A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki

So I am currently reading two.. three.. four books at once. I have got ‘Right ho, Jeeves’ by P.G.Wodehouse, ‘The Sign of Four’ by Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘Middlemarch’ by George Eliot and ‘A Different Mirror’ by Ronald Takaki. I’m really excited about all these books. Each of them is a different flavour and I pick them up in the day according to my mood and surroundings. I have been yearning to read a lucid accessible history book about America and England, so I was really glad when I came across ‘A Different Mirror’. It is a history of American immigration and ethnicity, depicting how the roots of America rise from different cultures and predicting the future of “multi-cultural America”.

I think this is a very relevant read for current times where Donald Trump and racial tensions suggest multiculturalism is facing a massive challenge and it is not clear whether America will be able to remain tolerant of it or go down the anti-immigrant xenophobic path. Mostly, I think, it helps raise the question: How can it be “nationalistic” for America to ban immigrants if the nation itself has grown out of immigrants? And what defines a “Real American” today and in the past? I can’t wait to devour it entirely.


Author: Ronald Takuki
Nationality: American
Publishing Year: 1993
Genre: History
Pages: 500

So instead of a book review, this time, I decided to write down the interesting pieces of facts/opinions that I came across while reading it. This is no doubt an ambitious task which will wear me off by approximately 5 chapters, at which point I will give it up as fruitless and impossible. Till then, however, I will not snub my well-meaning but naive enthusiasm and carry on with the task. I will write the facts as simply as possible in my own words, or paraphrased and I will include the page number wherever possible. This is by no means intended as a summary or an exhaustive collection of important insights from the book.

Chapter 1:
1) Sir Walter Raleigh renamed the state of “Virginia” in honor of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.

2) Ronald Takaki points out that there is an inaccurate representation constantly reinforced throughout history that the first people to inhabit America were Europeans. This overlooks the indigenous people of Africa, Asia and Latin America who were also among the immigrants that formed America. They are perceived as “outsiders” and left out of the history and America itself. He suggests that the education history in America is “Euro-centric” and “White-centered”.

3) “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.” – Martin Luther King.

4) Asian Americans began arriving in America long before many European immigrants. In 1882, Congress passed a Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited the entry of immigrants to America based on their nationality. Turns out the Japanese faced the same short end of the stick.

5) A number of Jews settled and grew in the Lower East Side, they exploited an army of Jewish women who worked in garment factories and stressed the importance of education by pooling in family resources to educate the brothers in renowned institutions. They rose to be Middle-Class Americans and entered mainstream. With the rise of Hitler, they demanded that Americans do everything in their power to rescue Jews from the brutalities of the Germans. This was met with a tide of Anti-Semitism and indifference. Many jews stood shoulder to shoulder with African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement.

6) Mexican Americans became a part of United States when the border was moved and United States annexed the Southwest. Most of the current 12 million “illegal immigrants” are from Mexico.

7) After Afghanistan was invaded by Russians in 1979, the US intervened, arming and financing the mujahideen – the anti-Soviet “freedom fighters”. After the Russian defeat in 1989, civil war broke out, ending with the ascendancy of the religiously conservative and oppressive Taliban. Safe in America, the Afghan refugees were barely noticed until September 11, 2001. This day changed the lives of the Afghans in America and the way they were perceived.

8) Native Americans represent a significant contrast to the other groups. They were the original Americans who have been here for thousands of years before the voyage of Columbus. Indians had been farming the land for centuries, but the English colonizers stereotyped them as “savages” and seized their lands by warfare. These colonizers were celebrated as heroes and their victories designing a “path” to create a White America.

9) The contradiction between the professed principle of equality and the practice of prejudice had been prevalent. Around 1963 came a cascade of laws for social justice. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which, in turn opened the way to the passage of the Immigration Act in 1965. The history of America is the history of diverse people who transformed America into a mighty economy and an amazingly unique society of various ethnicities, religions and races. In the process, transforming all these different people into Americans.

(Will be continued as I keep reading. Groundwork laid today.)


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