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New seminar features voices in politics to highlight AAPI identities, advocacy

Three people stand at a podium, one holding a sign, as others gather in the background. UCLA is introducing a new seminar for undergraduate students centered on turning theory into policy for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. (Isabella Lee/Illustrations director)

By Shaanth Kodialam and Matthew Beymer

Aug. 20, 2022 7:46 p.m.

This post was updated Aug 21. at 8:42 p.m. 

A new undergraduate seminar highlighting Asian American and Pacific Islander politics and policy advocacy will allow UCLA students to put theory into practice this fall.

The course – ASIA AM 191B: AAPI Politics and Advocacy – explores the complexity of AAPI identity in politics and connects students with 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, professor of Asian American studies and urban planning, and Al Muratsuchi, a California assembly member representing the 66th District.

Muratsuchi said he wants to help young activists learn different ways they can continue their efforts to make social change. The course will also feature various guest speakers – including community organizers and elected officials – throughout the quarter, he said.

As a state legislator, Muratsuchi has introduced bills that mandate ethnic studies courses in community colleges and establish grant programs for school mental health services. He said his experience as former chair of the California State Assembly subcommittee on education finance has informed him on current student issues.

“I’ve always believed that the point of understanding the world is to change it,” Muratsuchi said. “And so I wanted to make sure that the current generation of student activists have the opportunity to hear from those that may have similarly started.”

Muratsuchi said he sees 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 served no jail time, according to the Associated Press.

[Related: Students express concern, need for action following anti-Asian violence]

As a UC Berkeley student in the 1980s, Muratsuchi said he engaged in activism shortly after the murder of Chin. His experiences fighting this violence as a legislator and recognizing its present-day resurgence will inform how he teaches the course, he added.

The seminar has caught the attention of many students with ambitions similar to Muratsuchi, who is also a UCLA School of Law alumnus.

Dani Lomee, a rising second-year pre-political science student interested in pursuing a career in law, said the seminar combines her interests in Asian American studies and political science. Previous courses she took that involved Asian American studies broadened her knowledge about her background, the dangers of the model minority myth and stereotypes when it comes to AAPI advocacy, she added.

Guest speakers will also discuss topics such as 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 transfer student, said they hope to explore their Sri Lankan and Asian American identities when they take the class this fall. She added that a professor at her community college influenced her to look further into Asian American studies.

“That’s what I would hope and expect to get out of the class, (to learn from) someone who resonates with my identity and someone who supports all of these activist movements,” they said.

Muratsuchi said the course emphasizes the work of practitioners of its subject, 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 has not always had the opportunity to be an activist. Lomee also said she has experienced challenges in becoming an activist.

“I’m focusing on doing what I can and opening up the opportunity to actually do more for my community,” Lomee added.

On top of helping students learn, Muratsuchi said he anticipates hearing about issues impacting students as well.

“I look forward to not only teaching this course but also to learn from my students in terms of how they see the world and how they’re going to change it,” he added.

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Shaanth Kodialam | Features and student life editor
Kodialam is the 2022-2023 features and student life editor. They were previously a News reporter for national news and higher education and features and student life. They are a second-year communication and geography student.
Kodialam is the 2022-2023 features and student life editor. They were previously a News reporter for national news and higher education and features and student life. They are a second-year communication and geography student.
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