The College of Ethnic Studies celebrated its 43rd anniversary by honoring six community leaders and five SF State student leaders on Oct. 7 at Yoshi’s Jazz Club and Japanese Restaurant in San Francisco.
Attendees were treated to live jazz by a quartet, solos by Lawrence Beaman from America’s Got Talent, food and a silent auction to benefit the Cesar E. Chavez Institute. Awards were given following a short film on each honoree.
University President Leslie E. Wong, who was also honored, gave a warm welcome as the new president and shared fond memories of growing up in East Los Angeles and East Oakland as a biracial Mexican-American and Chinese-American child. During his opening address, he referred to the College of Ethnic Studies as “a symbol and mechanism for relevance in the new world” by stressing the college’s effort of “making a difference to those around us, especially in our community.”
Award recipients, who actively work with communities in grassroots ways to organize and empower communities of color, included Terry Collins, Eric Quezada, Dr. Ben Kobashigawa, Dr. Jacob E. Perea, Raul Alcarea Ochoa and Dr. J.E. Saffold.
Collins, radio personality with KPOO Radio was honored for his leadership on the airwaves and his involvement with SF State’s Power to the People Archive class.
“He’s one of us crazy people,” Collins said, referring to Wong’s passion to serve the community.
Kobashigawa, although not in attendance, was honored for his teaching and research contributions in Asian American studies at SF State since 1986. He is considered a scholar on Okinawa immigrant history, both in the United States and Okinawa, Japan.
Wong shared his enthusiasm for the event and stressed the importance of the College of Ethnic Studies at SF State to teach students their roots and influence their future.
“The world is very complicated and ethnic studies will prepare them in special ways to be successful,” Wong said. “Ethnic studies is one of those critical topics.”
Eric Hayle attended the event to support Quezada, a posthumous honoree who served as executive director of Dolores Street Community Services and was a well-known organizer in the Mission District and throughout Latin America.
“I think about the 21st century and how that different United States of America and different world, that we all long for, is really possible,” Hayle said. “So events like this, I feel like we’re living in the future. We’re living in that place, where enlightened people know truly is possible, where we all come together from our diverse backgrounds, experiences, et cetera and recognize each other’s humanity. It’s not forced. Everybody seems empowered.”
Although celebrations were in the air, a sense of urgency to protect ethnic studies across the country was also on the speakers’s minds with the loss of Arizona’s ethnic studies curriculum.
Raul Alcaraz Ochoa, the youngest recipient at 29 years old, graduated from SF State’s Raza Studies Department, now the Latina/Latino Studies Department, in 2006 and has been working in Arizona to keep ethnic studies in schools there.
“We’ve waited long enough, let’s take back our political power,” Alcaraz said.
The message was from his supporters in Arizona, where HB2281 was signed into law, effectively eliminating ethnic studies in public school curriculum for the state. Alcaraz was in Arizona organizing with residents to keep ethnic studies in public schools prior to the law passing.
“I think SF State is one of the most diverse schools and they have a lot going on,” Abuzahriyeh said. ”There’s a lot of racism and discrimination in other state schools. If it wasn’t for the ethnic studies students, I feel like they’re the ones that made the change.”
Award recipients, Perea and Saffold have served the SF State community for 37 and 28 years, respectively. Both have served in capacities that reach thousands of students.
Perea served as acting chair for the American Indian Studies Department, the Latina/Latino Studies Department and a faculty member and chair of the Administration and Finance Department and Interdisciplinary Studies. Before retiring, Perea was the dean of the Graduate College of Education, the first Native American in the position.
“The need for working in communities and working with students is even more needed now,” Perea said. “We have to be there to support them, young people.”
Saffold is the current vice president of student affairs and was previously dean of students. She has been honored by the American Association of Higher Education Black Caucus with the Public Service Award and received the Educator of the Year Award from the Golden Gate Section of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc.
Wong said that having an ethnic studies department is an “asset for everybody.”
“It’s so important for students on campus to realize and feel the relevance of the College of Ethnic Studies. It’s not just another discipline; it’s not just about another subject,” Wong said.