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A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America

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From its colonization to the Los Angeles riots, this book recounts the history of America from a multicultural point of view, while detailing the involvements and achievements of the non-Anglo participants who helped create it. Reprint.

508 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1993

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About the author

Ronald Takaki

33 books88 followers
Ronald Toshiyuki Takaki was an American academic, historian, ethnographer and author.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 323 reviews
Profile Image for Mary.
28 reviews4 followers
April 26, 2013
In the beginning, there was only one version of American history -- the one that began with the "discovery" of North America by Europeans, particularly the English, who created a beachhead of "civilization" on the East coast and then conquered a series of "frontiers" moving westward until they "won" and became God's gift to humanity, creating a country which is like a city built on a hill shedding light and progress everywhere else on earth . That is the history I was taught in the 50's and early 60's as I was growing up and coming of age. Sometime in the late 60's a competing version appeared - so-called ethnic histories, the stories of this or that "unmeltable" population (African Americans, Native Americans, women, Asian Americans.... well, you get the picture. ) That was the "new" version of American history that was emerging in the late 60's and into the 70's when I was in graduate school and just beginning my career as a teacher. The task was to recover the histories that had been lost or hidden and write them down as quickly as possible before they disappeared again. For the future's sake, I had to piece together the two histories for my students, forcing them to read between the lines of a "standard US history" (or so the administration called it!) and various books telling the story of individual "non-standard" groups (again, the fretting language of administrators at the time!)
The problem is that American history is so incredibly more complicated than that and is found in the interplay of all the people who have come to occupy the same space, literally and figuratively, with one another and between one another. I think we are finally starting to come to grips with the fact that it isn't just the story of WASPM America that is to be trusted, and I believe we are beginning, as well, to understand that it is as much the story of the interplay of all the histories of ALL the individual groups who have landed here (by choice, force, or chance - including those who wandered here in antiquity.) than any single strain of that history. The themes are HUGE - and heroes become villains and villains become heroes depending on which lens one is looking through. It's hard to get one's mind around the actual Story between all the stories, to come to grips with what it means to call ourselves a "multicultural nation" - as if somehow THAT will solve all our dilemmas. The real story is so messy, so complex, and, well, so very human.
Ronald Takaki's book is a starting attempt at creating a popular history (as opposed to an academic one) which allows the stories of our separate identities to play together. First published in 1993 (and brought "up to date" in a second edition in 2008), "A Different Mirror" follows the history of multiple specific groups as they arrive and seek to get a foothold in creating their own identity as Americans . It is a story about the continuing tension between our ideal ("all men (and women) are created equal") and our steadfast commitment to "the bottom line." Unapologetic democracy and unchecked capitalism are strange (and strained) bedfellows, and whole groups of human beings have been consumed in the living out of the thing. I appreciate the effort -- the book can serve as a solid, accessible introduction to the complexity for anyone willing to go there. It isn't by any means THE definitive history -- but it is a good start -- and I think a good starting place for walking toward a history that is truer to the truth about us than that which we have seen before.

Profile Image for Colleen Browne.
304 reviews67 followers
December 18, 2021
This is a very important book. I thought I knew a lot about the subject but this book showed me just how much I did not know. Delving into the history of the many groups that have entered America over time, it has a lot to teach. Dispelling myths and untruths about our history, it goes a long way toward helping the reader more fully understand the country in which we live and the dedication and deep research undertaken by the author deserve to be applauded. Published in 1993, I have only one desire: I wish Takaki would update the book to include recent events- or maybe he has and I am unaware of it.
Profile Image for m7md.
102 reviews28 followers
March 3, 2018
I don't think I can describe how appreciative I am of Ronald Takaki's writing style.

This book gives an outline of how America has become the multicultural world it is today. This book was written so brilliantly that it was hard to put down for me. It contains so much forgotten pain and trauma that will correct misconceptions, answer unasked questions, and make sense of the American present multicultural reality.

A book I did not know I needed.

So inspirational. So important. SO good.
Profile Image for Tony Zheng .
42 reviews
August 23, 2011
This book is about point of views from different people who came to America thinking about having a better life, but came here only be put at work, discriminated and hated. But later generations saw what their ancestors went through and put more effort into education and business because they saw the good jobs came from education. People tried to fit into the American Society but they were not so easily accepted. From the two chapters that were read which were "Searching For Gold Mountain and Pacific Crossings" they showed how Asians were treated and what the Asians thought of the land from their point of view, which was not what they thought it would be. But when your reading the book, you could see each race's point of view.
Profile Image for Ahmed.
187 reviews9 followers
April 29, 2014
This book does not only depict the history of multi-cultural America but also predicts the future of multi-cultural America in a very pleasant and smooth way. The very beginning (A Different Mirror: the making of multicultural America) is the best part of the whole book. I just Love it. It gives general view and outline of how America has become multicultural. It is simple and straight to the point. Sometimes, you forget that you are reading a textbook full of Info, rather you think yourself reading a literary book, a novel.

And then the book goes smoothly from one historical phase to another. It goes from Foundations to Contradictions to Transitions to Transformations and then to how America will be in the future.Under every Main chapter, there are miner chapters. This book is wonderfully composed.

One thing I really do not like about the book and I consider it the only flaw in the book, is the organization of the pictures. The pictures in the book are not well organized. They scattered in ten papers in secession. Every picture should be in the miner chapter it belongs to. Every picture describes an event.

After Reading this book you will know how British colonists, African, Irish, Jew, Chinese, Japanese, and Afghans first came to America.

Warning: Before reading this book, try to read The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Reading or watching the play The Tempest is a necessity because the author relates to it very often. It will do you good if you read Moby-Dick by Herman Melville,too.

I regret one Thing only, This book deserve more time than the time I have given it. If I were you I would have one month to read it. However, It is a book that I will read over and over again. It is a book that will be kept and saved for life in my humble small book shelf.
Profile Image for Jeff.
635 reviews42 followers
February 23, 2020
Takaki tells the story of US (hUStory) by looking into "different mirrors", namely those of the American Indian, African American, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and Jewish experience rather than the Anglo/White mirror. Having read this book immediately after A People's History of the United States, i'm most struck by Takaki's willingness to see progress and improvement (eg, every strike ends with capitalists' conceding to workers' demands) ... and then there's the Shakespearean lens thru which he frames the Anglo experience of non-Anglos as Calibans.

Never fear, o lover of conventional histories: Takaki only uses the Tempestuous analogy heavily for the first ~100 pages (ie, 75% of the text has only trivial call-backs to The Tempest). Though it's probably a valid and (at times) useful comparison, it's still awkward for a history book even to someone like me who has read only 5 histories in 50 years of bibliophilia.

If you're a student of hUStory, the section about Asian labor in Hawaii might actually be new to you. I believe Takaki's specialty is the Asian American immigrant experience. The Chinese and Japanese sections felt much more robust, which is only to say that he seems to know so much about Asian American history that his handling of the other groups feels less self-assured.

Another book i wish i'd read when i was much younger. I would've liked to have this viewpoint in my memory for a larger portion of my adulthood. Strongly recommended for anyone interested in hUStory.

Now for a little speechifying ... or rambling ... i'm not impartial enough to say.

It continues to blow my mind how outrageously we honkies have treated and continue to mistreat Native Americans. (Chris Rock agrees [nsfw]) It's interesting how often "god" is invoked to justify so-called white supremacy, whether it's manifest destiny or slavery or Jim Crow or redlining or employment or welfare. (See Stannard's American Holocaust for a book with that idea as its thesis.) In the words of all the white parents i know, "Life isn't fair." A convenient truth for the biggest cheaters of all time. I'm off the rails right now and wish i had something useful to say about it all.

Please look into different mirrors, seek out different perspectives, read more, listen more, learn more about people whom you think aren't like you. It won't make you happier but it might increase your chances of being empathetic. Maybe that will increase our communal odds of decreasing injustice, which seems to thrive on selfishness and apathy.
Profile Image for Arthur.
178 reviews7 followers
July 11, 2015
Recently a student told me how angry she was about how much of American history was "kept from her." By "kept," she was commenting on her own education and the depth of ignorance that her education created by ignoring or "whitewashing" (her word) the whole history of her country--the USA. Using only one lens left her more than half-blind.

Finishing this remarkable history of immigration, our consistent use and abuse of the Other (sometimes invited, often forced, usually used, seldom valued) in our midst, the unfortunate consistency of the "dominant cultural" response to the Other, and the sad celebration of what Franklin called "the lovely White"—leaves me with the same sense of anger. Accompanying the anger, I add frustration, remorse, and, well, simply, sadness. So much abuse. So much energy dedicated to the suppression of the Other. So much vanity. So much ignorance and such great loss.

I said recently to a friend of mine, "I can't help wondering how different life in the US would be if we had just taken the time to listen and to learn." That's where the sadness and vanity come in. Nonetheless, I am amazed at the amazing stories of resilience of those who, regardless of abuse and marginalization and worse, continue claim this place and call us to live more truly the American Dream--more often, for them, a nightmare.

This was an important book to read. I am glad that I read it. I invite others to take this journey through multicultural America.

At the end of the book (published in 1993), Takaki leaves me with a sense of hope. The last line of the book says, "As we hear American singing, we find ourselves invited to bring our rich cultural diversity on deck, to accept ourselves. 'Of every hue and caste am I,' sang [Walt] Whitman. 'I resist any thing better than my own diversity.'" I wrote in the book at the end of the final chapter, "Oh, I hope this will be true." But it is a hard hope. A hard, hard hope. But it begins with a book like this that makes it possible for me to look at my country through both lenses.
125 reviews1 follower
September 23, 2013
Has an interesting premise, but doesn't quite have the depth I expected. It mostly consisted of a series of formulaic tales of woe—here is how group X came to America, and how decent and hard-working they were, and how the Anglos mistreated them, and here is how group Y came here, and also worked hard and was decent, and was also mistreated, etc. I guess there might still be people out there who have prejudices about minorities and aren't aware that this country has a history of racism and ethnic discrimination... So this was important info and I'm glad it was in the book, but it's not enough. I hoped it would present major trends in US history from the point of view of minorities, and highlight their contributions and influences on mainstream history and culture, but this was done only occasionally and inconsistently. Takaki provides a lot of selective details, but not enough analysis. I'm not sure if that's because of the author's choices, or because there is simply not enough primary sources available to do this—he does get better the closer he gets to modern times. So it may not be his fault, but either way, I was underwhelmed with the final result.
Profile Image for Ryan Mishap.
3,397 reviews63 followers
October 22, 2008
Covers different ground than Zinn's People's GHistory, and it isn't nearly as long and sweeping, but it also covers things Zinn barely touched on or didn't mention. Especially Hawaii--where the author's family is from. Well worth reading for the history you didn't get in school. My only complaint is that he frames the whole book through "The Tempest", using Caliban as the Other through which to view the history of the so-called New World. It gets annoying after the third time.
Profile Image for Pavlina.
128 reviews1 follower
April 1, 2018
This is a great history book, full of real people's stories, which make historical events much more intelligible and interesting. Some chapters of this book were assigned reading for my American history course, so I had expected a struggle. Surprisingly, I've found myself reading the whole book with great interest. I can, however, recommend the revised edition, supplemented with lots of updated information concerning the recent events. Clearly written and accessible, the book offers an extraordinary view of American history from the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to some 2007-2008. The book does not go so deep into the historical facts and dates, it rather puts forward personal experiences of real people on the historical background.
Profile Image for Anne.
189 reviews9 followers
March 1, 2021
This was an extremely dense book but one I’m extremely glad that I took the time to read. I was familiar with quite a few of the individual events that occurred in this book, but seeing them outlined in such detail and such frequency was truly overwhelming.

It was also pretty sobering to read the blatant prejudice in the quotes from so many venerated Americans.

I find myself wanting to encourage everyone I know to read this book, but I feel like the size (440+ pages) and sheer density of information will be off-putting for anyone who’s not already invested in understanding the entirety of American history.
Profile Image for Yee-Ning.
53 reviews
October 3, 2021
A great survey, well-organized, lots of details, of the history of different cultures and immigrants to the United States.

It probably speaks to the things my schools' history curriculum focused on in k-12 years, but this is sadly the First history book that I've read where extensive ink has been spilled on the all the different heritages of the U.S., starting from Pre-Columbus "discovery" to the War in Afghanistan. The textbooks we had may have devoted a page, a paragraph to non-European immigrants, and even if it did, it in no way was the focus, Ever, of the curriculum for any unit of time.

This book gives a refreshingly different perspective where one can see how the plight of one group really equals the plight of all, especially when we are all subjected through the narrow narrative lens of "white" history.

It was emotional to read a textbook that actually talks about your family history. Growing up the Vietnam War was always discussed in class as a thing the US did to Vietnam until it decided not to do it to Vietnam anymore, not what happened to all the refugees that came over and integrated their history with US history afterwards. Same thing with the Chinese Exclusion Act; of course Chinese were excluded--those Chinatowns were filthy--not what they endured and the racist policies that put them in "seedy" positions, the edge of Chinese culture against the predominant whites of the time. This book does Everyone justice and explores where the concept of "whiteness" and race comes from and where everyone fits in in their piece of America.

I don't think I ever questioned if I ever belonged in America, despite the racist children's catcalls back in grade school and not ever having my past or my heritage be a part of the school curriculum. But this book gave me a lightness of being seen which I did not think I needed before.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
249 reviews
October 20, 2021
This is a fantastic introduction to race and ethnicity in US history. It is especially useful for anyone that does not really read or even like history because it is written in a very accessible way with a lot of first-hand accounts. The use of Shakespear did not work for me but my students and I were able to work through those references and mostly ignore them.
Profile Image for Mbgirl.
257 reviews8 followers
August 24, 2022
10-toes takaki was teaching at Cal during my college years. He is absolutely instrumental in changing the definition of American history, including diverse ethnicities into the narrative.

Denied tenure, he punted over to Cal, where he was offered a position as AProf in Ethnic Studies. Getting through his inclusive 2 seminal works wasn’t easy reading, but it was important for me, a Chinese American.

Sorry he took his own life 13 years back due to MS suffering.
27 reviews
December 10, 2010
A Different Mirror : A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki is a book which provides the readers with perspectives of people who come form different cultures and how they are accepted by the American people but also Ronald Takaki does a good job in taking this events form the past and attaching them to modern day society and how the idea of racism has not disappeared.A on going theme is us against them because on one side the owners who are bringing this racism to the different race are saying they are just doing this action to make sure this other race doesn't have more power than the Americans.Were the other race is saying that the treatment which are being brought on by the masters is unfair and nobody should be treated like that also how the slave's don't have any rights which makes it unfair.I learned one thing that this fear that Americans have form other races did not die in fact it is still growing we as people should work together to resolve this issue.Also the idea of racism actually causes the morals and the values which this country was founded on would be lost.
Profile Image for Michael Ponsler.
29 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2021
Horribly maudlin leftist propaganda pushing the white supremacist narrative supported only by anecdotes & excerpts of poetry and diary entries referencing random incidents of interpersonal conflicts. Takaki had an obvious obsession with race and held unresolved resentments. This is the epitome of virtue signaling. The chapter titled Shakespeare's Dream about America was torturous!! It's the only Takaki book I've read (likely the last) but it leaves me thinking the guy would've been a fine fiction or poetry writer if he had ever managed to resolve his internal struggle with identity. I feel sad for the pitifully angry man.
For those that believe the history of the United States should stand alone as the one country without conflict, strife, and turmoil of every variety I suggest waking the hell up. Consider the reality that all of that difficulty experienced by those who migrated here did not outweigh the great benefits that prevented them from returning to their countries of origin nor did it prevent them from encouraging their family and friends to follow them here.
162 reviews1 follower
May 10, 2010
This is the second time that I have read this book. It is a highly readable history of American immigration and ethnic history, of interest to both the scholar and layman. My only criticism is that Takaki concentrates so much on the difficulties--racial prejudice, legal discrimination, etc.--, all of which is certainly true, that he neglects to explain why immigrants kept coming to the United States and what happened to them into the third and fourth generation that was born in America. Nonetheless, I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Sarah.
14 reviews2 followers
November 17, 2017
Disappointed.I️ thought it would be historical but instead it was full of opinions. He focused a lot on the victim hood of minorities instead of seeing them as a powerful force for good in America’s history. He told about Rosa Parks but never made mention of the first African American to stand up on a bus named Claudette Colvin. The 15 year old who really changed social policy due to her learning of Harriet Tubman. He isn’t a historian but a professor at Berkeley that seems more concerned about social justice than the truth. Really disappointed😩in the book.
5 reviews
July 21, 2008
This book and Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States are the typical coming-of-age my-high-school-history-class-didn't-mention-that-capitalism-is-oppressive-ah-ha! books. These books also tend to be a foundation for many of us white folks to start understanding racism as something real, still alive, and the basis of our economy. Be sure to read something light hearted at the same time, unless you have a strong sense of optimism.
Profile Image for Aaron.
309 reviews44 followers
November 25, 2016
Social History (as opposed to "official" history) has emerged as its own genre in recent years. Perhaps its most famous book is Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. I'll also add to that my personal favorite American Nations. These books eschew the standard fare "big events" or "names and dates" approach to history to focus on the human aspect. Some do this better than others. I'm not opposed to the "big event" type of history - they are, after all, big events. But I support these writers and historians for telling the stories that give a sense of what it was like for people at the time. It seems that so often people are treated as kind of the backdrop of history even though they're the ones fighting the wars, holding the elections, producing the works of art, winning the contests, inventing those better light bulbs. And naturally, since these are effort to tell more of the story, such history is usually told with a focus on those who has been largely left out of the story - the disenfranchised, the abused, the misremembered and ultimately forgotten. Again, I'm all about setting the story straight and telling it like it is, so I'm all in favor of a telling these stories and bringing truth to the light.

However, throughout this genre there is another common theme. I believe that these writers and historians are acting in good faith and aim to right the wrongs of history. I believe there is so much focus on the people that have been wronged, and specifically on the what was done to them, that these become histories of victims and monsters. I want to be careful with this point so that it's clear what I'm saying, and what I'm not saying. A People's History is perhaps the best and most often-cited example of this. I've read reviews from critics saying that it's Anti-American. I've had conversations about that book where people have told me that Zinn is biased against white people and "the establishment", just trying to defame America out of spite, to sell books, to score points with minorities. Now that's a bit much. From what I can tell, Zinn seemed like he really wanted to balance out the history books by bringing to light the shameful stories in our history. Because it's our history - all of us. Not pretty, but it did happen and we must recognize it. And to that point, I totally agree and support him. But I have a problem with his approach. Yes, we do need to face the land grabs of the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War. Yes, we do need to face the history of slavery in all its ugliness. Yes, we do need to acknowledge the role of privilege throughout American history, privilege of race, sex, religion, association, and so on. Yes, we do need to acknowledge that the public institutions created of, for, and by the people have often been exploited for the interests of those in power at the expense of the rest. I'm on board with all of this. But it can't be only this. What is the sum effect of talking exclusively about the evils committed by the United States government? Or on the American Indians exclusively as victims of genocide? Or of black people exclusively as people struggling against slavery, Jim Crow, and pervasive, ongoing racism? There must be more to the story. Otherwise, the very groups you aim to humanize back into the story are exploited as props and placeholders in your own version of history, and stripped of their humanity all the same. There’s more to black people than racism ¬¬– so let’s round out the story here. In other words, by focusing exclusively on institutions as agents of wrongdoing, and on people as noble victims but victims nonetheless, it doesn't balance out the story - it creates a politically and ideologically charged polemic, and it aims it at anyone comfortable with the status quo. I can't emphasize this enough - I'm all for challenging the status quo and for getting people out of their comfort zones, but I can't believe this is the way to do it. "Us versus them". "Drawing a line in the sand." "With the people or against the people" is still an ultimatum. Is there another way? Is there a way to tell these stories without creating more division? Can we find a way that fosters understanding, and reaches out to people that don't feel comfortable looking at these events in history? Yes, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King shook the world, and their stories are woven into the big events of history. But George Washington Carver was subject to the very same institutions of slavery and Jim Crow that they struggled against; Carver didn't have any stories with the heroic courage of Douglass, or the grand and noble dignity of King. Yet he was still a giant of industry (to this day, how many commercial products contain peanuts) and a scientist who never really got his due in the history books. Who will tell his story? (Okay, I read a biography on him in the 5th grade, and it left a huge impression on me, but you know what I mean.) History is not just blood and guts, shame and glory. Surely someone can take an honest look at it, and capture the things that fell in between.

Enter Ronald Takaki. I doubt he set out to write the definitive book on multiculturalism in American history. No single book could do that. In fact, that's kind of the whole idea. But with that said, I doubt anyone could do a better job to capture so much, written so eloquently, with a fair and even hand. As you'd expect from the above, so many of these stories are sad. So sad. A lot of betrayal. A lot of exploitation. A lot of hardship and defeat. But also a lot of success through struggle. A lot of hope, joy, humor, cleverness, and of course a bit of luck. After all, these are real stories of real people. Who would tell your story? Or the story of your hometown? Would it be a sad story? Or a glorious story? Would it be a boring story? It would probably be a mixed bag - so many people, so many things happening over so many years. I think Takaki set out to capture that, and I can't imagine he did it so well by accidental. There's no single tone throughout the book, nor even throughout a section. He captured so much of the uniqueness, the specialness of all the different groups of people he talks about. No, never treating them as a caricature, but more than that, never trying to reduce them to a singular identity, a singular narrative. These are groups of people; no single story could tell it all.

It may seem strange that I wrote such a long introduction for such a short review. I did this for two reason. First, I wanted to place this book in that genre of social history, which I do believe is correct, but I wanted to make it clear that this stands apart from so many other popular books that define that genre. I'm not saying those other books are bad, but they're so often typical of what I described above. And since I don't know of any word to capture that, I had to spell it out so I can clearly contrast it against A Different Mirror. And second, I don't want to over-sell this book, but I really thought it was an excellent work of history and of writing, and there's no way I could capture that in a review. If you have any interest in this topic, I highly recommend this book.

Before I close, a couple quick notes about the style and some devices Takaki uses. First, he never seems to go for big effects - no action scenes, no hard contrasts to evoke a reaction. I think he accepts the stories are strong enough on their own that no Hollywood movie magic is required, and would only lessen the effect compared to telling the stories plainly. Second, in the first several chapters he employs a device of using Shakespeare's The Tempest with its character Caliban personifying the Other incarnate. Takaki doesn't overplay it, but he uses this as a metaphor or even as a model to illustrate how English colonists would have understood the new peoples they came into contact with. It's not a perfect metaphor, but I think he employs it well, even if only as a reminder that English people in 1610 did not have the same experience, ideas, values, or exposure to information that we do today. Finally, the organization and style is entirely his own, but the text is saturated with direct quotations. There was a far higher percentage of quoted language in this text than, probably, anything I've ever read. It's not just the volume of quoted text, but it's skillful application. He must have a huge amount of material to draw from because he always seems to have just the right quote to capture the sentiment. This heavy use of quotation both tethers the book close to the topic (no waxing philosophical) and it gives a lot of voice and personality to the people themselves. It's subtle but powerful.

So overall, good writing, good topic, great style, excellent work.
Profile Image for Francesca Calarco.
360 reviews33 followers
February 3, 2018
I tend to be skeptical of books covering broad stretches of history, and this was then compounded by the number of groups Takaki sought to represent (e.g., Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, Jewish Americans, Irish Americans, etc.). That said, this collection was well executed and is definitely worth a read.

Due to Takaki's objective of re-examining deep American history through the lens of disenfranchised groups, everyone and their mother will probably draw comparisons to Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." While that is valid, Takaki's approach is very much rooted in how ethnic minority groups both shaped and were impacted by prominent events such as the colonial period, the Civil War, World War II, and the 9/11 attacks. Here Takaki examines meanings of the social constructs that create the very concept of 'race,' as well as what it ultimately means to be 'American.' Identity is very much the name of the game.

Furthermore, by shinning a light each chapter on a specific ethnic group, he is able to address the stereotypes associated with them in set time periods. Every group mentioned overcame some manner of adversity, and were dehumanized or otherized in specific ways. Takaki lays out the context for each situation, subverts the narrative of passive victimhood, and zeroes in on the perseverance and agency of each group.

My only criticism would be that there were points of history that should have been mentioned or elaborated on. Specifically, cities are the major focal point post-Civil War, and I would have liked to have read more about rural history in the Jim Crow era. Also, while major discriminatory legislation is highlighted (e.g. 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Plessy v Ferguson, Immigration Act of 1924, etc.), I would have also been interested in reading more on the civil rights efforts prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, as well as their direct aftereffects.

Still, what is presented is ambitious in scope, and its largest strength is the due to the emotional earnestness of the delivery. The accounts of ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are not b-side stories, but American history itself. Ronald Takaki has a personal stake in making this point clear, being the member of a multi-ethnic family himself. This emotional core at the center of a well-researched body of work is what makes "A Different Mirror" worth reading.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,233 reviews
September 15, 2019
Takaki presents a revised history of the US; he focuses not on the European (white) settlers as much as the other groups that have been persecuted along the way. He makes a very compelling argument for the ways in which whites came to American to avoid religious persecution in England and perpetuated British, colonial racism.

Using the framework of Shakespeare's The Tempest, Takaki explores the British idea of the "savage" and whites use of dehumanization to dominate on a global scale. He does a very good job of turning the "typical" story of America on its head and describing the ways in which those in power (from the beginning the white upper class male) control the lower classes.

From the beginning when lower class whites were pitted against African slaves to the Rodney King riots of 1992 (the book was published in 1993, so it doesn't explore beyond then) Takaki illustrates the ways in which race is used to create in fighting among the "have nots" rather than provoke questions directed against the "haves".

Overall it is a very dense historical narrative describing the immigration of Irish, Chinese, Jewish, Japanese, Mexican peoples as well as the Black experience and the persecution of the Native American Indians. Definitely a worth while read, but some of his conclusions seem rather naive from 2019.

Takaki hopefully asserts that with the fall of the Soviet Union, US military spending can decline and social service spending can increase. He also predicts that American industry will reinvigorate and middle class jobs will resurface. Instead, in the 27 years since the publication of this book we have only seen more military spending, increased negativity focused on immigrants (especially under the Trump administration) and further reduction in welfare funding. We are not closer to a united body, we are in many ways further apart.

Understanding the deep and significant historical roots of racism in this country is important and Takaki's text provides a great framework for understanding.
Profile Image for Erin.
136 reviews
July 31, 2018
This book is only 400 pages, but it took me three-and-a-half months to read it. I didn't like what I was reading.

In this thoroughly sourced text, UC Berkely historian Ronald Takaki describes how the British and then the Americans treated the Irish, Native Americans, black slaves, Eastern Europeans, Jews, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Hawaiians. He describes their contributions to America. He describes their battle to be accepted, even to become citizens.

This was not the America I learned about in my 1960s and 1970s textbooks which celebrated America's commitment to equality and freedom for all. I didn't learn about Japanese interment camps until college. I just now learned that Chinese and Japanese immigrants were not allowed to become naturalized citizens until 1943? And that was in response to Japanese information campaigns that claimed WW2 was a race war.

I am glad I read this book. I hope/think America is changing, progressing. I suspect that some of the apparent rise in white supremacist groups is a reaction to the shrinking white majority.

And yet, many of the things people said about Native Americans, Jews, Irish, blacks back then--are strikingly similar to things I hear today, and some of the laws that were passed protecting whites while exploiting people of color then, are strikingly similar to actions we see today.

This is a challenging book to read, but I am glad I read it because I believe it is important to gain deeper understanding of the past in order to gain deeper understanding of the present.

Of note, this is not a "yay America" book, but neither is it a "America is terrible" book. It is a reflection on an America is that is at the same time hopeful that America is still in the process of becoming. The book ends with a quotation from Langston Hughes' poem: "Let America Be America Again." This is a poem I have recently discovered, a poem by a black man in the 1920s, a time that was not kind to black men. Hughes expresses faith that the America will one day "be the dream the dreamers dreamed . . . [where] equality is in the air we breathe" (qtd in Takaki 439). I too am hopeful.
63 reviews
June 23, 2021
Amazing book. This was eye opening information and not hard to believe. This great country - United States of America grew up and evolved on the backs of so many ethic groups from the American Indians, the Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Italians, Mexicans and so many others. Our path to citizenship and fairness of work/wages really need to reviewed. I recommend this to supplement what you have learned in school. It is the “rest of the story”. We all have a lot to learn. Thanks!
Profile Image for Matt.
156 reviews
January 29, 2022
Like probably many left-leaning folks, reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” was a turning point in how I understood capital-H History. It dismantled a lot of the naive assumptions and false lessons I’d learned or inherited, and made me really sit with how and why America is like it is.

Takaki’s “A Different Mirror” takes that further and dives more deeply into the multicultural roots of the nation, with facts and stories from communities of indigenous peoples, Irish indentured servants, Chinese railroad workers, Russian Jews, Mexican farm laborers, Vietnamese small business owners.

It wasn’t easy or lightweight reading, particularly with some of the excerpts of hate-filled rhetoric from White people (and one truly horrific section on how the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings were never necessary to end the war and motivated by Truman’s anti-Asian racism).

But it gave me a much better sense of how we got here, and how similar - yet wildly different - other humans’ experience in this country have been.
Profile Image for Alyssa Bohman.
48 reviews
April 13, 2021
Read this for my multicultural America class and giving it 5 stars because I’d recommend it to anyone! Really eye-opening. I learned so much I wish I’d known sooner.
Profile Image for Cole.
2 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2022
Probably one of the better books I've been required to read for a class. Wish they'd teach this book in HS!
Profile Image for Petter Nordal.
196 reviews10 followers
January 29, 2021
This is an essential book for anyone who actually wants to understand the history of the United States. It's exactly what a history book should be: Takaki shows where the information comes from and shows you things you didn't know about race, economics and policy going back to the founding of the American state.
Profile Image for Clara  Prizont.
116 reviews1 follower
July 5, 2020
Finally finished! The first half was a little slow but filled with important information so I took my time getting through it. The second half was incredible. Read it at a lightning pace. Such an important book!!!
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