups of people were given retribution for past discrepancies and future changes were sought for improvement for the peoples of the land. We see groups coming together to help one another, as was shown in the recounting of the black sit-ins where whites and blacks together fought for the justices of mankind in general. We see where lives were lost and blood was shed in fighting the good fight, and we see the fruits of their labor today in a society that is far more lenient in racial disparity than ever before (although admittedly we still have a long way to go).
We see how the past oppressions and struggles of Americans have shaped the America we know today, and we see how fundamental each of the migrant groups were/are in creating the United States we know today. We learn deeply how important ethnicity and multiculturalism really are in the land we live in, and in the history of all that we know. We see how the various groups have struggled and prevailed and become a part of the land known as . Most importantly, we see how history has shaped our past and will continue to do so in our future. We have learned from the vast injustices, inequalities, and changes that have taken place over the years, and if the past is any indicator of the future, we will continue to do so; for we are a land of change.
Sometimes we learn our lessons very harshly, as has been noted heartbreakingly so through Takaki’s writing, but there is joy in knowing that through perseverance, loyalty, and strong will that we can become a nation accepting of others either via class or ethnic differences. There is hope in knowing that we try to be a nation of acceptance and that we do cater to change. My only hope after reading this book is that in the years to come we will learn from the harsh lessons of the past and go forth with change in a more accepting and less imposing fashion than we have done before, while still protecting ourselves as a nation and allowing freedom to prevail. We have come a long way from the days of slavery and indentured servants. We have accepted other races, religions, and ways of lives more freely than ever before. We are allowing people to be people and respecting the differences among us in all walks of life. Never before have we been so accepting of a nation as we are now of the inequalities that exist among us. Never before have we valued those differences in such a cohesive nature as we do today. I think Takaki’s writing leaves us with a sense of wanting, and a sense of striving to do what is right. I think his light on past injustices, inequality, and changes leads us to where we stand today as a united nation, willing to work through the changes necessary to come together in a united front. I think his writing leaves us proud of who we have become even though we may not be proud of how we got here. Most importantly I think his writing leaves us hopeful for a future where justice, equality, and positive change can exist and where respect and embracing of others are seen as necessities for being the strong nation that we are; a nation of various ethnicities and cultures, a nation who respects and embraces all that each of us has to offer to society. Yes, he shows us we have strides to make in becoming equal in the eyes of all, none more so than through his account of his taxi ride in the beginning of the book, but he also shows how far we have come from the origin of our time, and leaves us with a sense of hope that acceptance has and will continue to flourish in the American land. He shows us the strength of uniting vs. the weakness of prejudice and ostracizing of our own people; and most importantly he shows us that we are more than a nation of Anglo Americans. We are a diverse and multicultural nation, and we are becoming proud of that; something that could not be said even one hundred years ago. Takaki shows us that we are a nation who can be proud of the accomplishments we have made; proud of the strides we have made to right past wrongs, and he shows us that by continuing to work together in all groups of multiculturalism, and continuing to strive to value one another and our differences, we can continue to be so. The proof is in the history: the proof is in the writing. One cannot walk away from this book without a plethora of feelings both good and bad regarding our rich (albeit short) American history, but in the end we must be proud of the changes we have made and look toward a future of harmony and united success. Kudos to for working through the struggles presented us throughout our history to get us to the point where we are now and kudos to Takaki for bringing them to light in such a rich and honest manner.