What is a summary of A Different Mirror?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki is a discussion of America's cultural heritage and the many things that aren't taught in traditional history classes. He posits that history that isn't Eurocentric is often left out of traditional narratives, which erases the experiences that many people of different cultures had throughout American history. 

At the beginning of the book, Takaki describes his encounter with a taxi driver who asked him how long he'd been in America, saying that Takaki spoke English very well. Takaki responded that his family had been in America for more than 100 years—which made them both aware of the racial divide between them.

He uses that as a jumping-off-point to discuss the many different cultures that make up the U.S. He points out that "one-third of American people do not trace their origins to Europe" (1). Still, Takaki says, people don't have a sense of their national identity, because most history books and classes are centered on primarily white history.

In the first part of the book, Takaki uses Shakespeare's The Tempest as a way to relate the English takeover of North America. He discusses how the British related to other cultures and how they gained possession of the land and became the ruling class. He shows how rhetoric deployed against the Indians developed—rhetoric that was used against other groups that later came to the U.S.

In the second part of the book, "Contradictions," Takaki discusses slavery, Native American migration, and relations with Mexico. He also discusses the history and immigration of Irish and Chinese Americans. He compares the treatment of Native Americans to the treatment of the Irish. Both were portrayed as savage for religious differences, lack of traditional education, and problems making their land produce enough food.

The third part of the book, "Transitions," focuses on the immigration of Japanese people, Russians, and Mexican laborers. Takaki talks about the black experience in northern urban atmospheres and how Native Americans were moved onto reservations.

The final section of the book is called "Transformations" and discusses race and how different cultures were suppressed and silenced during World War II and in the post-war era. He discusses the different wars the U.S. engaged in, Civil Rights, and why a better understanding of history from all sides matters.

In conclusion, A Different Mirror is a history of the United States from the point of view of cultures whose history in the U.S. is largely ignored.

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A Different Mirror

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