A Different Mirror

A Different Mirror

by

Ronald Takaki

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on A Different Mirror can help.
The Railroad Symbol Icon

The railroad is one of the most key pieces of industrial infrastructure in American history. Built by ethnic groups including African Americans, Mexicans, and the Chinese, the railroad symbolizes how the labor of people of color literally built the nation, transforming it into a thriving, modern, technologically advanced country. The railroad allowed people and goods to travel across the US, which in turn significantly shaped the possibilities that existed in the country—including the fact that such a large, diverse area could operate as one nation. Yet the railroad also encapsulates the dark side of this form of labor, which was highly dangerous and underpaid, despite being so crucial to the nation’s functioning. Moreover, the railroad also symbolizes the destructive and unjust colonization of land that belonged to indigenous people. It was thanks to the railroad that the frontier could be closed and all of the US settled. Indeed, Takaki describes how Native people were essentially tricked into giving up their land as part of the Indian New Deal, and how railway lines were subsequently built through it. The railroad is thus an ambivalent symbol of American progress, which illuminates how the construction of the nation simultaneously meant the destruction of land, people, and ways of life.

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The Railroad Symbol Timeline in A Different Mirror

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Railroad 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
...participation in the US’ booming industries. These industries were literally tied together by the Transcontinental Railroad, which was built by Chinese, Irish, black, Japanese, and Mexican-American workers. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4: Toward “the Stony Mountains”
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
...many of them to become ill and die from diseases. Meanwhile, the construction of the railroad—and the closure of the frontier it promised—further threatened the Pawnee way of life. (full context)
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
...the US. In this way, the government gave itself the legal right to build the railroad wherever it pleased. Buffalo were massacred in enormous numbers, while the Pawnee were being pushed... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6: Fleeing “the Tyrant’s Heel”
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
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...leaving their homeland severely depopulated. In the US, Irish immigrants worked in construction, building the railroads that would connect different parts of the nation. Irish workers, who would take on work... (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
...systems that helped turn Texas into a lush, fertile region, while still more worked in railroad construction, doing work that was too poorly paid to appeal to white men. In California... (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
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...mines in harsh conditions. Once the mining industry began to decline, workers switched to the railroad. (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
By the 1860s, 90% of workers for the Central Pacific Railroad were Chinese. They provided both the manual labor and technical skill required to build the... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9: The “Indian Question”
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
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...that land for white settlers. In the following years, Congress granted the right to build railroads throughout Indian territories. Land that was not being cultivated was seen as being wasted and... (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
...sharp increase in demand for produce in urban areas. Meanwhile, the completion of the national railroad and the invention of the refrigerated railway car meant that farmers could send fresh produce... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 12: El Norte
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...had proven dangerously violent. Immigration also increased thanks to the construction of the Mexican International Railroad, which made journeying to Texas easier. Most immigrants were young, working-class agricultural workers. Men often... (full context)