I got word early today that Professor Takaki had taken his own life, but didn't want to update here until it was confirmed publicly. I was hoping that someone would come out and say that it wasn't true, but I just saw my friend O-Dub's facebook update, with a link to the LA Times obituary. This is simply tragic, and reminds me of when I first heard about Iris Chang's suicide. The blogosphere is abuzz... check out Hyphen's blog.
As one of my friends said over text, "I am devastated about losing our intellectual leaders!!" And the last few weeks has seen the loss of Al Robles and Him Mark Lai as well. Something about when they take their own lives that is truely even more tragic.
I remember everytime I met Professor Takaki that he always had a smile and something encouraging to say. He was easy to talk to, even though I was star-struck.
I've been talking with other scholar friends of mine, especially about how we support each other and maintain strong health in all aspects. I'm praying for Professor Takaki, his family, and all of us who were so positively impacted by his legacy.
I got a text message today from a friend that read, "Saw on facebook that Ron Takaki passed away. Did u hear the same?" I checked me email, and indeed, I received an email from another friend who is an alumnus of Cal sending out the notice that one of the most important Ethnic Studies scholars and teachers had passed. Berkeley has also put out an initial public notice of his passing. I knew that Professor Takaki had been ill for a while. He was just awarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Association of Asian American Studies conference in Honolulu, and Professor Michael Omi, who accepted the award on his behalf, mentioned that Professor Takaki's health was not well.
His passing has me thinking about how much Professor Takaki's work impacted my trajectory in life. I first encountered his book Strangers from a Different Shore at the local public library in Springfield, Massachusetts. It had just been published, and I was 16. I'm not sure how I came across the book, but I found myself feeling like I needed to hide as I read the book. Each chapter detailed Asian American history, which until that point, I had no idea existed. With each chapter read, I began feeling more and more power. The knowledge the book presented almost felt illicit. Having grown up in a provincial, all-white, lower-middle class, mostly immigrant community, and being told over and over by the society in which I was growing up that my experience did not matter, the book was electrifying. I remember checking the book out, going straight home, and sitting in the corner of my bedroom on the floor, door closed, and the book lit by my desk lamp I had brought with me to the floor. I'm not sure why I read it like that, but I remember shaking as I devoured the book. You have to understand that in my experience, true relevant knowledge was made out to be illicit and dangerous. When I was 13, I wasn't allowed to do a book report on the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Maybe that's why I hid in a corner to read Takaki's book when I was 16. I do remember that the book was critical in helping me make sense of the violently racist experiences I had and the historical contexts for these experiences, and my relationship to the rest of the world around me, as an Asian American. It was the first time I realized I was Asian American, and I began to develop a voice.
Thank you Professor Takaki for significantly contributing toward the movement for Ethnic Studies, for educating so many of us, and for empowering us with a voice.