Strangers from a Different Shore - APA Month Book

For APA Month, I said I'd be highlighting some books that I liked relating to Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. Most of these books are fictional works since I mostly read fiction and most of the books I read while completing my Asian American Studies minor were fiction, given my focus on Asian Am lit. However, I think it'd be an oversight for me if I didn't include Strangers from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki.

Considering the strike against Ethnic Studies in Arizona and my post on interstitial histories, it is also fitting that I begin my APA book features with Strangers from a Different Shore.

Strangers from a Different Shore is essentially a history of Asian Americans. It was used as the basic text for my Asian American History class, and it served as a broad and eye-opening spring board for the topics we covered. What makes this book stand out, though, is its ability to take the dry facts and figures of history and the multiple threads of Asian American experience and weave it all into a powerful, emotional narrative.

Now, think about this for a second. The term Asian American encompasses many different groups; as a blanket term, it includes Pacific Islanders, East Asians, Southeast Asians, and Southwest Asians. You can split these terms down into more specific groups, and those groups don't all share the same journey. Now try putting all those stories into a common narrative while working in the important dates, names, and statistics (don't forget footnotes!) required in a good history book. Is your brain ready to explode yet?

Well, Ronald Takaki somehow pulls it off, and he does so beautifully (which I really appreciate as both a writer and a reader). While showing you the differences among the histories of Asian American ethnic groups, he also shows you how these histories parallel and intersect each other, and how all of them come together to reveal a common thread. Takaki puts faces on the new immigrants, the railroad workers, the internees, and the second generation Asian Americans by interspersing personal recollections, primary sources, anecdotes, and literature and poetry into the text. The book discusses the questions of identity faced by many second generation Asian Americans, and then it introduces you to Jade Snow Wong, a Chinese American girl facing those problems. After discussing the detainment of many Asian immigrants at Angel Island, the book illustrates the frustration and discontent by citing a poem from one of those immigrants.

Strangers from a Different Shore is detailed without being tedious. It has a distinct voice and passion to it that is neither preachy nor intrusive. It shows a not-so-well-known side of the immigrant experience, and it shows how much Asian Americans are a part of the history of America.

In flipping through this book again to write this post, I was struck by how timely it is. The preface to the updated and revised edition is titled Confronting "Cultural Literacy" and in this preface, Ronald Takaki touches on why it is a mistake to think Ethnic Studies is divisive and a vehicle for ethnic chauvinism. He points out that the experience of Asian Americans is actually very "American."

Anyway, I hope this interests some of you in APA History, or at least in this book or books like it.

1 comment:

Alz said...

The little girl on the cover is my aunt. Well, not exactly, I think she's my mom's uncle's ex-wife, but I knew her. That's also the same picture that was in one of our Social Studies books in elementary school--you remember those big blue books, Krispy?