Prof. Ron Takaki passed away this week at the ago of 70. Dale Minami shares his thoughts on Prof. Takaki’s legacy and their friendship.
When I met Ron Takaki in the UC Berkeley Asian American Studies conference room in the early ’70s, he seemed like a harmless, cordial and restrained scholar type. I was a Lecturer in the department but was somehow assigned to the Hiring Committee to interview this academic guy who was denied tenure at UCLA mainly for his support of Black Studies and Ethnic Studies while he was still untenured. He was duly hired to anchor the then evolving AAS program and to offer credibility to this young program.
We became friends and over the years I learned that his calm demeanor disguised a burning passion for social justice and equality, a passion which he passed on in the courses he taught, the conservative ideologues he debated and the famous books he wrote. Ron was one of the progenitors of the notion of diversity and his books opened this country’s eyes to the multi-cultural and technicolor history of this nation.
As I write this, I am looking at two of his books on my bookshelf at home – Iron Cages and A Pro-Slavery Crusade, his first books which were so dense that it took me two years to read. Actually, I think it was I who was dense because when I finally got through them, I gained an interpretation of history which is brilliant, illuminating and made me less dense, I think.
Once he returned to his own Hawaii roots in Pau Hana, I discerned a new style of writing which was more engaging, interesting and thoroughly educational. His next books became the bibles of diversity and earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination. But he was not a harmless scholar as I had thought but a very subversive, active and dynamic advocate for recognition of America’s racism and the commonality of the experiences of minorities. Nor was he the restrained academic I had initially thought – he was an active academic, fearless in the marketplace of ideas and willing to debate anyone who challenged his democratic, multi-racial, progressive perspective.
We would get together occasionally after I left UC Berkeley and I came to love and admire him not just for his passion for social justice but for his uninhibited laugh, eyes closed, cackling over some incident or event which often had nothing to do with anything remotely intellectual and everything to do with his love of humanity.
He emailed me on April 29 to congratulate me for an award I received. He ended with “I feel fortunate to have you as a friend.” I wrote back “Ditto” and we planned to have lunch in June. We are still fortunate to have had a Ronald Takaki for the years he has given to all of us. I will miss him.
– Dale Minami