This post was updated Sept. 30 at 7:55 p.m.
George Takei, a celebrated actor and UCLA alumnus, denounced continued oppression of ethnic minorities in America during his talk at a downtown event Sunday.
Two other notable alumni, chef Ray Garcia and entrepreneur Natasha Case, joined Takei as guest speakers for Community Classroom, a joint event between UCLA and ATTN:, a Los Angeles-based media company, as part of a series to connect UCLA to the Los Angeles community in celebration of the university’s centennial anniversary.
The pop-up event at ROW DTLA, a shopping complex next to Skid Row, drew hundreds of people, according to the organizers. UCLA and ATTN: chose the Downtown Los Angeles location to highlight the university’s involvement in the greater Los Angeles community, said Cole Cradduck, the account manager for ATTN:.
“The idea is to give people opportunities to experience UCLA, not in the typical in-the-classroom setting,” said Elizabeth Boatright-Simon, the senior executive director of UCLA Strategic Communications. “Here, we’re bringing the classroom to other parts of the city.”
The alumni, who were each paired with a current UCLA faculty member, discussed a variety of topics such as the media representation of Asian Americans, the environmental ramifications of plant-based meat and troubles of entrepreneurship.
For his share, Takei spoke with Myung Hee Cho, the associate dean of UCLA’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion office, about his experiences growing up as a Japanese American in an internment camp during World War II and how racial prejudices against Asian Americans still persist.
“The general perception of us was … we were either villains or silent servants or fools,” Takei said of the treatment of Japanese Americans after World War II.
Takei also drew parallels between Japanese internment and the treatment of Chinese-heritage scholars today. Takei said cases like that of Temple University physics professor Xiaoxing Xi, who the Justice Department accused of spying before the claim was rescinded, are fueled by the same breed of xenophobic suspicions that caused Japanese Americans, including Takei himself, to be detained decades ago.
Garcia, the founder of downtown restaurant Broken Spanish, talked with Amy Rowat, an of integrative biology and physiology, about how mixing science and cooking can improve the environment.
“I do think that there is benefit for reducing the amount of red meat or just meat-based protein in your diet,” Garcia said. “I definitely support, personally, in the restaurant and my own family, to have a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle.”
For Case, a co-founder of the premium ice cream brand Coolhaus, the discussion with Renée LaBran, an adjunct professor for the UCLA Anderson School of Management, about Case’s business success took a more private turn. Case recalled how she fell in love with and eventually married her co-founder, Freya Estreller.
“It was a great way to get to know each other and you definitely go through so many stresses and trials and tribulations starting a business together,” Case said. “So you really figure out quickly if things are going to work out.”
Throughout the day, the event as a whole carried an emphasis on the human experience.
Human Library, an international movement in which volunteers become “human books” and ask people to “read” them in a one-on-one discussion, giving a window into the life experiences of others, participated in the Community Classroom.
Paul Mendoza, a graphic designer and copywriter for UCLA Residential Life and a UCLA alumnus, said he was not involved in planning the event but came to cheer on his colleagues who did. He said reading a human book felt like an organic conversation and found the Human Library to be a comfortable, safe space for learning about others.
“For a book, you wait for someone to really frame the story for you,” Mendoza said. “But then, after a while you get to open up and … know a book not only as a very singular linear progression of text but to get to know a living person.”
His human book, Sarah Koller, heads the Collection Maintenance Unit at the UC Davis library system. A sexual assault survivor, Koller tells her story of survival and recovery as a human book, something she has done since last year.
“It just seems so natural to sit here and talk with somebody about, you know, some of the darkest times in my life, because we’re coming with a space of understanding,” Koller said. “What I hope people go away with is the fact that I look like a normal person … and that, you know, you never know when somebody has been through.”
The next off-campus event in UCLA’s centennial celebration series will be a car-free public space event held in partnership with CicLAvia on Sunday.