By Gina Acebo
As we come to the end of this year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I want to take a moment to remember UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Professor Ronald Takaki who passed away recently.
Now truth be told, I was a wily undergrad student, looking for opportunities to learn more off-campus rather than in the classroom itself, but Professor Takaki’s class tapped into something different for me. In his lecture hall, he often spoke about the “Master Narrative” of American history, a pervasive and powerful but mistaken story that this country was settled by European immigrants and that Americans are white or of European ancestry.
He pushed and prodded us to ask the epistemological question, “How do you know what you know?” about this history of the people of the United States, especially given the realities of racially diverse populations in America. My early Asian American history courses offered a window to glance into my own Pilipino-American history linked with other Asian and Pacific Islander sisters and brothers. Takaki’s class, however, opened up a door to link the histories, literature and politics of Asian Americans, Chicanos/Latinos, Native Americans and African Americans.
As a young, third generation Pilipina who grew up in Oakland, I saw my reality and my identity not simply as “Asian American/Pilipina” but also tied to the lives of the Black community with whom we lived in our neighborhood. Professor Takaki’s class offered me a place to explore and contextualize these experiences. The discussions helped me to recognize that if I wanted the best opportunities now and for the future to be available and accessed to Asian Americans I would have to join hands with others. My community’s well-being, our desire to be counted and our demand for equity was and is inherently tied to how we support and fight for the best opportunities for the Black community as well as other communities of color.
After working as a labor and community organizer in racially diverse communities, and being exposed to Takaki’s views on multiculturalism, I now recognize the importance of multiracial formations for building a racially just society. Also, it is important to know how we must be vigilant in our commitment to connect our histories, our struggles and our victories.
I’m grateful to have been witness to Professor Takaki’s enthusiasm for teaching and to have been encouraged and pushed by him to think critically about my history and the history of the country my family now calls home.