Saturday, June 06, 2009

Thank you Ron Takaki

Like many students at Berkeley, I first heard of Ron Takaki in my Asian Am 20A. Strangers From a Different Shore was one of the many books we were assigned to read but it was the book that had the biggest impact on my life. Two years later in my junior year of college, I had the honor of taking a small research seminar led by Professor Takaki. We met in a dark classroom in Wheeler Hall once a week. Creaky chairs, too small tables, dusty blackboards. The 15 or so of us, including Professor Takaki, sat in a small circle every class period sharing our research. Professor Takaki opened up the semester asking us his famous question, “How do you know you know what you know?” and we spent the first three weeks of the class sharing our epistemologies. Riveting to learn from him. Riveting to learn from each other.

Professor Takaki’s discussion of his epistemology deeply resonated with me and still does. I was moved to hear him share his experience entering academia, publishing his first book, and going home to Hawaii to his family. His uncle said to him, “Hey Ronnie, it’s good that you did all that but when are you going to write something for us? Something that we can read?” And that shaped the rest of his career as a historian, writer, researcher, and teacher. He told us this story at a time when I was struggling to reconcile my own identies as a student in Asian American Studies and as a daughter of Korean immigrants. Every time I went home to San Diego, I left something behind in Berkeley. Every time I left to Berkeley, I left something behind in San Diego. At that point it was something I had never talked about and instead struggled alone in this constricting binary paradigm.

But I digress.

Professor Takaki invited our class to his house for lunch. He took us on a tour of his study which was really a basement room with a bunch of filing cabinets. On top of the file cabinets you could see plaques and awards collecting dust. An after thought. He proudly showed us the paintings that he and his wife Carol made (I don’t remember what the style is called, one was a mallard duck though!). In the living room there sat a piano that was cluttered 40 photos or so of their children and grand children. The only thing that could make you think this man was a big deal was a picture of Professor Takaki and President Clinton taped to the wall. No frame. Just tape.

In that seminar, Professor Takaki was so supportive of me and my writing. Even though we were just undergrads, you could tell he really cared about our writing and storytelling. Out of his class came my paper Yuhl-Sheem, which is captured in this blog as a series (See Tag: Yuhl-Sheem).

In the past year I have thought a lot about Ron Takaki. He has been on my mind as I identified my dissertation topic and did some preliminary work in the spring semester. Even more so, in the past few months, I have come to a strong realization that Ron Takaki has influenced me beyond academia and into my work as an educational practitioner. The work I did in Richmond and the way in which I did my work was deeply rooted in working with my students to shape, name, and tell their stories as young folks who live on the margins and to find ways to develop fluency in multiple Discourses so that we may retell our powerful stories.

I was so saddened when I read about Ron Takaki’s passing. Short of breath when I read how he passed. I send my deepest condolences to his family and the thousands of other people who have been profoundly touched by his work and life.

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