January 22nd, 2014
In classrooms all across the United States, students are learning what it means to be American through textbooks, instructors and their fellow classmates. The stories and images they learn from are likely those of great men and events that shaped a nation. For some students, history is a simple, relatable topic. For others, history is the hardest course to endure because it is filled with images and stories about a “white” American nation. How do “non-white” children learn the history of their people in America? When their story is not in the textbooks, how do they reconcile themselves to an “American” identity? In the first chapter of his book, “A Different Mirror: The Making of Multicultural America,” Ronald Takaki argues that the history of America cannot be accurately told without the influences of the many races and cultures that reside within it. Through a personal story, specific examples, and a review of the advantages of creating a multicultural American identity, Takaki illustrates his main point: in a multicultural America, it would benefit all people if minorities were not made to be invisible in American history.
Throughout this chapter, Takaki points to the fact that minority history, though undeniably important to the creation of the nation, is often completely left out of the history books and in turn, the mainstream idea of what American history is. This is an example of invisibility in its simplest form. In learning this version of the nation’s history, whole groups of people are excluded from the conventional, American identity. Through his use of a personal story, Takaki demonstrates this invisibility, recalling a time when he was assumed to be an immigrant, or at least, expected to have an accent simply because of his race (3). As commonplace as it may seem to some, encountering people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds is a rare occurrence for many Americans. In the experience of these people, “…’American’ has been defined as ‘white’” (4). By using his personal story and relating that it is commonplace for people to assume he is not American, Takaki shows readers what it means to be invisible, to not fit in with the mainstream idea of American identity.
Another way Takaki effectively communicates the issue of invisibility to his readers is through historical examples of specific, marginalized groups. By very briefly breaking down some different historical occurrences and cultural perspectives of specific groups, readers can quickly see that their history class left something out (7-10). In just one short paragraph for each of Takaki’s chosen minority groups, it is evident that the stories are both important in shaping the nation and that they are invisible and untold in most classrooms. The fact that the author can so quickly touch on the history of these groups and in that short time, tell readers something about United States history that was new to them, lends to the belief that there are many more stories that have been left out of history class. With these examples, Takaki also reveals just how multicultural America is. The fact that readers did not realize these groups, again, makes an example of just how invisible they have become.
The author has made it clear, at this point that minorities have certainly been made invisible in United States history, but why is it important to develop a more inclusive American identity? Takaki chooses to demonstrate the importance of creating a multicultural identity by referring to the importance identity has for young people. “Seeking to know how they fit into America, many young people want to hear the stories of their ancestors, unwilling to remain ignorant or