Strangers from a Different Shore

by Ronald Takaki

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Takaki traces the history of groups of Asian immigrants who have come to America, beginning with the Chinese in the 1840s. He recounts the immigrant journeys of Asian groups: Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Asian Indians, Filipinos, and Hawaiians, as well as Cambodians, Laotians, and Vietnamese. He does focus mainly on the unique struggles of the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese.

Takaki argues that European immigrants have been more readily accepted in the United States than Asian immigrants, especially those of brown skin. Using literature and songs of various decades, along with oral historical accounts, interviews, and memoirs, Takaki presents an open picture of the discrimination, fear, anger, frustration, disappointments, and challenges unique to Asian immigrants throughout the centuries. This is one example:

At the state’s constitutional convention of 1878, John F. Miller warned: “Were the Chinese to amalgamate at all with our people, it would be the lowest, most vile and degraded of our race, and the result of that amalgamation would be a hybrid of the most despicable, a mongrel of the most detestable that has ever afflicted the earth.” Two years later, California lawmakers enacted legislation to prohibit the issuance of a license authorizing the marriage of a white person with a “negro, mulatto, or Mongolian.

Choosing to write about the plight of many over centuries, Takaki writes about immigrant groups rather than focusing on individuals. For example, he first examines the reasons why the Chinese immigrated into the United States in the 1800s for jobs, as well as how the Chinese faced isolation, exploitation, and poor treatment when working on the railroads and in agricultural positions.

Likewise, Takaki records how the blatant discrimination and segregation of Chinese by white Americans was repeated during World War II in relation to many Japanese Americans who lived in the United States, even those who served faithfully in the American military during the war. His historical narrative does reference some individual cases, such as that of Vincent Chin who was killed in Detroit, but Takaki has more of a comprehensive, collective approach to the racism, economic plight, and other struggles of Asian Americans.

Providing a compelling examination of why so many Asians have felt invisible as second-class citizens in America, Takaki forces his readers to acknowledge extremely difficult immigration realities.

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