October 28, 2022
Over the past several months, Densho staff worked with some incredible artists and educators to develop a hands-on zine-making workshop for middle and high school students. Using the radical Asian American newsletter Gidra — and its mission statement, “Truth is not always pretty, not in this world” — as our guiding force, we dove into the history of the Asian American movement and created artwork to reflect on the power of art, activism, and solidarity.
Gidra was started by a group of UCLA students in 1969, taking its name from a giant three-headed dragon from Japanese monster movies. Its all-volunteer staff documented the rise of the nascent Asian American movement and covered a wide range of topics: student strikes demanding ethnic studies on college campuses, opposition to the Vietnam War, evictions of elderly tenants fueled by redevelopment in LA’s Little Tokyo and San Francisco’s Manilatown, the campaign to repeal a “concentration camp bill” that threatened to reopen Tule Lake, Asian American feminism, early pilgrimages to Manzanar and other WWII incarceration sites, and much more. Gidra staff helped mobilize their readers to get involved in these causes, advertising marches, rallies, community meetings, and other direct actions.
Much of Gidra’s focus was on building solidarity between Asian Americans and Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. Gidra writers explicitly credited the Black Power movement with “set[ting] into motion” the Asian American movement — and opened dialogues about the need to address anti-Blackness within their own families and communities. They ran features on the occupation of Alcatraz by Native activists, profiles on Black Panthers and UFW organizers, and articles connecting the history of racism against people of color in the US with contemporary struggles facing “Third World” peoples.
In looking back at the pages of Gidra, students astutely pointed out that many of these struggles are ongoing. They discussed how racism and xenophobia continue to shape the world around us, how gentrification and displacement are impacting their communities today, and the importance of action and solidarity to create change.
We’re so inspired by the powerful conversations and artwork that came out of these workshops. Thank you to our facilitators Luisa Moreno and Mari Shibuya, to YouthCAN and MOHAI Youth Advisors for their collaboration, and of course, to all of our brilliant and talented youth participants!
Thanks also to 4Culture and the Office of Arts & Culture Seattle for funding this project. We appreciate having the space for important conversations about displacement, gentrification, resistance, and student activism!
We will be digitizing this artwork for a special collection in the Densho Digital Repository soon, but in the meantime, here’s a peek at some of these young artists and their work. Read a digital copy of “Dumplings Not Demolition,” the result of our zine-making workshop with YouthCAN, here.