By MIKE MURASE
For young people, the 1960s and ’70s were heady, exhilarating times. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements with Martin, Malcolm and the Black Panthers. All Power to the People. The Vietnam War. No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Gook. The liberation struggles of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Campus struggles for free speech and ethnic studies. Community-building in minority neighborhoods. Women’s Lib. Sisterhood Is Powerful. Hopes for Social Change. Bold and audacious times.
Musically and culturally, we were influenced by many trends and genres that spoke to us. Marvin Gaye was asking, “What’s Going On?” Bob Dylan was saying, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Sam Cooke. The Beatles. Joan Baez. James Brown. Aretha Franklin. Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix. Bob Marley.
In this milieu, GIDRA, the monthly of the Asian American Experience, was conceived in 1969 by five UCLA students—Dinora Gil, Laura Ho, Tracy Okida, Colin Watanabe and myself—who all shared in the belief that young, progressive Asian Americans needed a medium not only to report on events of the day, but also to express ourselves and share feelings and opinions about what was going on around us.
The first few issues were produced in vacant rooms at Campbell Hall on the UCLA campus. But realizing the administration’s attempts at censorship would be too confining and limit us from reaching a broader audience at other universities and high schools, and more importantly, the people in our communities, we moved our production offices off-campus to rented quarters in the Crenshaw District.
Over the next five years, we produced 60 monthly issues. Many young activists participated in writing, typesetting, graphics work and distribution of GIDRA. By the second year of publication, a stable staff core — including Evelyn Yoshimura, Steve Tatsukawa, Doug Aihara, Jeff Furumura and lots of others — had emerged to remain together for the following four years. A stable of talented artists and illustrators included David Monkawa, Dean Toji, Glen Iwasaki and the incomparable Alan Takemoto. But around them, there was a continuous influx and exodus of literally hundreds of volunteers who identified with GIDRA.
By the time the final issue was printed in April 1974, GIDRA had come to be known as “the voice of the Asian American Movement.” In that issue, I wrote a personal reflection about the experience of working on GIDRA, the process, not the product:
“During the last five years—a long time, yet really so short—we have learned slowly, and sometimes painfully, to do things that had been totally alien to us before, to become aware of ourselves and others, and to look at the conditions around us in ways very different from traditional views. Often, we were called upon to do things that made us feel uncomfortable at first: participating in marches and demonstrations, speaking before large audiences, appearing on radio and television programs, selling the paper, and sharing with each other some of our deepest feelings and most private thoughts.
“As we continue to struggle, what needs remembering now is the richness and vitality of this total experience called GIDRA, which is much more than just a newspaper. It has been an experience in sharing — in giving and receiving — in a sisterly and brotherly atmosphere. It has meant a chance to actively work for something we really believe in. It has meant a chance to express ourselves in a variety of ways. It has been a lesson in humility and perseverance. It has meant working with people who care about people, and genuinely feeling the strength that can only come out of collective experience.”
In the intervening 41 years since the final issue was put to bed, I have had brushes with people from all walks of life and of all ages who remember reading GIDRA hot off the press at the time or years later in some dusty garage or in a research library. I have been told of the indelible impact that something in GIDRA had on them. Time and again, people have asked how can they get a hold of a particular article or issue, and whether complete sets are available anywhere. Why don’t you digitize them? Other fellow GIDRA staff have had similar encounters — repeatedly — over the years.
And now, after many years and decades of efforts to preserve and make accessible the original papers, I am happy to announce that all 60 issues of the original GIDRA, as well as some supplemental readings, are available to the public in digital form.
After preliminary discussions between Brian Niiya, the content director of Densho and editor of Densho Encyclopedia, and Doug Aihara, Evelyn Yoshimura and myself representing GIDRA, an agreement was reached to have Densho scan, digitize and make accessible all of the issues through its online digital repository.
Any comments, criticisms or feedback can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.