Professor Renee Tajima-Pena Awarded 2015-16 Don T. Nakanishi Award for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship

Dear Alumni and Friends,


I am very pleased to announce that Professor Renee Tajima-Pena is the 2015-16 recipient of the Don T. Nakanishi Award for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship in Asian American Studies at UCLA.


Renee Tajima-PenaProfessor Renee Tajima-Pena has provided extraordinary service and leadership for the UCLA campus, as Director of the Center for EthnoCommunications and as the holder of the Alumni and Friends of Japanese American Ancestry Endowed Chair, which are housed at the Asian American Studies Center. Professor Tajima-Pena is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has been an engaged scholar over the course of her entire career, emerging from the Asian American movement as one of its key storytellers, and reflected in her work on films like "Who Killed Vincent Chin" and the Sundance award-winning "My America...or Honk if You Love Buddha". Her films have premiered at the Cannes, Sundance and Toronto film festivals, and she has received the Peabody Award, Dupont-Columbia Award, Alpert Award in the Arts, USA Broad Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She received her bachelor's degree cum laude from Harvard University's Radcliffe College where she majored in East Asian Studies and Sociology. Using the medium of film, she has brought to life many stories that would not have seen the light of day, and through these stories, she has raised questions that speak powerfully to pressing social justice issues even as she has underscored the humanity and dignity of individuals and communities.


Professor Tajima-Pena holds an academic appointment with the Department of Asian American Studies. She has been at the forefront of teaching and working with hundreds of students, many of whom are carrying on a tradition of arts and activism. One of the nominators commented, "She is a teacher in the truest sense -- she provides the students with a context and framework, shares her knowledge that has been informed by decades of filmmaking experience, and then allows students the space to find their own voices to tell their stories." One of the classes she teaches is EthnoCommunications: Creating Community Media, which is an intensive three-quarter series in which students develop, shoot and edit their own short social media documentaries. The colleague also noted, "Truly embracing the Asian American Studies Center's value of bridging campus and community, her work brings real-world issues into the spotlight on a national level and in the classroom. Her early film Who Killed Vincent Chin is still a vital piece that is regularly found on Asian American Studies syllabi today."


Professor Tajima-Pena has been a longstanding partner with many community-based organizations like Visual Communications in Los Angeles and the Center for Asian American Media in San Francisco. Colleagues and community leaders strongly endorsed her for the award. One community leader commented, "Tajima-Pena prominently stands out because of her commitment to creating quality and captivating work. Her works continue to sustain the vital connection between UCLA and Visual Communications." Moreover, the community leader affirmed, "She has presented stories utilized as teaching tools to cultivate community-based artists." Tajima-Pena has truly strengthened community-university partnerships through her deep commitment to Asian American independent film, as an activist, writer and filmmaker.


We are honored to present this well-deserved recognition to Professor Renee Tajima-Pena for her outstanding contributions to social justice as an engaged scholar, teacher, and in providing service to the community. As one nominator shared, "On a personal level, Professor Tajima-Pena has been a wonderful mentor and role model, not only to me, but to countless other students and filmmakers. Her dedication to her work, to building EthnoCommunications, and to the community is unparalleled."


Through the generosity of UCLA faculty, students, staff, and alumni as well as community leaders, an endowment was established that honors the late Professor Emeritus Don T. Nakanishi, who served on the UCLA faculty for thirty-five years and who ably directed the Asian American Studies Center (1990-2010). Among his invaluable contributions to Asian American Studies, Professor Nakanishi co-founded two, national publications: Amerasia Journal (1971) and AAPI Nexus (2003). Professor Nakanishi published widely in the areas of Asian American politics and education, mentored thousands of students, and provided professional and community-based service locally, nationally, and internationally. The Nakanishi Award includes a five thousand dollar award. The award rotates annually between faculty and students. The graduate and undergraduate student awards will be given during the 2016-2017 academic year.


Please join me in congratulating Professor Renee Tajima-Pena!





Director & Professor
UCLA Asian American Studies Center & Department