Before you leave, learn how it all began

By Amy Ta

I left Vietnam for America in 1992. I’ll be leaving UCLA in 2010. While I make another transition in my life, one thing remains the same: my ethnicity. I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an Asian American – especially one at UCLA, where diversity is found along the corridors of Royce Hall, between the book shelves at Powell library, and within the pages of the Daily Bruin newspaper. I’m glad that “Define Asian American” will not appear on my final exam – because I can’t find a concrete answer.

At least I have experiences – plenty of them throughout my undergraduate years at UCLA. I’ve taken classes in International Development Studies and cross-cultural communication. I’ve worked for the African-American Studies Interdepartmental Program. I’ve gone on study and volunteer abroad programs to Czech Republic, New Zealand and Thailand. I’ve produced radio news stories about student-organized culture shows. I’ve helped organize events and multimedia recaps of them for the Burkle Center — UCLA’s hub for international affairs. Most importantly, I’ve met peers, professors and colleagues who are African, Australian, Austrian, French, Polish, Scottish, English, Irish, Jamaican, Colombian, Laotian, Japanese, Korean, Cambodian….the list goes on. So maybe my ethnicity is all of the above.

I’m Amy Ta. As my undergraduate career is ending, I recently discovered how UCLA’s Ethnic Studies began. The field resulted from a campus struggle for “diversity, access and inclusion.” I learned this from a family festival marking the debut of the Fowler Museum’s exhibition called “Art, Activism, Access: 40 Years of Ethnic Studies at UCLA.” The festival also featured music performances, poetry readings, drawing rooms. I give you a photographic tour of the exhibition, organized according to each ethnic department.

The four Ethnic Studies centers sold publications in the Fowler Museum’s 1st Floor Goldenberg Galleria from 12:00-5:00pm. The Museum doors opened into the Art, Activism, Access exhibit.


A mural beside the entrance of the Lucas gallery. We’ve come a long way to achieve justice in America…but we’re not done yet.


A large mural upon entrance into the exhibit in the 1st floor Lucas Gallery.

Chancellor Charles E. Young established four centers in 1969: the American Indian Studies Center, Asian American Studies Center, Bunche Center for African American Studies, and the Chicano Studies Research Center. Art, Activism, Access: 40 Years of Ethnic Studies at UCLA shows how these centers addressed concerns of underrepresented groups during the past four decades.


Commemorating the 1969 founding of Ethnic Studies Research Centers

“We students wanted to make sure the center didn’t become just an academic institution but would always have a braoder outreach to both students and the off-campus community. I don’t think that would’ve happened if there hadn’t been so much student involvement”. – Amy Uyematsu, first publication director, Asian American Studies Center.


American Indian Studies

From Nov. 1969 to Jun. 1971, activist Richard Oakes and eighty students of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center occupied Alcatraz Island – along with roughly 100 American Indians. The event brought international scrutiny to the U.S. government’s policies on termination and assimilation. Thereafter, Congress passed bills supporting tribal self-rule. There were major increases in funding to American Indian health care, education and economic growth.


Asian American Studies

Students said racism was why Harvard-educated Don T. Nakanishi, professor in Education and Asian American Studies, was denied tenure in 1987.  Asian American, African American, Latino and Native American undergraduates formed a coalition to galvanize colored communities, write petitions and lobby influential political leaders. In May 1989, Chancellor Charles E. Young granted tenure to Nakanishi – who was the first Asian American professor in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education to obtain it.


The right direction.


African American Studies

“Don’t act like it didn’t happen. It happened on this campus. The blood of John and Bunchy still stains the halls of Campbell Hall.” – Elaine Brown, UCLA student who witnessed the shootings.

On Jan. 17, 1969, there was a heated discussion about which person would direct the planned program in black studies. Members of the Black Panther Party and United Slaves Organization erupted in an argument that led to fatal shootings of two Black Panther leaders – Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John J. Huggins.


In 1969, Angela Davis’ job as a Philosophy professor at UCLA was in jeopardy because of her Communist Party affiliation. UC Regents let her lecture without academic credit. However, black UCLA faculty said they would issue grades only if Davis’ classes were allocated full credit. In a UCLA referendum, 81% of UCLA students voted against the Regents’ decision to fire Davis. (Article from The LA Times.)


Bruin students, staff and faculty urged UCLA to withdraw financial aid from companies financing oppressive South African apartheid in the early 1980s. After 61 students were arrested after constructing a shantytown at UC Berkeley, UCLA students adopted the idea and built a “tent city” in Dickson Plaza. In 1986, the UC Regents agreed to divest $3.1 billion in South Africa. (Photo courtesy of LA Times Archives, Dept. of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library.)


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to 450 students at a civil rights rally outside Royce Hall. (Photo courtesy of the Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library.)


Students designed a graphic to put the brakes on the UC Regents’ anti-affirmative action decision.


Chicano/Chicana Studies

This mural by Eduardo Carillo, Saul Solache, Ramses Noriega & Sergio Hernandez symbolizes indigenous life before colonialism by Europeans, final freedom from colonialism as the serpent-phoenix rises, then corruption of governments and revolutionary mass movements aimed at correcting those wrongs.


“Either we get a department of Chicano Studies or you will see us die before your eyes.” – Jorge Mancilas, 1993.


Justice has been served for the aforementioned ethnic groups. But we all could certainly use more helpings.



One floor above the art exhibit, festival attendees enjoyed live entertainment.

1:00 pm performance: Ozomatli’s Raul Pacheco and the Immaculate Conception.


3:00 pm performance: Jazz Guitarist Kenny Burrell & impromptu tap dancer Chester Whitmore.


4:00 pm performance: Grammy-nominated members of Hiroshima.


Thank you to the Fowler Museum for putting on this eye-opening exhibit.

It’s clearer why Los Angeles is a “melting pot” — because the UCLA community lit a fire, stirred things up, and  made sure their needs were on everyone’s plates.

The secret ingredient(s) to diversity?

a) Self-recognition

b) Willpower

c) Grassroots mobilization

d) All of the above

That’s my final answer.

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