“Mountain Movers: Student Activism & the Emergence of Asian American Studies,” a book co-edited by Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto, was awarded a bronze medal in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards for “Best Regional Nonfiction” in the West-Pacific region. Umemoto was one of six editors on the team that put together “Mountain Movers,” which chronicles the legacy of student activism at UCLA, UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. Published last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Asian American Studies programs that were established on all three campuses in 1969, the book profiles students who mobilized peers and community members to further the study of Asian American communities on their campuses. The “IPPY” Awards, launched in 1996 by Jenkins Group and IndependentPublisher.com, are designed to increase recognition of deserving but often unsung titles by independent authors and publishers. Established as the first awards program open exclusively to independent, university and self-published titles, over 5,500 “IPPYs” have been awarded in the last 24 years to authors and publishers around the world, recognizing excellence in a broad range of styles and subjects.
The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) has honored Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto as the winner of the 2019 Marcia Feld Award for Outstanding Leadership. At the group’s annual conference, held Oct. 24-27 in Greenville, South Carolina, the ACSP honored faculty and students who have distinguished themselves or made major contributions to the planning profession. Every other year, the Marcia Feld Award recognizes a Faculty Women’s Interest Group colleague for outstanding leadership within the ACSP organization. “Quietly, with great talent and courage, [Umemoto] made an indelible mark on the organization and its ability to respond to the challenge of diversity,” said the awards committee, which described her as a “beacon of integrity and solidarity and an agent of positive change.” Although Umemoto was unable to attend the conference, she expressed her gratitude for the award and commented, “Each generation lifts up the next, and I’m very grateful to so many people who have helped me both professionally and personally.” Umemoto said she hopes that the award elevates the importance of research on diversity. A recent UCLA Luskin graduate was also recognized at the conference. Esteban Doyle MURP ’19 received the 2019 Ed McClure Award for Best Master Student Paper, which recognizes superior scholarship in a paper prepared by a master student in an ACSP member school. Doyle’s paper, “The Unequal Dangers of Walking to School,” presented a quantitative analysis of child pedestrian and bicycle crashes in Los Angeles and related their occurrence to neighborhood and built environment characteristics.
By Mary Braswell
Four women who have strived to bring more authentic portrayals of Asian Americans onto the screen and stage shared stories of risk-taking, perseverance and the importance of mentorship at the opening event of this year’s UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series.
The pioneers from diverse parts of the arts and media landscape came together for “Dawn of a New Day,” a conversation at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 17.
“Tonight we hear from Asian American women who have risen to shape the narrative rather than be dictated by the gaze of others,” said Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning and director of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA, one of the event’s co-sponsors.
The audience heard from Grace Lee, director of documentaries and feature films; writer, actor and satirist Fawzia Mirza; Tess Paras, who blends acting, music, comedy and producing; and comedian and performance artist Kristina Wong.
“One of the reasons I got into storytelling and filmmaking in the first place is that I wanted to tell the story that I wanted see,” said Lee, who co-founded the Asian American Documentary Network to share resources and lift up emerging artists. “I just didn’t see a lot of films or stories out there about Asian Americans, women, people of color.”
Lee says she makes a point of hiring diverse film crews and interns to “develop that pipeline so that they can see models just like I had when I was first making films.”
“It’s living your own values,” she said. “It’s really important for us to question, ‘Who gets to tell this story? We get to tell this story.’ ”
Mirza took an unconventional path into the creative arts. She was in law school when she realized she’d rather be an actor. She finished her degree and worked as a litigator to pay off student loans but realized that “art, for me, is a way of figuring out who I am.”
“Talking about my queer, Muslim, South Asian identity through art is a way for me to survive,” she said, but cautioned, “Just by virtue of claiming your identity, sometimes you’re not trying to be political but you are politicized.”
Paras spoke of the one-dimensional acting roles — like the “white girl’s nerdy friend” — that are often available to Asian American women. After a YouTube video she created to satirize such typecasting went viral, she realized, “Oh, this is what happens when you take a big risk and tell your story.”
There is a hunger for honest portrayals of diverse communities, Paras said, a lesson she learned through a crowdfunding campaign for her film about a young Filipina American who struggles to talk to her family about a sexual assault.
“Folks came out of the woodwork because I was creating something that had not to my knowledge really been told,” Paras said. “There were a bunch of young Filipino women who were like, here’s 15 dollars, here’s 25, here’s 40, because I have never seen a story about this.”
Three of the four panelists — Lee, Paras and Wong — are alumnae of UCLA, as is moderator Ada Tseng, entertainment editor for TimesOC.
“I was convinced that the rest of the world looked like UCLA, … a world where everyone is super-political and talks all the time about politics and identity,” said Wong, whose senior project for her world arts and culture major was a fake mail-order-bride site that skewered stereotypes of Asian women.
“So much of the path I’m on felt quite normal because there were other Asian American queer and non-binary folks who were creating solo work,” Wong said. Not until she left California to go on tour did she find how misunderstood her edgy humor could be.
The event was also the closing program for the multimedia exhibit “At First Light,” organized by the Japanese American National Museum and Visual Communications, a nonprofit media arts group. The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs co-sponsored the lecture, along with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and its Center for Ethno Communications and the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA.
“The panel tonight is a testament to how far we’ve come, though we all know there’s still so much further to go,” said Umemoto, noting that UCLA’s Asian American studies and urban planning programs are marking 50-year anniversaries this year.
Also celebrating a milestone is the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which just turned 25, Dean Gary Segura told the crowd. The Luskin Lectures are a key part of the School’s mission to hold a “dialogue with the people of Los Angeles and California on issues of public concern,” Segura said.
View additional photos from the Luskin Lecture on Flickr.
Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto was one of six editors on the team that put together “Mountain Movers: Student Activism and the Emergence of Asian American Studies,” a book about the legacy of student activism at UCLA, UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. “Mountain Movers” profiles students who mobilized peers and community members to further the study of Asian American communities on their campuses. The joint publication commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Asian American Studies programs that were established on all three campuses in 1969. Three of the nine activists profiled in the book are UCLA alumni. Preeti Sharma, who came to UCLA in 2006 to earn a master’s in Asian American studies, became involved in community organizations in the area, including Khmer Girls in Action and Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. After migrating to Los Angeles from the Philippines, Casimiro Tolentino became involved in the Asian American movement at UCLA while earning bachelor’s and law degrees in the 1960s and ’70s. He went on to serve as an attorney for the Asian Pacific Legal Center, among other roles. After joining the movement during the ’60s, Amy Uyematsu joined the staff of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, where she worked as a researcher, publications coordinator and instructor. The center, now directed by Umemoto, celebrated the 50th anniversary of Asian American Studies at UCLA with a book launch in May. “Mountain Movers” reflects the social transformation of ethnic study in higher education as a result of the efforts of student activist groups. — Zoe Day
Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to the Chicago Tribune about third- and fourth-generation Japanese Americans’ resurgent interest in the internment of their ancestors during World War II. Umemoto went on her own pilgrimage to what remains of Manzanar, the camp where her father was held. “Any Japanese American who saw and understands what our parents and grandparents went through is left with a feeling that they don’t want to see anyone else go through that experience,” said Umemoto, director of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA. “So when there is talk of Muslim bans, deportations based on race or ethnicity, or just the overall racial hatred being sown against immigrants … well, we know what terrible things that can lead to.” Umemoto said her visit made her father’s experience more real. “You feel how it might have been for the families who were put behind barbed wire with armed guards, not knowing when they could leave or what would happen to them,” she said.
UCLA Luskin Urban Planning’s Karen Umemoto shared her thoughts about stereotypes related to Asians and Asian Americans on a KPCC broadcast of “Air Talk.” The interview followed the release of an essay by novelist Celest Ng on marriage and relationships between Asian women and non-Asian men and the harassment some Asian women receive — online and off — for their personal choice of partners. “I think it’s been an issue for decades. … Celeste Ng’s article just calls our attention to the new heights of harassment given the expanse of social media, I think, which brings a new dimension to the problem of hate speech,” Umemoto said. The director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center added that although the issue is longstanding, “I also don’t want to magnify it bigger than it is. … I think it’s important for us to put it in a broader social and historical context because I think it’s very dangerous the way that people are being attacked and harassed,” she said, noting that such controversy may distract from addressing the underlying structural, historical causes.
Karen Umemoto of UCLA Luskin was a guest on a KPCC “Air Talk” broadcast focusing on new U.S. Census data that indicates the percentage of foreign-born residents in the United States is the highest since 1910. The data show that new arrivals are more likely to come from Asia than in the past. “It’s hard to cast one homogeneous statement about what the impacts will be, but I think there is a lot of diversity that comes with the new immigration that we’re seeing from parts of Asia, especially China and India and the Philippines,” said Umemoto, professor of urban planning and Asian American studies and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. “But I think there’s a lot of economic diversity too,” she said. “It’s a very bifurcated population economically, where you have many who are very poor and some who are very wealthy.”
UCLA Luskin Urban Planning recently joined with the UCLA Asian Studies Center and other campus partners to officially welcome new faculty member Karen Umemoto. A reception in her honor was held April 25, 2018, at the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center. In addition to joining the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty, Umemoto will lead the Asian American Studies Center as the inaugural holder of the Helen and Morgan Chu Endowed Director’s Chair. Other partners for the reception were the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA and the UCLA Institute of American Cultures.
Click or swipe below to browse photos from the reception.
Read more about Umemoto and her new role at UCLA:
By Stan Paul
For urban planning, social welfare and education doctoral students at UCLA, the results of the 2016 election added a new urgency to their role as researchers and to their research agendas.
In response to the rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration following the inauguration, a working group was formed to discuss questions of concern for upcoming scholars in UCLA’s academic and professional programs who are — and will be — working directly with individuals and groups in diverse communities.
This year, the group’s efforts culminated in “Resistance through Research: Social Justice Research and Activism in the Trump Era,” a conference held April 20, 2018, at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“As Ph.D. students in the professional schools, we conduct research on issues of race, gender and class-based discrimination, and we critically examine the opportunities that people have to participate in the institutions that shape their lives,” said Rebecca Crane, an Urban Planning doctoral student and one of the event organizers. “We decided to start a working group to discuss these issues which we hope will create dialogue around the notion of a politically engaged research agenda and its potential to challenge inequality now in this political moment.”
“Urgency for resistance is not new, but rather persistent,” said Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “The phenomenon of Trumpism is not unique to the United States.” Rather, it is something that must be treated “as a rupture in the fabric of the world.”
But, she added: “The question is whether we, scholars rooted in academia, have stepped up … whether the global university, a command and control node of knowledge production, can be committed to such forms of research.”
And, Roy pointed out, academic fields and institutions that produce knowledge are not exempt from examination or resistance.
“For me, resistance within, against and from the university has meant a politics of alliance, solidarity and collectivism. It has meant taking and exercising academic freedom through a very visible politics of building collectivity, of building a commons.”
However, she cautioned the room full of students and researchers, “There’s a hell of a lot of risk ahead of you.”
The conference also included a panel focused on research methods illustrating theoretical and political points of departure and avenues in academic research. Panelists represented different career stages from new Ph.D.s to veteran scholars and educators.
Daniel Solórzano, a longtime professor of Education and Chicano/a Studies at UCLA, recalled early in his academic career his decision to go against the grain — and against the advice of senior scholars — to “challenge the dominant frames.” Solórzano whose teaching and research interests include critical race theory, agreed that “the issues are something that are not new,” crediting his students with helping him advance important work and fields of inquiry. “I need a diverse student population to move this work forward.”
Also on the methods panel was Nina Flores, who completed her doctorate in urban planning at UCLA Luskin in 2016. Flores, now an assistant professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at California State University Long Beach, also discussed the challenge and benefits of “push-back.”
“Find your people,” she said, citing her work and collaboration with longtime UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty members Leo Estrada and the late Jacqueline Leavitt. By finding the right people to work with, Flores said, “the push-back can be creative,” as well as affirming.
Also making up the methods panel were Kristina Lovato-Hermann SW Ph.D. ’17, now assistant professor of social work at Cal State University Long Beach, and Karen Umemoto, professor of Urban Planning and Asian American Studies. Umemoto also serves as the inaugural holder of the Helen and Morgan Chu Endowed Director’s Chair in the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.
A second panel, devoted to research justice, included Saba Waheed, research director at the UCLA Labor Center; Yvonne Yen Liu, research director of the Solidarity Research Center in Los Angeles; and Lolita Andrada Lledo, associate director of the Los Angeles-based Pilipino Workers Center.
“We wanted today to be an opportunity to connect with people outside our departments who might be working on similar topics … as well as community-based researchers working on these topics,” Crane said.
In fact, a class of UCLA undergrads was able to take advantage of the knowledge shared at the conference. Diya Bose, a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology, brought students from her UCLA freshman cluster course on Interracial Dynamics in American Culture and Society.
“It was important for them to witness how the UCLA students are continuing to fight for justice and liberation through education, research and working with communities of color,” said Bose. “Following the Luskin event, my students shared with me that they felt inspired and empowered to participate in the UCLA community, not as passive consumers of knowledge, but as producers of knowledge.”
The conference also featured research workshops in three subgroups: Racial and Gender Justice, Public Services and Spaces, and Migration and Displacement.
“In my internship we do a lot of research and we partner with a lot of community organizations,” said Evelyn Larios, a second-year MSW student at UCLA. “So this is really nice because it really reinforces the idea that as we move forward in collective research we need to partner with communities to build that relationship.”
Larios added: “At some point it take compromise. That’s important to society and democracy in general.”
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