Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ronald Takaki: an inspiration to my Asian-American identity

UC Berkeley Professor Ronald Takaki; (April 12, 1939 - May 26, 2009)

I know I should be sleeping now (I'm pretty tired; long day), but given the news of his recent passing away (he had multiple schelrosis, and commited suicide because he could not endure the disease anymore, according to his family), I felt compelled to dedicate a post to him.

Ronald Takaki was a very, very FAMOUS, Ethnic Studies professor at UC Berkeley who helped started one of the first Ethnic Studies programs in the United States (at UC Berkeley) during the crazy 1960s at Cal, taught the first Black History course at UCLA, and wrote many different books on Ethnic Studies. 

Takaki was a huge influence in my life, and despite that I don't know that much about him as much as I should, I definitely believed he helped me value my Asian-American identity.

I remember taking a Sociology class in Community College the summer before my sophomore year in high school (Summer 2006) which changed my life forever; one of the topics we focused on was Race in California history. A book we read (too lazy to type down its title), had a review written by a Asian-American author named Ronald Takaki, who wrote a book with a title to do with "Iron Cages". Curious about his name (given that my early exposure to Asian-Americans were only limited to math and science like people, as well as working class As-Am), I decided to look him up.

I found the website: (unfortunately, somebody seemed to have hacked the website), and noticed Ronald Takaki's chapter, on the book, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian-Americans, dedicated to Asian-Americans and the model-minority stereotype, and wow, I learned thought-provoking stuff that challenged the way ordinary people viewed Asian-Americans. I began to learn that Asian-Americans were viewed incorrectly by the government, that while there are a good # of AAs in successful fields like science & engineering (Chinese, Korean, Japanese), medical field, etc. there were also a good # of AAs (i.e working class AAs, Pacific-Islanders or Southeast Asians) who were not, and the stereotype can definitely negatively affect how social services would be given to them (i.e lack of affirmative action toward SE Asians, lack of help for people like the Hmong ethnicity). Takaki was able to connect the amount of APAs in the professional fields (i.e. "the stable fields" )with the lack of APIAs in the managerial fields (i.e. "the somewhat risky fields"; he didn't say it like that quote, but you get what I mean). With the lack of APIAs in the managerial fields, think of the bad media image of Asian-American males (i.e. "femanized, nerdy, passive, non-social males") that makes it hard for Americans to associate with APIAs. The list goes on and on, but you can see the crazy connections. 

In other words, the Model-minority stereotype makes it hard for Americans to understand who Asian-Americans are, and that made me feel compelled to discover my Asian-American identity and VALUE it, so future generations of Asian-Am know their ethnic background and don't become erased from the fabric of American history. I want my own government to be able to understand (fortunately, the Obama adminstration recognizes APAs are not model-minorities) that we aren't model minorities, and we need to be understood in a better way so that we can properly be respected in society for who we are, while we can express our identities in a happy manner. That's America.

Because of Ronald Takaki, I began to do a lot of things. I started reading Hardboiled Magazine at Summer 2006, a monthly APA newsmagazine at Cal; I began to read more Asian-am lit to understand my identity. I talked to my friends about the issues the APIA community faced (although nobody cared). I also read up on my Asian-Am history, and now, I know a lot about Asian-Am history (although I'm still learning). Now, I am inspired to preserve Asian Architecture, and he's one of the reasons why I plan to study at UC Berkeley (even though he doesn't teach there anymore).

Takaki inspired a sense of caring about our unique identities in America, political activism, and civic virue. Many APAs, Asian-American studies majors or Ethnic Studies, or not (he's a well-known figure in the AAS and Ethnic Studies department) have been inspired by him. Rest in Peace, and may our generation provide a benefical change in the world that benefits the common good.

Francis Chen

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