Gidra

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Gidra was a ground-breaking Asian American publication begun by five UCLA Asian American students — Dinora Gil, Laura Ho, Mike Murase, Tracy Okida and Colin Watanabe — in 1969 to provide "accurate information about Asian Americans and to promote existing community organizing efforts, among other tasks. It reflected the desire for collectivism and to advance Asian American pride, but many individual issues were constantly debated."

The magazine is also noted for integrating art and poetry in its pages, framing creative expression as integral to the political and social struggle. Over its five-year existence, Gidra devoted most of its attention to two areas: political advocacy, especially the anti-Vietnam War movement, and Asian American identity. By one count, almost 250 people contributed to the publication.

The magazine was named after a three-headed Japanese movie monster, although the publication’s mascot was a caterpillar wearing a conical peasant hat and wielding a pen.

Gidra is credited with inspiring the creation of other publications to serve the Asian American community.

The final issue was printed in April 1974, featuring a drawing of some of the staff members on the cover.[1]

Staffers

The magazine Gidra was edited by a changing, non-hierarchical collective that included individuals like Mike Murase, Doug Aihara, Evelyn Yoshimura, Steve Tatsukawa, and Bruce Iwasaki, along with a roster of talented graphic designers and artists that included Alan Takemoto, Dean Toji, David Monkawa, and Glenn Iwasaki.[2]

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1974 Gidra staff Back row, from left: Doug Aihara, Glen Iwasaki, Alan Ota, Bruce Iwasaki, Alan Takemoto, David Monkawa, Linda Fujikawa, Mike Murase; (front row, from left) Jeff Furumura, Evelyn Yoshimura, Dean Toji, the late Steve Tatsukawa, Carrie Furuya.

Staff at April 1974 were Doug Aihara, Linda Fujikawa, Jeff Furumura, Bruce Iwasaki, Glen Iwasaki, David Monkawa, Mike Murase, Alan Ota, Alan Takemoto, Steve Tatsukawa, Dean Toji, and Evelyn Yoshimura.

The opening reception of “Drawing the Line: Japanese American Art, Design and Activism in Postwar Los Angeles” on Oct. 16 2011 at the Japanese American National Museum included a reunion of Gidra staff members.

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Pictured at the JANM 2011 reunion are (back row, from left) Doug Aihara (holding a picture of Jeff Furumura), Tommy Okabe, Denise Domoto, Tracy Okida, Tomo Hisamoto (obscured), Alan Takemoto, David Monkawa (obscured), Bruce Iwasaki, Mike Murase; (front row, from left) Evelyn Yoshimura, Dean Toji, Linda Fujikawa Tanamachi, Carrie Furuya Morita. [3]

Contributors

History

Mike Murase was active with Gidra.

For us at Gidra, what we face isn't a phenomenon that hit us broadside without warning. It is something we had lived with for at least three years, and something that was anticipated from the very beginning of our involvement. Gidra has never been without problems. Even in 1969, our first year of existence, we faced organizational problems with inequitable work distribution, not to speak of uneven political and personal development.

On the campus of UCLA on the afternoon of February 5, 1969, five students-Dinora Gil, Laura Ho, Tracy Okida, Colin Watanabe and Mike Murase met with the administration of the school to discuss the possibility of starting a community-oriented publication which would reflect the sentiments and ideas of the students and the communities from which we came. The rationale was simple: Like the rationale for ethnic studies, we argued that an institution of higher learning has the responsibility of teaching its students not only the ideas of the dominant society but the ideas of the many cultures and many histories that make up America.

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Later, as we sat and talked in the office at the Asian American Studies Center, someone suggested, "Why not start our own paper?" Good idea. But how do we do that? We decided that if each of us contributed $100, it would be more than enough to get started. So it was that five of us, students who had no practical experience in journalism, gave birth to the idea that was to become Gidra.

Tracy Okida, who had a penchant .for being where he wasn't, dragged out the name Gidra from deep within his nepenthean cerebrum.

More recently, Tracy has been working for a printing and graphics enterprise in Los Angeles.

Colin Watanabe recalls that day when we started Gidra, and the months he spent on the staff:

Rafu Shimpo, the nation's largest Japanese American daily published in Los Angeles, and its English section editor Ellen Endo, was curiously silent until the third issue aroused her to recognize the existence of Gidra.

Within months since the inception of the paper , we were to lose three key members of theirr staff. As the paper demanded more attention, some questioned whether it was becoming an end in itself. They argued that direct involvement and organizing were more important than the production of a newspaper . Others of us felt that through Gidra, we could organize and promote community involvement. The time came for a choice to be made, and the outcome was that Dinora, Laura and Suzi Wong, who had joined the staff in May, decided to work on organizing students at UCLA.

In the months that followed, the efforts of these three culminated in the formation of the Asian Radical Movement (ARM) at UCLA. In November, 1969, all three were arrested during a sit-in demonstration to back demands for the rehiring of a black cafeteria worker and for an improvement in the conditions of all campus workers. As a result of the arrests, and subsequent convictions, all three received suspended jail sentences and probationary status which prohibited them from participating in demonstrations and rallies. They have, for the most part, been politically dormant since then. Laura Ho became an assistant editor for ABC television and Dinora Gill will be entering medical school at UC Davis in the fall, while Suzi Wong did graduate work in comparative literature at the University of Indiana.

For those who remained with Gidra, there was much work to be done. New offices on Jefferson Boulevard on the Westside were rented and refurbished. Gidra was incorporated as a non-profit corporation. In this rebuilding period a number of others joined the staff. Warren Furutani, perhaps known for more significant contributions to the Movement, became Gidra's first regular columnist. Julia Aihara and Amy Murakami contributed by working long hours. They are both became teachers. Vivian Matsushige, who later worked at the Asian American Studies Center, and Laura Shiozaki and Naomi Uyeda, former UCLA students, also contributed their time and energies.

Ivan Ohta and Danny Matsumura were the first staff members without college backgrounds. Ivan was a student at Roosevelt High on the Eastside where he was involved in a movement for students' rights. Danny, a former member of the Yellow Brotherhood and a high school dropout, brought with him a perspective "from the streets" which contributed to the milieu in a unique way. He shared with us his perceptions of things while he worked on tasks the rest of us were unwilling to undertake.

Not surprisingly, there were other readers who wanted Gidra to be more persuasive and more direct in explicating our "politics" and scowled at the "how-to-do " articles, labeling them "petty boojiwah " or "imitations of white hippie counterculture."

We tried to present the progressive viewpoint in a principled way, but our response was to publish a wide range of perspectives in a variety of styles, writing about many issues and activities. The paper's diversity of perspectives stems from our varied attempts at defining ourselves. We tried to extend the role Gidra plays in the ongoing revolution both through collective policy decisions and our personal interactions. Therefore there is much more freedom than consistency in our pages.

In the spring of 1972, Gidra learned of an opportunity to send a representative to the People's Republic of China. There were many enthusiastic volunteers, but after the excitement subsided we began to discuss not "who wanted to go" but "who should go" as our delegate. We wanted to select someone who would be able to absorb as much as possible about socialism in practice in a short period of time.

After hours of discussion, they selected Evelyn Yoshimura to represent them because of her many qualities.

Evelyn returned in the fall and gave presentations and informal talks on China with many community groups, and shared her experiences by writing articles about her trip. What we learned through her about China was an important element of our political development and understanding of socialism at work.
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Through 1972, we were undergoing more changes, but the most significant was that we began a study group of our own. At our first meeting on April 7, we talked about what we wanted to learn from the study. Evelyn wanted the answer to the question, "How does Gidra fit into the overall Movement?" Bruce Iwasaki hungered for "facts-concrete knowledge of concepts like 'imperialism '-some kind of objective body of knowledge." Steve said that "our life-styles and behavioral patterns are expressions of our ideologies. I want to see how I fit into Gidra and the Movement." And so it went.

Doug Aihara, who grew up in Montebello and was an Eagle Scout in the 379 Koyasan troop, asked, "How do we move people to action?" Doug had often talked about wanting to make Gidra more accessible to people and about wanting to rid the Movement of its seeming exclusivity. He discussed new ideas and concepts with his mom, his boss and with practically anybody he could find to talk with. Tirelessly, he pursued the answers, and tried to get other people involved. When people came to visit the office, Doug would show them around, patiently explaining the procedures we go through each month. Now, he's getting into music more, but during the day he works at Naris Cosmetics.

Finally a study group was organized. We set up study for six week sessions, having a recess and evaluation after each session, and with rotating chairpersons, and a permanent meeting day, time, and place. The study was divided into three parts:

(1) The Objective Conditions-Racism, Sexism, Capitalism, Imperialism... and alienation, inequality and irrationality... which engenders individualism, intolerance, irresponsibility, negative self-image and pessimism. We wanted to study Asian American and Third World histories, the War, the institutions in our society, the state of the Movement, etc.

(2) The Goals-Humanism, Socialism, Revolution. The examples of the Vietnamese, the People's Republic...collectivity, self-respect, self-reliance, self-determination, self-discipline, self-defense.

(3) How to Get from One to the Other. Step by step...

Naturally, it broke down into more manageable sub-categories but that's the rough idea. We read political pamphlets, newspapers, introductory readers, and some "classics." We used different techniques: discussion, investigation, role-playing, autobiographical histories, criticism/self-criticism.

Steve Tatsukawa, personifies someone who is able to relate to people. In the four years that he's been with Gidra, he has never demonstrated anger toward people, and is endowed with the ability to make people laugh and to make them feel good.

No revolution has ever succeeded unless it was carried through by people with total revolutionary intent. Today in America, this type of person is now emerging. The foundations of American culture have been rejected by many: the materialism, the profit-motive, the competition, the basis of western culture as we know it.

Again when summer rolled around, we had NYC youth work with us, only in 1972, we had fifteen high school students coming down to the office every afternoon and most evenings. Because the program was so hastily organized, we had set up limited training sessions. Many of the NYC people who had extra time worked with Yellow Brotherhood. They also led a group of two hundred youth to the streets of Little Tokyo during Nisei Week to demonstrate their opposition to the war in Vietnam under the banner of the Van Troi Anti-Imperialist Youth Brigade.

Early in 1973, artists David Monkawa, Dean Toji and Glen Iwasaki joined Alan Takemoto (who had been on the staff since April 1972) to make up the most talented group of Asian American illustrators to be on anyone staff. All of them had been serious artists in the traditional sense, but they struggled with their former conceptions of Art and became a vital force within Gidra as they began writing and participating in other staff functions.

Many personal changes were to take place during 1973 for many on the staff. The process and content of the paper were greatly influenced by those changes. Most of them were already involved with other community organizations and "work areas": Creative Workshop, Little Tokyo Anti-Eviction Task Force, Yellow Brotherhood, Joint Counseling Center, Asian Women's Center, Amerasia Bookstore, Asian Law Collective, just to name a few. Changes in personal relationships and living situations also had an impact. Linda Fujikawa was becoming increasingly involved at UCLA's school of social welfare, and in the area of casework.

Another symptom of that "revolutionary fervor" was our unwillingness/inability to deal with the realities of our economic condition: the problem of money has been a constant source of concern and apprehension for the staff. When we were students, it was easier because we did not have to worry about many of the financial responsibilities that troubled others, but concerns about "paying our bills" and economically surviving soon became real enough.

In our five-year history, no one received a single payroll check from Gidra. We tried to think of ways in which "survival needs" and our work at Gidra could be integrated, but because we had to work at other places in the meantime, we weren't able to become financially self-sufficient, at least not enough to have salaries for the staff. A vicious cycle.

References