A Different Mirror

A Different Mirror

by

Ronald Takaki

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Strikes Symbol Icon

Strikes represented a key way in which ethnic workers in the United States made the country their own, taking matters into their own hands and shaping the nation’s future. Performing labor—and particularly labor that was difficult, dangerous, poorly paid (or unpaid), and crucial to the construction of the nation—was a defining feature of the experience of most ethnic groups in the US. Oppressed by both racism and classism, ethnic groups often had little power over their (usually white) employers. One of the key ways that workers were able to exercise power and demand better conditions was through strikes. Throughout the book, Takaki gives examples of where workers defied racist assumptions that they were docile, passive, and obedient, instead compelling employers to improve their wages and conditions through strikes.

Furthermore, strikes are a key example of why unity across different ethnicities is so important. Takaki gives many examples of employers hiring workers of a different ethnicity from the workers on strike to act as “scabs,” or strikebreakers. In this sense, strikes show how ethnic divisions can be used against the working-class and keep them oppressed. Indeed, some of the most powerful strikes Takaki depicts are those where workers of different ethnicities went on strike together. This show of solidarity often terrified employers, thus forcing them to capitulate to the strikers’ demands.

Strikes Quotes in A Different Mirror

The A Different Mirror quotes below all refer to the symbol of Strikes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay edition of A Different Mirror published in 2008.
Part 2, Chapter 7: “Foreigners in Their Native Land” Quotes

Justifying this racial hierarchy, mine owner Sylvester Mowry invoked the images as well as language used earlier by slavemasters to describe the affection and loyalty of their slaves. "My own experience has taught me that the lower class of Mexicans…,” Mowry declared, “are docile, faithful, good servants, capable of strong attachments when firmly and kindly treated. They have been ‘peons’ for generations. They will always remain so, as it is their natural condition.”

But, like the enslaved blacks of the Old South, Mexican workers demonstrated that they were capable of defying these stereotypes of docility and submissiveness. Demanding self-respect and better wages, they repeatedly went on strike.

Related Characters: Ronald Takaki (speaker)
Related Symbols: Strikes
Page Number: 173-174
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 10: Pacific Crossings Quotes

Though they imported workers along with supplies, planters were conscious of the nationalities of their laborers. They were systematically developing an ethnically diverse labor force in order to create divisions among their workers and reinforce management control. Complaining about the frequency of strikes on plantations where the workers were mostly from the same country, plantation managers recommended: “Keep a variety of laborers, that is different nationalities, and thus prevent any concerted action in case of strikes, for there are few, if any, cases of Japs, Chinese, and Portuguese entering into a strike as a unit.”

Related Characters: Ronald Takaki (speaker)
Related Symbols: Strikes
Page Number: 237-238
Explanation and Analysis:

In their demand for a higher wage, the strikers explained: "We have decided to permanently settle here, to incorporate ourselves with the body politique [sic] of Hawaii—to unite our destiny with that of Hawaii, sharing the prosperity and adversity of Hawaii with other citizens of Hawaii." Significantly, the Japanese were framing their demands in “American” terms. They argued that the deplorable conditions on the plantations perpetuated an "undemocratic and un-American" society of "plutocrats and coolies." Fair wages would encourage laborers to work more industriously and productively. The goal of the strike was to create "a thriving and contented middle class—the realization of the high ideal of Americanism."

Related Characters: Ronald Takaki (speaker)
Related Symbols: Strikes
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire A Different Mirror LitChart as a printable PDF.
A Different Mirror PDF

Strikes Symbol Timeline in A Different Mirror

The timeline below shows where the symbol Strikes appears in A Different Mirror. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: A Different Mirror
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...class exploitation,” workers of different ethnicities at times maintained solidarity, such as by going on strike together. Struggling together as workers could make people forget ethnic differences. Likewise, immigrants of different... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7: “Foreigners in Their Native Land”
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
...workers as enslavers did to justify slavery. However, Mexicans themselves fought back, repeatedly going on strike and making important gains such as pay increases and the implementation of an eight-hour work... (full context)
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
In the same year, Mexican strikers at a mine in Arizona were joined by Italian and Slavonian workers in demanding equal... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8: Searching for Gold Mountain
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...to build the railway, often facing deadly conditions. In 1867, the Chinese workers went on strike, arguing: “Eight hours a day good for white men, all the same good for Chinamen.”... (full context)
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Chinese agricultural workers were paid low wages, and several times went on strike in order to demand higher pay. At the same time, white people were brutally resentful... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10: Pacific Crossings
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
...In Hawaii, planters were keen to import workers of different ethnicities in order to prevent strikes from occurring. They deliberately imported workers from different East Asian countries in order to “pit... (full context)
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
...like the Chinese, were stereotyped as passive and obedient, in reality they regularly went on strike in protest against their harsh working conditions. In 1909, they organized a strike to demand... (full context)
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
The strike represented the Japanese workers’ desire to settle permanently in the US. They employed American rhetoric... (full context)
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
...of other ethnicities in order to have any power. In 1919, Filipino workers went on strike, hoping the Japanese would join them, and eventually they did. Together, the strikers represented 77%... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11: The Exodus from Russia
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
...Side. Before the fire, many of the women who ended up dying had gone on strike in 1909. (full context)
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
One of the leaders of the strike, Clara Lemlich, was a charismatic teenager who compared the plight of the garment workers to... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 12: El Norte
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
...considered them “bovine and tractable individuals.” When workers in the San Joaquin Valley went on strike in 1933, the local sheriffs called the Mexicans “trash” and “pigs,” where local media threatened... (full context)