A Different Mirror

by Ronald Takaki

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Why is it important to focus on the humanity of historically marginalized populations in American history, and how does it benefit all Americans to have a more accurate and inclusive understanding of the past and its impact on the present? Please discuss concrete examples from Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror, particularly chapters 10-17, to support your answer.

It is important to focus on the humanity of historically marginalized peoples in American history for many reasons. One is that by understanding the histories of historically marginalized peoples, we can gain a deeper understanding of current issues. Another is that histories that do not account for marginalized peoples are incomplete, superficial, and inaccurate.

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Over the last few decades, historians, formerly mainly interested in the actions of prominent white men, have studied increasingly diverse topics. What has resulted is a more expansive, and more contested history of the United States. In fact, some have argued that the study of diverse groups precludes a unified national historical narrative at all.

Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror aims to be such a narrative that incorporates a wide range of voices, and peoples. It is his argument, one shared by most professional historians, that our understanding of history changes as we add and incorporate different voices. We cannot, for example, see the American Revolution solely as a struggle for freedom if we include the experiences of Native Americans. The story becomes far more complex, nuanced, and rife with contradictions if we include groups other than the previously centered patriots and redcoats. Takaki frames the importance of learning about diverse peoples in this way:

What happens...when someone with the authority of a teacher describes our society, and you are not in it?...Through their narratives about their lives and circumstances, the people of America's diverse groups are able to see themselves and each other in our common past.

In chapters ten through seventeen, Takaki explores the experiences of a number of different immigrant groups, including Chinese, Japanese, Eastern European, and Mexican immigrants, as well as African American migrants to the North. He compares and contrasts their experiences, finding discrimination to be a common thread.

But he also sees a shared experience in their reliance on community. None of these groups passively accepted discrimination. They resisted it through labor unions, civil disobedience, and lawsuits. Takaki sees a reckoning with the pasts of various peoples as essential to dealing with modern challenges including systemic racism.

Primarily, Takaki wants readers to see his subjects as human, but also as Americans. Both facets are an important and significant part of a shared national identity.

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