Remembering Don Nakanishi

It was 27 years ago last month that a widely watched, three-year multi-racial struggle involving thousands of supporters came to a successful conclusion with the granting of tenure to Don Nakanishi at UCLA.

Minami Tamaki partner Dale Minami led the legal fight, Dale Shimasaki coordinated the legislative advocacy, and Glenn Omatsu and many others organized student and grassroots support.

Don went on to achieve acclaim as a national scholar and pioneer who established Asian American studies as a viable and relevant field of scholarship, teaching, community service, and public discourse.

Sadly, Don passed away on March 21 in Los Angeles at the age of 66.

“Don’s courage and commitment to a diverse academia inspired him to challenge the irrational and biased decision to deny him tenure,” said Dale Minami.

“Although it required winning two grievances for irregular and biased review and sit-down strikes, demonstrations, boycotts of donations, critical editorials, and legislative hearings over two years, he finally achieved tenure, and, in so doing, became a symbol and inspiration for all those academics of color who had been shut out of the Ivory Tower because of their ethnicity.”

The fight for Nakanishi’s tenure is widely regarded as a landmark moment in academia, and has been taught nationally as an important case study for student-community mobilization. A year after gaining tenure, Nakanishi was appointed Director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, which he helped develop into the largest and most prominent program of its kind.

Nakanishi retired in 2009 after 20 years as the Center’s Director and 35 years as a professor at UCLA.

In this video taken May 20, 2010, Nakanishi speaks about his writings and Asian American politics at a gathering celebrating the UCLA Asian American Studies Center’s 40th anniversary.

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