This example Reading Response is from a lower-division Asian American history course. It ties together two texts from different genres — one is a novel and the other is an academic history article. A similar approach can be used for analyzing multimedia or recent events in light of the day’s reading.
There are common ideas in Ronald Takaki’s “New World of Labor: From Siren to Siren” and Milton Murayama’s All I Asking for is My Body. These two texts are closely related in the sense that Murayama’s text tells a story about the lives of Japanese immigrants living and working on plantations. Takaki’s text expands more about the harsh lives of the immigrants by giving more historical details. These two authors explore the social hierarchy in the plantations and the Pidgin language the immigrants used.
In All I Asking for is My Body, there are many examples of a social hierarchy based on race. Kiyo describes how even the camp’s waste was organized based on the plantation pyramid. Mr. Nelson’s, the plantation owner’s, waste was first, then the Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese and finally at the end of the slope the Filipinos. Filipinos were considered the bottom of the social ladder. In addition, the housing was organized the same way. The people on top of the pyramid received the better homes compared to those on the bottom. In the novel, the Japanese and Filipinos ended up with the worst housing. They lived in shabby wooden homes (Murayma 96). Takaki’s text describes how ten single men were crammed into a small house. This caused personal space problems because there was never enough room for all the men, causing them to become irritated. On top of that, the work was laborious which caused the workers to have shorter tempers. This was exemplified when Toshi (in Murayama) would yell as his sisters for being too loud when he was sleeping. However, family homes were not as cramped as single men housing (Takaki 96).
Takaki also expanded and talked about how the jobs were not fairly distributed. The higher jobs were always given to the white people, while the Asian population was stuck with the backbreaking jobs. Asians were typically not given a chance to prove their intelligence because they were seen as coolies. Asians were there to do the hard work and faced with discrimination. According to Takaki’s article, “American” carpenters were paid an average of $4.36 a day compared to a Japanese carpenter who was paid an average $1.28 a day. Wage discrimination was not only amongst the Japanese and Whites. It was also seen between the Japanese and Filipinos. On average, the Filipinos would be paid $.69 a day compared to the Japanese who would be paid $.99 a day (Takaki 76). This wage differential supported racial discrimination and maintained the social hierarchy in the plantation. The workers on the sugar cane plantation were faced with many unfair difficulties due to racism and racial hierarchy.
Pidgin played a large role on plantations as well. Workers were accustomed to their native languages, but when they came to Hawaii they needed to adapt to English. Instead they invented the language pidgin English. This language was improper English spoken by the immigrants. They would sometimes mix in words from their language. In Murayama’s novel, the characters spoke four languages: “good English in school, pidgin English among ourselves, good or pidgin Japanese to our parents and the other old folks” (Maurayama 5). According to Takaki, pidgin English was useful because it allowed workers to communicate with their bosses (119). Despite the diverse population in the plantations, they were still able to work together to harvest sugar cane thanks to pidgin English.
The two major shared topics discussed in these two texts are social hierarchy and pidgin English. The social hierarchy on plantations was one example of the discrimination Asian immigrants faced. Based on past readings and these two texts, how is the social hierarchy discrimination on Hawaii plantations different from those jobs on the USA mainland? In addition, pidgin English seemed to play a large role in plantation life. Besides communications, did the pidgin language have any other benefits?