Student activism has long been a cornerstone of social progress movements and is still prevalent today. It is especially prevalent in the current age of social media, where activists can use online platforms to spread protest movements and ideas, and garner support from people across the globe. In times before internet activism, people still spread information about their social movements in any way they could, including through pamphlets, zines (independent magazines), and newspapers.
The Asian American liberation movement is no exception. Conceived as a political identity in the mid-20th century, student newspaper Gidra documented its growth as a movement.
The publication’s name derived from the Godzilla kaiju King Ghidorah. The student-run paper was kickstarted by four students attending UCLA and ran from 1969-1974. It operated without any hierarchical system, with no listed editors or publishers. It was entirely volunteer-based, as no one was paid for working on it. The paper grew in membership, and the students published news, poetry, editorials, and cartoons, as well as more simple articles on how to make hats or how to fix a toilet. During the publication’s run, it had 1,300 subscribers at its peak, but its influence was far broader than this, as issues were passed from person to person.
Gidra was a cornerstone of the Asian American movement and a mouthpiece for Asian voices, as it grew from speaking about Asian-related issues in their local community to the broader social progress movements in the late 60s and 70s. Protests against the Vietnam War, the anti-imperialist movement, and the women’s liberation movement, as well as standing in solidarity with the Black and Chicano liberation movements were all principles of the newspaper. Equality for Asian Americans could only be achieved if all racism was eradicated. Similar to social justice movements today, criticisms of Gidra dismissed the paper's cause of fighting against institutionalized and societal racism as "absurd abstractions" and denounced the publication as a "real hippy-type journal."
Gidra brought the more overlooked issue of racism against Asians to the forefront, and wrote on issues such as the legacy of the Japanese internment camps, cultural phenomena in the Asian community, the fetishization of Asian women, capitalism’s effects on the fight for women’s liberation and racial equality, and the impact of the Vietnam war.
Anti-Asian racism during the period was worsened due to the Vietnam War, with the dehumanization of Vietnamese people, especially by U.S. soldiers abroad, spreading to encompass hate towards the Asian diaspora in the U.S..
Gidra disrupts the “Model Minority Myth” that Asians were quiet and obedient regarding the oppression that they faced during this time. They fought loudly and relentlessly for the liberation of their people from racism and discrimination. The new role and identity of Asian American broke free from the passive and submissive stereotype, and in Gidra you can see this identity develop in real time.
As this year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month comes to an end, we reflect on how the Asian American movement persists today. It has come far from its roots as a political identity, and it is needed now just as much in 2021 as it was in 1969. The #StopAsianHate movement against the epidemic of anti-Asian racist hate crimes that run concurrent with the Covid-19 pandemic shows that Asian American activists will not be silent.
All issues of Gidra are available for download from the Densho Digital Repository. Every monthly publication from 1969-1974, in addition to its five issues from 1999-2001, can be read for free. The ideas and movements championed by Gidra's founders and staff still hold true and strong to this day, 50 years after their publication, and their legacy is carried on by the activists of today.