Internment in a U.S. concentration camp for Japanese-Americans at the age of six shaped Mo Nashida”s life and inspired him to make a difference as an activist.

Paul Wong
Mo Nashida laughs during his speech promoting student activism held at the Michigan League last night.<br><br>LESLIE WARD/Daily

For Don Nakanishi, it was the racism that he experienced every year on the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, especially during his freshman year at Yale University when he was pelted with water balloons by fellow students chanting, “Bomb Pearl Harbor.”

The two men spoke about their experiences with oppression and activism last night at the Michigan League as part of the University”s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. They emphasized the need for solidarity and greater understanding of heritage within the Asian American community.

They both stressed that an important part of this understanding is having courses in Asian Pacific American Studies at the University level.

“We have a right to these classes so that our young people can be educated on what we”ve done here,” said Nashida, who participated in the strikes at San Francisco State University that he said were instrumental in the creation of an ethnic studies program at the school.

“In very few places where Asian American studies programs exist (the programs) were initiated by faculty members. Most have been student-initiated,” Nakanishi said.

Nakanishi, director of the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, battled for eight years to gain tenure at UCLA. After support poured in from other teachers, students, and the community, he succeeded. He said other Asian Americans have had the same difficulty in becoming professors and gaining tenure.

Both Nishida and Nakanishi said mobilizing the community is vital in student activism. Community involvement helped both Nakanishi”s struggle for tenure and Nashida”s efforts to implement an ethnic studies department at SFSU.

“The essential part of any student movement is the ties you have to the community,” Nashida said.

College campuses are environments where ethnic groups can unite, said Nakanishi, and it is important that they work together and not engage in a “tug-of-war” for their individual goals.

Despite the solidarity necessary for minority activism, Nashida and Nakanishi both emphasized the importance of maintaining each group”s heritage. Nashida said the American melting pot can cause ethnicities to lose identity and conform to a national standard.

Leilani Dawson, a School of Information student, said attending the forum gave her “a better sense of the scope of the issues that face Asian Americans today.” Dawson is a member of the United Asian American Organizations, which sponsored the forum.

“It gave me more of a reason to get involved in the (Asian Pacific American) community,” said LSA sophomore Soojung Chang.

Nashida said it should be everyone”s priority to make an impact on society.

“When you punch your ticket out, the world should be a little bit better,” he said.

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