What are some quotes from A Different Mirror?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Important quotes from A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki incorporate the theme that many different races and cultures helped build America, show the attitude of the ruling structure toward minorities, and help elucidate the perspectives of the people who built America.

Near the beginning of the book, Takaki explains that many people contributed to building America:

Furthermore, many diverse ethnic groups have contributed to the building of the American economy, forming what Walt Whitman saluted as "a vast, surging, hopeful army of workers." They worked in the South's cotton fields, New England's textile mills, Hawaii's canefields, New York's garment factories, California's orchards, Washington's salmon canneries, and Arizona's copper mines. They built the railroad, the great symbol of America's industrial triumph. (10)

He goes on to explain that black, Irish, Japanese, and Chicano workers all had a major part in building the railroad.

In another section, Takaki explores Thomas Jefferson's attitude toward the Native Americans, saying, "To civilize Indians meant, for Jefferson, to take them from their hunting way of life and convert them into farmers." He then says that "in blaming the Indians for their own decline, Jefferson insisted that the transfer of Indian lands to whites had been done fairly and legally" (46).

Takaki also juxtaposes different groups. He says:

The Irish came about the same time as the Chinese, but they had a distinct advantage: the Naturalization Law of 1770 had reserved citizenship for "whites" only. Their compatible complexion allowed them to assimilate by blending into American society. (190)

By showing this, Takaki shows that each group's struggle is unique. He also shows that discrimination via the law wasn't done entirely on the basis of national origin—it was often simply an issue of race.

Takaki explains his reasoning for writing the book when he says:

I believe our education system as a whole has not integrated the histories of all people into our education system, just the Eurocentric view of itself, and the White-centered view of African Americans, and even this is slim to nonexistent. What I find is that most people don't know the fact they don't know, because of the complete lack of information. (5-6)

He's making an appeal to the reader that there is an alternate history that isn't as available. By reading his book, the reader is able to better understand the history of the United States and the many groups that helped create and sustain it.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here are some quotes from A Different Mirror:

  • "He saw me through a filter—what I call the Master Narrative of American History. According to this powerful and popular yet inaccurate story, our country was settled by European immigrants, and Americans are white" (4). The author retells the story of how a cab driver complimented him on his English, even though the author's grandfather had come from Japan to the U.S. in the 1880s. The cab driver saw the author though a lens that filtered out everyone who wasn't white and presented a picture of America as a white country.
  • "Contrary to the views of historians like Turner and Hamilton, America is a nation peopled by the world, and we are all Americans" (5). The author writes that historians in the past have not seen America as a diverse nation, but we are a nation characterized by diversity.
  • "But what happens when historians do not 'record' their stories, leaving out many of America's peoples? What happens when, to borrow the words of Adrienne Rich, when 'someone with the authority of a teacher' describes our society, and 'you are not in it?' Such an experience can be disorienting" (19). The author uses the image of a mirror to capture the way in which many historians do not include the stories of non-white people in their narratives. Therefore, when a person of color looks in the mirror of American history, he or she cannot find himself or herself. The result is psychologically disorienting.
  • "Like Caliban, Indians seemed to lack everything the English identified as civilized—Christianity, cities, letter, and clothing" (33). Using the character of Caliban from The Tempest, the author captures the way in which English settlers saw Native Americans as barbarians and savages.
  • "But Caliban could have been African. As they watched The Tempest in London in 1611, theatergoers were told Caliban was 'freckled,' dark in complexion. His father was a demon, and his mother was Sycorax, a witch who had lived in Africa" (49). English people looked upon Africans as similar to the character of Caliban and viewed them as savages connected with witchcraft.
  • "To many white southerners, slaves were childlike, irresponsible, lazy, affectionate, and happy. Together, these alleged qualities represented a type of personality—a 'Sambo" (104). The author writes about the way white southerners saw African Americans and the ways in which this narrative was captured in histories of the US.
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A Different Mirror

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