Strangers from a Different Shore

by Ronald Takaki

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans is a critically acclaimed 1989 nonfictional novel written by Ronald Toshiyuki Takaki. It discusses the often neglected part of Asian-American history, the lives of many Asian immigrants who came to the United States, and gives insight into their dreams and ambitions through numerous facts, interviews, memories, and nearly 20 pages of authentic photographs.

One of the main themes in the novel is the desire for and dream of a better life. It focuses mainly on Japanese, Korean and Chinese immigrants who came to the US for a chance to do something better and bigger with their lives, but they rarely got it. Some came to escape the difficult political and economic climate in their native countries, while others came bound with working contracts, promising their families that they will return when they make some money. However, these jobs were often not paid enough, the conditions provided were barely tolerable, and many weren’t able to return home to their families as they wished. They often faced discriminatory treatment, and this leads us to the next main theme: racism and discrimination.

Unable to tolerate the derogatory language and racist behavior of the Americans, some Asian immigrants succeeded in returning to their home countries. Those who couldn’t afford it were pushed aside, aggregated and separated from white people. They never got served in restaurants, shops, or supermarkets, and they never got the respect or acknowledgment they deserved for their accomplishments. Because of this, many of the immigrants decide to go to Hawaii, where they were a bit more accepted and even managed to build small business to make a decent living. The lack of respect and opportunity to grow and expand, however, were still present, and this made it difficult for them to lead a normal, let alone a good and happy life.

Takaki himself was one of these immigrants who grew up in Hawaii, and through the book he recollects how his people were treated and takes note of the stories of many of his compatriots. He tells us how many of his people felt almost as if they were nonexistent and invisible and how their skills, efforts, and achievements were always overlooked and erased from history. He describes how these people feel about themselves and their identities today. Through his and his fellow countrymen’s honest testimonials, we are able to learn of the struggles and the fight for survival of the Asian immigrants in America and witness their sadness and longing to see their homes and their families again.

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