Karen Umemoto, urban planning professor and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, was featured in an NBC News article about the role of ethnic studies programs in preserving Asian American history. Many of the activists who led the Asian American movement in the 1960s for representation in politics, scholarship and culture are now passing away. The loss has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re at an important point in history where we have to record their stories,” Umemoto said. “There are so many rich life lessons that we can learn from their involvement in movements for social change.” It has been more than 50 years since the first Asian American studies curricula were established in California colleges, but only a handful of post-secondary institutions offer degrees in the field. Even within those programs, the story of the Asian American civil rights movement and the people who built it is often given short shrift, Umemoto said.
By Mary Braswell
Voting rights experts from around the country gathered at a UCLA conference to brainstorm ways to protect Americans’ access to the ballot box, even as votes cast in the 2020 election continued to be challenged in court.
Elected officials on the front lines of the civil rights fight joined legal scholars, policy analysts, attorneys and advocates at the Dec. 8–9 virtual seminar. The event was hosted by the Voting Rights Project, a division of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin.
The seminar’s organizers intend to turn the attendees’ shared wisdom into a report to Congress that could help shape comprehensive national legislation to safeguard the right to vote.
Among the topics that guided the conversation: voter suppression and intimidation during this year’s election cycle and the Supreme Court’s 2013 rollback of core provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“This is what we get when we have elections without the full protection of the federal Voting Rights Act that stood and served well for more than 50 years,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “It has unleashed the floodgates for a lot of the voter suppression measures that we’ve seen in the last seven years and we saw in full display in the 2020 election.”
Texas Rep. Marc Veasey, who co-founded the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, said the country is witnessing “egregious stories that you would think we wouldn’t be seeing in modern-day America.”
In his state, he said, officials have attempted to require people registering to vote to first produce a birth certificate or passport. Another proposal, seen as an invitation to voter intimidation, would have permitted cellphone recordings of citizens casting their ballots as a way to document “fraud.”
“We’re revisiting a very dark time in U.S. history where people just absolutely have no regrets at all about rolling back the rights of people to be able to vote, particularly people of color,” he said.
For example, Padilla noted, during the Georgia primaries, the wait time to vote in Black neighborhoods averaged 51 minutes, compared with six minutes in white neighborhoods.
While some state and local jurisdictions are pushing for rules that chip away at the freedom to vote, others are lighting the way for federal reforms, the speakers stressed.
Padilla and Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea spoke of changes in their states that have made it easier for citizens to register and vote — changes that were accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What made this cycle different is that the pandemic focused us to reexamine how people vote,” Gorbea said. “And in many of our states we adapted our democracy to provide easier and safer access to the ballot box, which meant that people could vote while still taking care of their health.”
The seminar included workshops that zeroed in on specific facets of the voting rights movement, including fair redistricting, equal access for low-income and minority communities, planning for the next public health crisis, and overcoming procedural hurdles that have blocked past efforts to bring change.
Panelists and participants in the audience weighed in on the strengths and omissions of legislation already in the pipeline, including HR1, the For the People Act, and HR4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Panelists represented several organizations with long histories of championing voting rights, including the ACLU, Campaign Legal Center, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
The discussion took place amid persistent efforts by President Donald Trump and some of his supporters to discredit the results of the 2020 presidential election. Padilla said those efforts have been fueled by “baseless conspiracy theories that have been spewed that seek to question the legitimacy of votes cast by Black voters and Latino voters, among others.”
The seminar capped a hectic electoral season for the Voting Rights Project, whose members conducted research, wrote policy reports and appeared in court to battle efforts to disenfranchise voters.
Tye Rush, a UCLA political science doctoral student, said a reinvigorated Voting Rights Act for the 21st century would eliminate the need for piecemeal litigation of civil rights violations.
“We’re looking to get something in front of Congress that can be signed and that will protect against the onslaught of voting rights–related rollbacks that we’re seeing in this era,” said Rush, a research fellow at the Voting Rights Project.
New research from the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center shows that the United States is falling behind its global peers when it comes to guarantees for key constitutional rights. “The new decade begins with clear constitutional gaps that place the United States in a global minority” for failing to guarantee rights to healthcare and gender equality, said Jody Heymann, founder of the nonprofit policy research center. “Globally, the U.S. now lags 165 other nations with stronger constitutional protections for women. And the U.S. is absent from the 142 countries globally … that provide some degree of constitutional protection for the right to health,” said Heymann, a distinguished professor of public policy, medicine, and health policy and management at UCLA. Worldwide, the center’s researchers found a considerable expansion of protections over the past 50 years but noted that millions are still left without human rights guarantees, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination. Groups experiencing the greatest gaps in rights guarantees include migrants, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community. To produce the report, researchers analyzed the constitutions of all 193 United Nations member states. “Constitutions help shape social norms and send clear messages about who matters and what nations value,” Heymann said. The report is now available as an online resource featuring policy briefs, maps and downloadable data as well as the book “Advancing Equality,” available for download at UC Press. The book’s authors, Heymann, Amy Raub and Aleta Sprague, also wrote an op-ed for CNN arguing that it’s time for the United States to guarantee gender equality by enshrining the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
A Precinct Reporter article about a Long Beach event exploring the meaning of black leadership featured Alex Norman DSW ’74, a UCLA Luskin professor emeritus of social welfare. Norman and Long Beach City Council member Al Austin led a panel discussion with advocates and civic leaders on issues critical to the region’s African American population. Norman called on black leaders to join forces to address the poverty and lack of educational attainment that are driving trauma and negative health and social impacts. Black leaders must unite and collaborate the way that national organizations did in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s instead of pursuing disconnected goals, he said. Norman has compiled extensive research through Rethinking Greater Long Beach, a community-based think tank that focuses on education, public safety and urban demography.
Jim Newton, public policy lecturer at UCLA Luskin, shared his interpretation of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s actions on desegregation while serving as president in a recent CJ Online article. According to Newton, President Eisenhower’s public statement that “the Supreme Court has spoken and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional processes in this country, and I will obey,” after the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision banned racial segregation in schools in 1954, illustrates Eisenhower’s “lukewarm” stance on desegregation. “He did what was required of him but evidenced no enthusiasm for it,” Newton said, arguing that he believed Eisenhower didn’t fully anticipate what he was getting in the area of civil rights when he appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the United States. Newton, who has written biographies of both Eisenhower and Warren, commented that Eisenhower’s enforcement of Brown v. Board of Education at Little Rock was more about power than about desegregation.
By Les Dunseith
Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, has been named the 2019 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Murguía has led UnidosUS since 2005. She will deliver the keynote address during the UCLA Luskin ceremony at 9 a.m. on June 14 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.
“Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice,” Luskin School Dean Gary Segura said. “In this very difficult time for the Latino population, I am excited to hear her share her insights and determination — developed and refined over decades of advocacy — with our graduating class.”
‘Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice.’
— Dean Gary Segura
During her tenure at the organization, which changed its name from the National Council of La Raza in 2017, Murguía has sought to strengthen the work of UnidosUS and enhance its record of impact as a vital American institution. Murguía has also sought to amplify the Latino voice on issues such as education, health care, immigration, civil rights and the economy.
A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Murguía earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish, and a juris doctorate, from the University of Kansas. She has also received honorary degrees from Cal State Dominguez Hills, Wake Forest University and Williams College.
Murguía began her career in Washington, D.C., as legislative counsel to former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery from her home state. She worked with the congressman for seven years before joining the Clinton administration, where she served for six years as a deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton, including deputy director of legislative affairs.
Murguía went on to serve as deputy campaign manager and director of constituency outreach for the 2000 presidential campaign of Democrat Al Gore, during which she was the primary liaison between former Vice President Gore and national constituency groups.
In 2001, Murguía returned to the University of Kansas as executive vice chancellor for university relations, where she oversaw KU’s internal and external relations with the public. She is credited with coordinating the university’s strategic planning and marketing efforts at KU’s four campuses.
Over the course of her career, Murguía has been featured in various magazines and newspapers for her work and leadership. This includes being highlighted on Hispanic Business Magazine’s “100 Top Latinas” and “100 Most Influential Hispanics” lists, Washingtonian magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women in Washington,” the NonProfit Times’ list of top 50 leaders of “Power and Influence,” People En Español’s “100 Most Influential Hispanics,” Newsweek’s third annual women and leadership issue, Poder magazine’s “The Poderosos 100,” Latino Leaders magazine’s “101 Top Leaders of the Hispanic Community” and Hispanic magazine’s “Powerful Latinos.”
Murguía was the first Latino to give the keynote speech at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham, Alabama. And she received Alpha Phi’s Frances E. Willard Award in 2018.
Murguía is currently a board member of Achieve, an independent and nonpartisan education reform nonprofit organization, and the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility. She also serves as a member of diversity advisory councils for Bank of America, Charter Communications, Comcast/NBC Universal and Wells Fargo.
Gary Orfield, distinguished research professor of urban planning, told the ThinkProgress news site that President Donald Trump’s attempt to honor Martin Luther King Jr. was ironic because he “was elected in a racist campaign.” Trump posted a tweet praising the civil rights leader and made a quick trip to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. “Trump often tries to spin reality, but his tweet suggesting he affirms the ideals of Martin Luther King is truly incredible,” said Orfield, who co-directs the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. “[Trump’s] administration has attacked civil rights in appointments, in regulation changes, in attacking affirmative action, in creating unspeakable conditions for refugee families, and turning the Supreme Court to the hard right.” Orfield concluded, “Those who believe in Dr. King’s vision of the ‘beloved community’ should be marching now because this administration is the most hostile we’ve experienced in a century.”
Gary Orfield, distinguished research professor of education, law, political science and urban planning, was cited a Christian Science Monitor article about continued segregation in elementary and secondary schools. Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, said elementary and secondary schools are becoming more unequal without the pressure of civil rights requirements. “The problem isn’t curing itself,” he said.
By Mary Braswell
To fully comprehend the experience of black Americans, start by throwing out conventional maps, tired vocabularies and old ways of thinking.
That is the core message of Marcus Anthony Hunter, chair of African American Studies at UCLA and co-author of a new book about the struggle and triumph of black culture over many generations.
Hunter drew on insights and anecdotes from the book, “Chocolate Cities: The Black Map of American Life,” to engage an audience of more than 50 students, faculty and guests at a Nov. 19, 2018, lecture at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“I believe that in order to move forward into a more productive world and more productive scientific conversation about space, place and people, we need new words,” he said. “And new words bring realities, bring frameworks, and so my agenda today is to give you some new words and bring it from the culture.”
Hunter’s takeaway — to seek out fresh vantage points for a clearer picture of truth — was a fitting launch for the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series at UCLA Luskin. A collaborative effort by Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, the new series brings in lecturers from across the spectrum of social sciences to share messages that cross, even erase, disciplinary lines.
“We are talking about how to step out of our silos,” said Social Welfare Professor Mark Kaplan, who spearheaded the seminar series. “This is really an effort to get people to think beyond their immediate range of disciplinary interest.”
Faculty members including Mark Peterson of Public Policy, Laura Wray-Lake of Social Welfare and Amada Armenta and Kian Goh of Urban Planning worked together to nominate speakers “who perhaps we would not think of in our own fields,” Kaplan said.
The series aspires to do more than simply attract people curious about what’s happening outside their own disciplines. It aims to shatter old paradigms, overcome institutional resistance, encourage collaborative work and find solutions to the tough social problems that UCLA Luskin tackles daily, Kaplan said.
He envisions UCLA Luskin as a laboratory for the transdisciplinary approach, an idea that has been incubating at the School for years. The initiative got new life in spring 2018 when Dean Gary Segura met with Kaplan and endorsed the lecture series and its broader ambitions.
Hunter’s talk showed the potential of the cross-pollination approach, weaving urban geography together with demographic data, oral histories, news archives and a large dose of cultural touchpoints from poetry, fiction, film and music.
Parliament Funkadelic’s 1975 “Chocolate City” album inspired Hunter and co-author Zandria F. Robinson to adopt the term as a fitting description of black communities, replacing “slum,” “ghetto,” “Buttermilk Bottom,” “Cabrini Green,” “South Central” — and the stereotypes they invoke.
“Wherever two or more black people are gathered, there is a chocolate city,” Hunter told the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series audience. But he stressed that the black experience does not require a physical bond.
“There’s this idea of connectivity across black space that to me is deeply, deeply profound,” said Hunter, an associate professor of sociology. “Without meeting with each other, there’s a similar sentiment about all sorts of things related to trauma, struggle and accomplishment.”
To underscore his argument that conventional borders are misleading and outmoded, Hunter played audio of Malcolm X’s 1964 address at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit.
“If you black, you were born in jail, in the North as well as the South,” the racial justice advocate said. “Stop talking about the South. As long as you south of the Canadian border, you South.”
Hunter’s reimagining of U.S. territory is made up of many different “Souths.”
“When we think about the South, we’re talking about surveillance, Jim Crow, racial segregation, residential segregation. We know from the research that these practices exist all across the United States, but we usually attribute bad behavior to the South,” Hunter said.
“Everywhere is the South if you are black. The South follows black people as they leave.”
Some of these geographies exist below the surface, as in the case of black transgender women, Hunter argued. He aired video clips of “the two Ms. Johnsons”: Gay rights activist Marsha P. Johnson was killed in suspicious circumstances in New York City in 1992. Duanna Johnson was shot to death on a Memphis street in 2008, months after her videotaped beating by two police officers drew wide condemnation. The killers of these two black transgender women have never been found.
“Your status as trans puts you at this really interesting and dangerous intersection and you often come up missing,” said Hunter, who devoted a chapter in his book to the two Ms. Johnsons and the little-known worlds they traversed.
“Our goal here was to recover those maps and to also honor the lives of these people who tried to navigate the chocolate city in all of its dangers and wonders.”
View a Flickr album from the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series event.
By Stan Paul
Leo Estrada, associate professor emeritus of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, died Nov. 3, 2018, following a lengthy illness. He was 73.
Estrada came to UCLA in 1977, joining the faculty of what was then UCLA’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning under the late Harvey Perloff, who was known as the dean of American urban planners.
A native of El Paso, Texas, Estrada had held academic appointments previously at the University of North Texas, University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Michigan. He received his undergraduate degree from Baylor University and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Florida State University.
During his decades of service at UCLA, Estrada was recognized as an expert demographer and an urban planning researcher and teacher. He also was a fierce and effective advocate for Latino voting, civil rights and representation, said UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura, and someone who made huge contributions to UCLA.
“Throughout his career, Leo Estrada distinguished himself as a mentor, adviser and advocate for the careers of countless young planners and scholars, many students and faculty of color, and so much more,” Segura said.
Professor of urban planning Vinit Mukhija said he remembers Estrada for his compassion, generosity and commitment. Mukhija, now chair of urban planning, recalled that Estrada went out of his way to help him navigate through his first year as an assistant professor at UCLA. “That’s just one thing on a very personal level that I am grateful for,” Mukhija said.
Estrada’s selflessness extended not only to faculty, but to staff, students and beyond, Mukhija said.
“Leo was pretty much on campus every day, and he had a sign-up sheet on his office door that included all the days of the week, for many hours — just way beyond what the expectation was and what the practice was in terms of accessibility to students.” Mukhija said. “That was just another remarkable thing — he did that at the undergraduate level, the graduate level and the doctoral level. And I don’t know how many dissertation committees he did, but he seemed to be one of the busiest.”
Mukhija said that people “change the culture of a place, and Leo was along those lines. Definitely, he primarily led by example, but I think he encouraged people to be helpful to others as well.”
What also stood out to Mukhija was that “Leo was always the calmest person in the room. And yet, there was no question that he was engaged. He did that in a remarkable way that is almost peerless.”
In addition to teaching courses about planning for minority communities and geographic information systems, for a number of years the tireless Estrada led intensive undergraduate urban planning travel study trips to Geneva, Switzerland during the summer term.
Following a role on UCLA Academic Senate’s undergraduate council, Estrada stepped up to serve as chair of the senate during the 2015–16 academic year.
In his professional work, Estrada applied his skills in mapping to redistricting issues for cities across the country and provided expertise on ethnic and racial groups for the U.S. Census Bureau, where he held titles such as special assistant to the chief of the population division and as staff assistant to the deputy director. He also participated in numerous national studies, including an evaluation of the U.S. Standard of Live Birth for the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.
Following the beating of Rodney King in 1991, Estrada was called by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to serve on the Christopher Commission to examine the use of force by the Los Angeles Police Department. Describing the experience as “incredible,” Estrada later said that it was “one of the most important moments of my history and life here in Los Angeles.”
Estrada served on numerous advisory boards, including U.S. Census Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Latino Issues Forum, the Aspen Institute, National Association of Hispanic Elderly, the California Policy Research Institute, the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, and the California Endowment. He also was a former member on the national board of AARP, New Economics for Women, the National Association of Childcare Resource and Referral Agencies, and Hispanics in Philanthropy.
Other nonprofit advisory boards he served on included the Pew Charitable Trust’s Global Stewardship Initiative, the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, the Southern California Association of Governments, and Los Angeles World Airports. In 2013 he was named to the board of directors of SCAN Health Plan.
In June, a retirement celebration for Estrada was held to recognize his decades of scholarship, service and accomplishments at UCLA.
Commenting at that time in a story to commemorate his career, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a longtime UCLA Luskin colleague and urban planning professor, described Estrada as “a giant on many different fronts.”
“He has been an inspiring teacher and a mentor to an endless number of UCLA students and a role model to many Latino and minority students,” she said.
Loukaitou-Sideris, who is also associate provost for academic planning at UCLA, noted that Estrada was one of the first urban planning scholars to teach and institutionalize courses about diversity and planning.
“As a brilliant demographer, he was also instrumental in confronting gerrymandering and giving ethnic communities equal representation in California and other states around the country,” she said.
“It was my privilege to know him,” Segura said in an announcement to the UCLA Luskin community. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the Estrada family. Leo will be profoundly missed.”
A private family ceremony will be held. UCLA Luskin is planning to host a campus memorial service for Estrada at a later date.
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