It was announced by Ronald Takaki’s family that famous Asian American historian committed suicide after a twenty year struggle with multiple sclerosis. You can read the obituary from the LA Times here.
Ron Takaki was a hero of mine when I first started taking Asian American studies in 1993, having read his famous textbook Strangers from a Different Shore, one of the first widely distributed textbooks on Asian American history. I also used the text myself when I taught my own course in Asian American history at San Francisco State in 2000/2001. I also met him a few years ago at Eastwind Books in Berkeley when he was promoting his book Double Victory about the triumph of multiculturalism after World War II, and his humility and passion for learning about the oft-neglected histories of people of color inspired me.
Ron Takaki blazed a trail for many Asian Americanists and other people interested in American ethnic studies, teaching the first black history course in UCLA in the late 1960s. After he was dismissed by UCLA in the early 1970s, he moved to UC Berkeley where he wrote many books on Asian Americans, history and ethnic studies. He also helped establish the first graduate and doctoral program in American ethnic studies in the United States at Cal, where many personal friends graduated and are now teaching all over the United States.
Unfortunately, a number of other pioneers in Asian American studies and culture have also passed away this past month, including Al Robles, a beloved San Francisco-based Filipino American poet best known for his book, Rappin’ with 10,000 Carabaos in the Dark; Richard Aoki, a Japanese American charter member of the Black Panthers in the 1960s; and Him Mark Lai, an engineer turned historian who was instrumental in writing the first pieces on Chinese American history in the United States. While these people were not as well known on a national or international level as Takaki, all of them contributed immensely to the beginning and development of Asian American studies as a legitimate field of study who left us with an amazing legacy of activism in academia.