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bryant fong
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40 Years of the Asian Movement

Sometimes we forget how fast things go by in this life........big changes occur in our lifetime and we might not even know it happened.  It has been 40 years since the founding of the Asian Studies Program at UC Berkeley......since the formation of the TWLF......Third World Liberation Front......the significance of which in some sense made it possible to put a Black President in the White House........should be a Black House now!  I just happen to be in College at the time....and had an opportunity to take part in the massive movement for social change.........times were quite different on campus........it was a time of ideas and putting things into action, opposing injustice at every turn, change was not just a word but a thing you did every day you awoke.  My professor once told me there is two ways to learn about history...........read in the library in the stacks, or live it and make it. So it was great to get together with many of the current students of Asian Studies and talk about the past and the lessons that it holds for the present......and even kooler to see many of the former comrades who were part of the struggle for Asian Studies and the Third World College......many have become important leaders in all different fields.....medical, artistic, political......etc.  One bit of sadness though was the passing of Richard Aoki, he was the leader of the Asian American Political Alliance during the Third World Strike....and instrumental in negotiating with the UC Administration for a Department of Ethnic Studies......more than that though he was a person who dedicated his entire life to fight against injustice and inequality in America.....he was not a wild eye radical...in fact he had at his finger tips readings, people, facts on just about anything...........but especially when it came to American History and it's political institutions.......he loved talking to students and challenging them......and then seeing them change, he made education an eye opening experience.

I had the privilege of being his TA for his Community Organization Class......he was articulate and a dynamic speaker, he knew more about Black History and the Black Movement than anyone I had ever met......he always began with what do you think.......and ended with, now what are you going to do about it? But he was not just interested in minority politics or history, he was always trying to make everyone see the bigger picture......to see the struggle for equality as part of the larger struggles of American Labor against a system that tries to oppress the rest of the world for it's own gains...........sounds like the Republicans and Pres. Bush(!!).............not too much has changed.........but we are at a cross roads in History and changes can and need to be made now! Richard never seeked fame instead often stayed in the backgroud and came foward  only when no one else knew how or wanted to.......he went on to become the Vice Chancellor of the Peralta Community College Campus.......his students remember him for his incisive understanding of the world, but also he often fought to get them into college and got them scholarships so that they could attend......he was a firm believer  that education and knowledge was necessary to liberate any minority.  He used to say that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun..........students often mistook that comment to mean they had to be violent to get change to occur.........but what he meant was that you had to be armed not just with a few slogans, but with actual facts and real concrete plans before you start to ask for changes, you must be prepared for anything...you must out smart the oppressors.  He used to say it was nice to have fervor, but what do you plan to do when the demonstrations are over and you have to do the real work to make change occur.  When the strike finally ended he instructed us on how to negotiate with the administration...to know what they would object to......and be ready to answer them.  I remember one of the first meetings with the Chancellor........his tactic was to divide and conquer....he looked at the Asians and told them you don't need an Asian Studies Department........Chinese and Japanese have made it in this society....you are not like the Blacks....you are a model minority...a success story in America...there are 3,000 Asian Students on Campus.  Richard knew this would be the tactic, so he had had me prepare statistics from the Census, and the latest reports on the conditions in the Chinese and Japanese Community...............Chinese in San Francisco lived in the most densely populated minority community outside of Harlem, suffered from the highest suicide rate in the country and lived well below poverty level...Japanese suffered from the effects of their incarceration in the Camps during the war..... the complete destruction of their community, and by the way we had not yet talked about what had happened to the Pinoy community..........etc.  After that the administration knew they were in for a real fight, we were not going to go away..........another time the Chancellor told us there were no qualified candidates to be the head of our department and students were not capable of running a college.........Richard promptly pulled out a folder with all qualified Asian Professors in the country and a recommendation on who to hire, and I presented our Asian Studies X Class....it was the first Asian American Studies Class on campus and in the Nation, run exclusively by students and had an enrollment of 1,500......it was the biggest class on campus.........Richard always stressed you had to do your homework  and know what you were talking about and who you were dealing with........sort of like doing basics in Wushu!! 

Richard Masato Aoki 1938-2009

Leader of the Asian American Political Alliance

during the Third World Strike at UC Berkeley

A Memorial was held for Richard at Wheeler Auditorium, speakers included Professor Carlos Munoz,Professor Harvey Dong, Black Panther Party Leader Bobby Seale, Japanese Political Activist Yuri Kochiyama, Biographer Diane Fujino, Native American Leader Lanada Warjack, and Asian American Political Alliance speaker Vicci Wong.....a long list, about 4 hours of speeches.

An important part of Richard's life was his lifelong connection to the Black Community....he literally knew everyone in the Black Movement.  He was one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party, and one of it's two Japanese Members.

William and I were asked to perform for Richard's Memorial.  He loved Chinese Martial Arts Movies and often asked me to be his bodyguard(!).......William did Yang Taiji Sword and I Chen Taiji.  Other performers included Wes Ueunten singing an Okinawan Song and Tarika Lewis playing a jazz piece on an electric violin.....which was great cause it gave everyone a break from the speeches and added a feative mood to a rather somber occasion.

Professor Harvey Dong from the Asian American Studies Department(and Cal Taiji!) did most of the organizing for Richard's Memorial....thanks Professor Dong!

A bit of history has passed on, but the students that Richard affected will continue on his fight to oppose inequality and injustice where ever it appears. 

Peace to everyone everywhere!!

about 15 years ago 0 likes  2 comments  0 shares

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