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.

Read the study guide:
A Different Mirror

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