The opening reception of “Drawing the Line: Japanese American Art, Design and Activism in Postwar Los Angeles” on Oct. 16 at the Japanese American National Museum included a reunion of Gidra staff members.
Gidra was a ground-breaking Asian American publication begun by five UCLA Asian American students — Dinora Gil, Laura Ho, Mike Murase, Tracy Okida and Colin Watanabe — in 1969 to provide accurate information about Asian Americans and to promote existing community organizing efforts, among other tasks. It reflected the desire for collectivism and to advance Asian American pride, but many individual issues were constantly debated.
The magazine is also noted for integrating art and poetry in its pages, framing creative expression as integral to the political and social struggle. Over its five-year existence, Gidra devoted most of its attention to two areas: political advocacy, especially the anti-Vietnam War movement, and Asian American identity. By one count, almost 250 people contributed to the publication.
The magazine was named after a three-headed Japanese movie monster, although the publication’s mascot was a caterpillar wearing a conical peasant hat and wielding a pen.
Gidra is credited with inspiring the creation of other publications to serve the Asian American community.
The final issue was printed in April 1974, featuring a drawing of some of the staff members on the cover.
Murase, who is still active in the Little Tokyo community, described the group as “barefoot journo-activists … before Facebook and Twitter, before blogs and email, even before Word and WordPerfect. When typesetting and cut-and-paste was physical. It was actual newsprint and boots and bell-bottoms.”
Artwork from Gidra is among the items in the exhibition, which runs until Feb. 19. For more information, visit www.janm.org.