In an attempt to raise awareness about the recent destruction of their mural, the Tagalog and Pilipino Studies Kollective held a press conference in the Free Speech Zone on campus. Set against the backdrop of the mural’s skeleton, invited speakers expressed their outrage at the alleged crime and their solidarity with TAPS to an audience of about 100 people.
‘Awareness needs to be brought to this community. Moreover, we need to also show the perpetrators of this heinous crime that what occurred will not be tolerated,’ said Mary Lou Tolentino, spokesperson for TAPS.
The mural, which illustrated a timeline of Filipino culture and struggles, was created during fall 2003 and served as a medium for people to share their unheard stories with the UCI community, according to Tolentino. TAPS members found the mural stripped from its frames on Jan. 20.
The bare frames were draped with signs, one of which read ‘Stop hate crimes.’ The press conference opened with statements from Jollene Levid, formal TAPS external director and Nic Ramos, TAPS member, former Kababayan President and former ASUCI vice president of academic affairs.
‘The mural was designed to give voice to all who are silenced and all marginalized people. Everybody was allowed to sign it,’ Levid said. ‘This crime was sexist, homophobic and against free speech.’
Ramos echoed Levid’s sentiments, alleging the vandalism was a hate crime.
‘We believe this hate crime was a group activity,’ Ramos said. ‘If you wanted to throw it away, you would have thrown it away, but the mural was completely stripped of all its political content and left by the dumpsters.’
Professor of African-American studies Fred Moten took the microphone next and pointed out the importance of conveying outrage.
‘Anything that undermines student activism has to be aggressively fought,’ Moten said.
Moten expressed his support for the plight to institute a Filipino Studies program at UCI, and stressed its value to students.
‘We need Filipino Studies on this campus to serve as a critique of Western Civilization,’ Moten said. ‘We live in a period when Western Civilization has never needed to be critiqued more fully.’
Barbara Gaerlan, assistant director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UCLA referred to the destruction of the mural as a ‘cowardly attack.’
‘The fact that someone wants to discourage [TAPS] from their commitment to curricular reform by attacking them in this way is outrageous,’ Gaerlan said.
The mural stood for more than the Filipino community, according to Tolentino, who spoke next.
‘This mural was not merely a body of artwork, nor was it solely created for the Filipino community,’ Tolentino said. ‘Ironically, even the comments of those who destroyed it would have been welcomed.’
Tolentino riled up the crowd when she encouraged them not to back down from the fight.
‘Someone wanted my voice and your voice and others’ voices to be silenced,’ Tolentino said. ‘If that was the intention of the perpetrators who committed this crime, quite the opposite has occurred.’
In fact, Tolentino argued that the crime itself emphasizes the need for a Tagalog and Filipino Studies program at UCI.
‘The curriculum here at UCI should be representative of the community, and Filipinos make up a large percentage of the population,’ Tolentino said. ‘The only way to stop these heinous crimes is through education.’
Several other cultural groups on campus expressed their solidarity with TAPS, including MEChA, Vietnamese-American Coalition and KABA.
Also uniting with TAPS was Beth Rayfield, a graduate student in visual studies, TA for a Filipino-American studies course, and member of the executive board of the labor union UAW Local 2865. Rayfield motivated the mostly-Filipino audience to use this experience to bring about more change.
‘Events like this are discouraging and disheartening, but they can also be catalysts that bring communities together and I hope that will be the result of this,’ Rayfield said.
Many other students were given the opportunity to express their feelings about the loss, including Ryan Mykita, publisher of the Irvine Review and co-chair of the Irvine Conservative Student Union.
‘The destruction of the mural was absolutely wrong. I don’t condone it,’ Mykita said.
Mykita emphasized why he felt this was not a hate crime.
‘It is not appropriate to characterize [the destruction of the mural] as a hate crime. A variety of people signed the mural,’ Mykita said.
He argued that this was not a crime against a particular race, but rather the vandalism was politically-driven.
‘It’s important to differentiate between destruction with a racially-driven motive and a politically-driven motive to destroy the mural,’ Mykita said. ‘Deeming it a hate crime was an irresponsible use of free speech. It was a motivated crime, but not one based on race.’
The press conference ended with a traditional ‘unity clap’ and a closing remark from Ramos.
Some students felt the press conference was crucial for UCI students.
‘The event was an eye-opener for the UCI community,’ said Alfredo Trinidad, a third-year chemical engineering major.
Other students like Evan Gunderman, a first-year international studies major and a member of ICSU, disagreed with labeling the destruction of the mural as a hate crime.
‘To consider this a hate crime without knowing the motive of it being torn down is ridiculous. [The perpetrators] could have been some high school kids,’ Gunderman argued. ‘When I think of a hate crime I think of somebody tied to the back of a truck and dragged through the streets.’
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