Mike Murase

Post by Naomi Runder

Mike Murase co-founded  the Los Angeles based community newspaper, Gidra, in 1969 and was strong voice against the oppression of Asian American peoples. He represents an important force throughout Asian American activism, creative expression and journalism, and stayed true to staples of the movement, such as interracialism, internationalism, and a commitment to community involvement.

Murase and his classmates, Dinora Gil, Laura Ho, Tracy Okida, and Colin Watanabe, were not experts in Asian American history, trained activists, or professional journalists. They were students, inexperienced, perhaps a bit naive, and ready for a change. The five asked the UCLA administration for support in starting a community newspaper reflecting the viewpoints and issues of Asian American students. Concerned with their image, the administration said no. Rather than giving up, the students decided to continue on their own. And so Gidra was born. It ran for a five year stretch, a process Murase described as “People coming and going, trying to do together what we each cannot do alone, hoping to change our lives and taking a (small) part in reshaping the world…knowing how hard it really is, but knowing too that it can be done” [2]

Murase brought a large-scale, interracial and internationalist, perspective to Gidra. Murase grew up feeling a commonality with Black and Chicano neighbors and classmates and eventually served Jesse Jackson’s California campaign director and helped with Los Angeles community projects in African American neighborhoods, understanding that African and Asian Americans had a similar fight against oppression and a similar history in the United States. He also looked internationally, taking a stand against South African apartheid and fighting against American imperialism overseas in his articles in Gidra and by giving speeches in Japan. Murase recognized a pattern of injustice wrought by America consistently valuing capitalism and profit over human life and dignity, saying that America’s ‘ugly hand of imperialism’ “must be slapped away in the name of peace, justice, and of mankind.” [3] In the Little Tokyo and Asian American community specifically, Murase was concerned primarily with getting redress for interned Japanese Americans and protecting Japanese Americans from eviction, as those were the pressing issues in the community at the time. He  helped found both an Asian American Studies Center at UCLA and the Little Tokyo Service Center where he continues to serve as Director if Service Programs. He even published a book of photography, highlighting the lives of the Asian Americans in Little Tokyo.

Murase with Jesse Jackson at campaign rally in Los Angeles [4]
Gidra itself truly embodied the community involvement that was central to Asian American activism. It began centered on the UCLA campus and Asian American student voices, but shifted throughout the first year to become more of a community newspaper. Murase and his classmates felt it was not enough to describe what had happened to Asian American historically. They needed to take action. The way to do this was to take a broad community focus, reporting on issues facing Asian Americans currently, such as lack of affordable housing, and organizing to make a change. There was core group of writers, editors, and artists, but the newspaper ultimately relied on hundreds of volunteers who believed in its goals. The range of the newspaper was large, covering local issues that affected the Little Tokyo region and personal reflections via art and poetry to commentary on American imperialist actions in Vietnam. The newspaper may have only lasted five years, but it acts as a map for the period (1969-1974), highlighting which issues were most pressing at the time, like the push for ethnic studies programs and redress for Japanese American victims of internment camps. Gidra may have been a bit of hodgepodge, containing art, poetry, editorials, transcripts of speeches, and anything else deemed relevant. It remained consistent, however, in its commitment to be an honest reflection of Asian American voices, ideas, and concerns. In the first issue published there was small box containing the mission statement of the newspaper, reading:

“Truth is not always pretty, not in this world.

We try to keep from hearing about the feelings, concerns, and problems of fellow human beings when it disturbs us, when it makes us feel uneasy.

And too often is it position and power that determine who is heard.

This is why GIDRA was created.

Gidra is dedicated to truth. The honest expression of feeling or option, be it profound or profane, innocuous or insulting, from wretched to well-off–that is GIDRA.” [5]

This commitment was reflected in each of issue of Gidra, and accordingly the newspaper grew in popularity. Gidra helped to inspire other publications, such as Eric Nakamura’s Giant Robot, and Murase actively supported this trend, writing in the final issue, “We also encourage others throughout the country to start their own newspapers and magazines, if they are so inclined; we would like to help if we can” [6]. Ultimately, Gidra stood as a beacon of hope for the Asian American community in Little Tokyo and beyond, proving that the Asian American people did have a voice and a reason to fight.

Alan Takemoto’s drawing of the Gidra staff against the world [7]
Murase and his classmates reflected a willingness to take action that was key to the Asian American movement and any movement that hopes to find success. When the UCLA administration refused to start an Asian American newspaper they began one themselves. When the university’s courses did not reflect Asian American voices, they fought to create new courses and often ended up teaching them. Gidra may have only lasted five years, but its spirit reflects the power of the Asian American movement and Murase remained active after its end. To this day Murase publishes articles, online now, and recently worked with Densho, an organization that collects oral histories of Japanese Americans, to digitally upload the entirety of Gidra. Gidra, therefore, lives on—a reminder of times gone by and the continuing strength of the Asian American movement. 



In the October 1971 issue of Gidra a staff member described Murase, saying “A more appropriate photograph of him would probably have him awkwardly sweeping the floor at the Gidra office. Being overly consciously conscientious, he loves to tell people that he tries his best so much to keep the office clean at all times that he sweeps the floor whenever he has the chance.” [8] I drew this ‘more appropriate photograph’ and combined it text from his 1971 speech at the Seventeenth World Conference Against the A and H Bombs in Okinawa, Japan.



Works Cited

  1. Mike Murase, “Speech…Speech!,” Gidra 3, no. 10 (Los Angeles, CA), October, 1971, 10
  2. Mike Murase, “What Gidra Means to Me,” Gidra 8, no. 4 (Los Angeles, CA), April, 1974, 47
  3. Mike Murase, “Speech…Speech!,” Gidra 3, no. 10 (Los Angeles, CA), October, 1971, 10
  4. “Jesse Jackson’s ‘rainbow coalition’ and 1984 Presidential Campaign.” May 17, 1984.https://www.historypin.org/attach/uid39907/collections/view/id/2620/title/Jesse%20Jackson’s%20%22Rainbow%20Coalition%22%20and%201984%20Presidential%20Campaign%20#.
  5. “Gidra,” Gidra 1, no. 1 (Los Angeles, CA), April, 1969, 2
  6. Mike Murase, “Toward Barefoot Journalism,” Gidra 8, no. 4 (Los Angeles, CA), April, 1974, 46
  7. “GIDRA Now Available Online in Searchable PDFs.” Rafu Shimpo. December 10, 2015. http://www.rafu.com/2015/12/gidra-now-available-online-in-searchable-pdfs/.”
  8. Mike Murase, “Speech…Speech!,” Gidra 3, no. 10 (Los Angeles, CA), October, 1971, 10
  9. Gidra Collection.” Ddr-densho-297-1 —Densho Digital Repository. http://ddr.densho.org/ddr/densho/297/.
  10. Japanese American National Museum. “Drawing the Line: Japanese American Art, Design and Activism in Post-War Los Angeles: Oral History Interviews, 2011.” The Getty Research Institute. 2011. http://primo.getty.edu/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=GRI.
  11. HONMA, T. From Archives to Action: Zines, Participatory Culture, and Community Engagement in Asian America. Radical Teacher. 105, 33-43, 2016. ISSN: 01914847.
  12. Mike Murase, “Meet our Guest Editors” Unity 5, No. 4, March 12-25 1982




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