By Don T. Nakanishi, Professor Emeritus (1994-2009) and former Director (1990-2000), UCLA Asian American Studies Center
It is a great pleasure to be invited to participate on the APIASF blog: re/present. I have enjoyed reading the posts that have thus far appeared, and I hope I can share some thoughts and experiences with you that are equally helpful, supportive and interesting.
My personal background is probably similar to many of yours. My parents were born in the U.S., but they were more like immigrants because they spent most of the first twenty years of their lives in Japan with their families before they got married and returned to America. They were working class people, who preferred to speak Japanese instead of English in the home. My father was a produce clerk at a supermarket, while my mother was a seamstress. My older brother and I were the first in our family to go to college.
I grew up in East Los Angeles, a predominantly Mexican American working class community, and attended Theodore Roosevelt High School, one of the oldest schools in Los Angeles. I did well in my classes, was elected student body president, wrote for the school newspaper, did science research, and played basketball and the violin. With the help of my teachers, counselors, parents and many others – as well as receiving financial aid – I attended Yale for my BA and Harvard for my PhD, both in political science.
I had one employer in my life: UCLA. I had a wonderful career as a professor for 35 years, as well as serving as the director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center — the largest program of its kind during my last 20 years. I specialized in Asian American politics and education.
Many current Asian American college students probably do not realize that Asian American students have a long and significant legacy of involvement and leadership in social change on college campuses, in Asian American communities, and in relation to major issues facing American society. I participated in many of these efforts when I was in college in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and marveled at the many contributions that students and their organizations continued to make during the four decades that followed.
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