In her article about Tuesday’s passing of historian Ronald Takaki, Elaine Woo of the Los Angeles Times includes important details about the man who influenced thousands interested in ethnic studies.
One fact stuck out in particular: Quoting his son, Troy, she reported that the well-known professor took his own life. Takaki, 70, was having trouble with his multiple sclerosis, Troy told her.
Why is this a point to discuss publicly?
Certainly, Takaki was known worldwide. And the topic of suicide, in and of itself, is something that counselors, researchers and ordinary people deal with on a regular basis.
But that fact helps others who knew him, studied with him or only read his work approach his passing with sensitivity.
Ronald Takaki (Photo credit: University of California at Berkeley)
(UPDATE: Here’s the full obituary that the University of California at Berkeley released on Thursday, May 28. My original post is below.)
Ronald Takaki, a historian who taught ethnic studies and influenced thousands of students over his career, died Tuesday at the age of 70, a research assistant at the University of California at Berkeley confirmed Wednesday.
In December 2003, he retired from teaching at the school’s Ethnic Studies Department, research assistant Mirian Meux said in a phone interview.
Takaki was born on April 12, 1939, Meux said. He passed away at his house.
He is survived by his wife, Carol, and children, Dana, Troy and Todd, San Francisco-based AsianWeek reported. Takaki also had grandchildren.
As a historian, he wrote numerous books, including the highly-regarded Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans.
Takaki was from Hawaii and often talked about surfing and his nickname, “Ten Toes Takaki.”
But he also stressed the importance of critical thinking skills, or epistemology as he defined it. “Espistemology asks the question: ‘How do you know, you know, what you know?’” he said in the 2006 commencement speech at Whitman College in Washington state.
“In other words, the ‘how’ of knowing may be more important than the ‘what.’ How you know something may determine what you know about it.”