New seminar features voices in politics to highlight AAPI identities, advocacy
A new undergraduate seminar highlighting Asian American and Pacific Islander politics and political advocacy will allow UCLA students to put theory into practice this fall.
The lesson – ASIA AM 191B: AAPI Policy and Advocacy – explores the complexity of AAPI identity in politics and connects students to the tools to advocate for social justice for the AAPI community in the United States. The class, which is open to all UCLA students, will be taught by Karen Umemoto, a professor of Asian American studies and urban planning, and Al Muratsuchi, a California assemblyman representing the 66th district.
Muratsuchi said he wanted to help young activists learn different ways to continue their efforts to bring about social change. The course will also feature various guest speakers — including community organizers and elected officials — throughout the term, he said.
As a state legislator, Muratsuchi has introduced bills that mandate ethnic studies courses at community colleges and establish grant programs for mental health services in schools. He said his experience as a former chairman of the California State Assembly Subcommittee on Education Funding informed him of current student issues.
“I always believed that the purpose of understanding the world was to change it,” Muratsuchi said. “And so I wanted to make sure that the current generation of student activists had the opportunity to hear from those who might have started the same way.”
Muratsuchi said he saw parallels between the current rise in anti-Asian violence in the United States and the racially motivated murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. Chin was a Chinese-American man who was brutally murdered by two white men who have not served any prison time, according to the Associated Press.
[Related: Students express concern, need for action following anti-Asian violence]
As a student at UC Berkeley in the 1980s, Muratsuchi said he became involved in activism shortly after Chin’s murder. His experiences dealing with this violence as a legislator and recognizing its current resurgence will inform how he teaches the course, he added.
The seminar also caught the attention of many students with similar ambitions to Muratsuchi, also an alumnus of UCLA Law School.
Dani Lomee, a rising sophomore in pre-political science interested in pursuing a career in law, said the seminar combined her interests in Asian American studies and political science. Previous courses she took that involved Asian American Studies broadened her knowledge of her past, the dangers of model minority myth and stereotypes in AAPI advocacy, she added.
Guest speakers will also discuss topics including LGBTQ+ rights, education, the environment, labor rights and immigration, according to the UCLA registrar.
Amanda Udukumbura, a rising third-year gender studies and pre-sociology student, said she hopes to explore her Sri Lankan and Asian American identities when she takes the course this fall. She said a professor at her community college encouraged her to further her Asian American studies.
“That’s what I hope and expect to come out of the classroom, (to learn from) someone who resonates with my identity and someone who supports all these activist movements,” they said.
Muratsuchi said the course emphasizes the work of practitioners of its subject matter, which includes former and current government officials, community activists and advocates.
The process of becoming a practitioner is a work in progress, Udukumbura said, adding that she hasn’t always had the opportunity to be an activist. Lomee also said she faced challenges in becoming an activist.
“I’m focused on what I can and the opportunity to do more for my community,” Lomee added.
In addition to helping students learn, Muratsuchi said he expects to hear about issues affecting students as well.
“I look forward to not only teaching this course, but also learning from my students how they see the world and how they will change it,” he added.