In 1969, five UCLA students wanted to start a monthly publication that would reflect the feelings and ideas of young Asian Americans. They each pitched in $100 to create the newspaper Gidra, named after King Ghidorah from the “Godzilla” movies. Over the course of its print run, from 1969 to 1974, Gidra became incredibly influential and was known as the “voice of the Asian American experience.”
The newspaper was launched at a time when people were just beginning to explore the concept of Asian American identity. In 1968, UCLA alumnus Yuji Ichioka had coined the term “Asian American,” which helped unite disparate groups of Asian ancestry. Also around this time, UCLA had been planning the formation of what is now the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, which included the Asian American Studies Center.
“At UCLA, we had the ability to think about who we are as Asians, how we fit into society and where we come from,” said Mike Murase, 74, one of Gidra’s co-founders. “Asian students on campus really took an interest in exploring their own history and their communities’ history.”
Gidra’s first two issues were printed in April and May 1969 in Campbell Hall, where the Asian American Studies Center office would be located. Those issues featured an opinion article about Asian pride (“Asian Americans … are becoming a force to be reckoned with”), a cartoon called “Stereotypes” and poetry. A six-month subscription cost $1.50.
Murase said that over the course of its life, Gidra’s content was “fairly broad and eclectic,” from articles about drug abuse to how to fix a toilet. But it also provided a space for Asian Americans to explore their own history. Since there were few Asian American history texts at the time, people had to learn about the past from primary sources, such as elders in the community.
Gidra would help to fill that void by providing detailed historical context as well as personal narratives. For example, the May 1973 issue focused on Manzanar, where more than 11,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated by the U.S. government during World War II. That special issue included articles about the history of the former concentration camp and a recent pilgrimage to the site, which is about 220 miles north of Los Angeles. Murase wrote in his article: “We must destroy all the Manzanars and make sure that it will never happen again.”
Since Gidra’s staff members were often activists themselves, they wanted the newspaper to help increase the political consciousness of its readership. They would write articles about Los Angeles’ Vietnam War protests, as they were helping to plan and lead the anti-war demonstrations.
The Vietnam War, the Asian American movement and Gidra were all deeply connected, Murase said, because the war forced Asian Americans to reassess their racial identity. Asian Americans who enlisted in the Vietnam War were often treated like the enemy and subjected to racism; some soldiers were asked to stand in front of their unit as an example of what a g—k looks like. For the May 1972 issue, Gidra featured an illustration of a white American solider telling an Asian American solider to “kill that g—k, you g—k.”
The newspaper’s staff was heavily engaged and involved in politics, because they believed they could help change the world.
“We thought we were going to have a revolution, and we would do it in our lifetime,” Murase said. “We thought we could get rid of capitalism and get rid of racism.”
Given the enormous void that Gidra filled, its popularity grew quickly. In the summer of 1969 — just a few months after the paper’s creation — the co-founders moved the office off-campus to Los Angeles’ Crenshaw neighborhood. The move also coincided with the desire to expand both its readership and its contributors. The staff was initially composed of mostly UCLA students, but people from the larger Asian American community also started to write, illustrate and help with production, Murase said.
To avoid a hierarchical structure, Gidra was run by an editorial committee, rather than appointed editors and publishers. Articles occasionally omitted bylines, and mastheads were determined by whoever walked into the office that month.
“We had a collective decision-making process,” Murase said, “and we didn’t really think that deeply about taking credit as individuals.”
The staff members also connected with students at nearby universities, including the University of Southern California and Occidental College, as well as those beyond Los Angeles, from the Bay Area to Ohio and Toronto, Canada. These relationships inspired students to create Asian American–focused publications at their own universities.
“A single issue of Gidra was often passed on from person to person,” Murase said, “so five or six different people would read one copy.”
After five years, Gidra printed its last issue in April 1974. Murase explained that the paper ended because “life intervened,” as staff members were going to graduate school, starting a family and getting full-time jobs.
In his goodbye article, “Toward Barefoot Journalism,” Murase wrote: “Gidra … is much more than just a newspaper. It has been an experience in sharing — in giving and receiving — in a sisterly and brotherly atmosphere. … It has meant working with people who care about people, and genuinely feeling the strength that can only come out of collective experience.”
In 1990, Gidra’s original staff members created a special commemorative issue, which was more than 130 pages. People who were inspired by the original publication released a handful of issues in the late ’90s and early 2000s, with the original staff members acting as advisers.
In 2019, UCLA and USC students launched Gidra Media, paying tribute to the original newspaper.
Murase, who notes that Gidra was created by students who had no experience in journalism, is amazed by the newspaper’s ongoing influence and importance.
“I never would have expected it,” he said. “Gidra’s impact, reach and durability is gratifying, profound and truly mind-blowing.”