SocDoc graduate director wins Guggenheim Fellowship

Renee Tajima-Peña on a film shoot
Renee Tajima-Peña, left, during the filming of an interview for her documentary "Mas Bébés?" currently in production.

Renee Tajima-Peña, graduate director of the masters Social Documentation program at UC Santa Cruz, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2011.

She is one of 180 scholars, artists, and scientists in 78 fields to win a Guggenheim out of nearly 3,000 applicants.

Tajima-Peña, an independent documentary filmmaker as well as professor of community studies, said she plans to use the fellowship to complete work on film and transmedia projects.  One is "Mas Bébés?," a film she is currently shooting, that documents allegations of coercive sterilizations of Mexican American women at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in the 1960s and 1970s. The sterilizations were performed as part of family planning programs widespread at the time in the United States and abroad.

Those charges "catalyzed a whole generation of young Chicana activists," Tajima-Peña said, and led to a class-action suit brought by eleven of the sterilized mothers. "The case has never been resolved in the minds of the women," she said.

Tajima-Peña said her next project will focus on the political and social impact of Asian martial arts around the world during the 1970s. The spread of Asian martial arts, including kung-fu, karate, and judo "influenced a lot of social movements," Tajima-Peña said.

She recalls a proliferation of dojos, or training studios, at the time. "Young people were magnetized," said.

The biggest martial arts name of the era, Bruce Lee, was frequently outspoken on racial images on screen and in Hollywood, Tajima-Peña remembers. His films often had an underlying anti-colonialist theme, specifically regarding Japanese colonialism.

Tajima-Peña was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1987 documentary "Who Killed Vincent Chin" about a Chinese-American draftsman mistaken for Japanese and killed in Detroit during a backlash against Japanese carmakers.

Among her other films are "My America … or Honk if you Love Buddha," winner of the Eastman Kodak Award at the Sundance Film Festival, and “Calavera Highway,” which aired on PBS’s “P.O.V.” series and will be one of the transmedia projects that Tajima-Peña plans to work on with the fellowship. 

Tajima-Peña joined UC Santa Cruz in 2003. She received her B.A. from Radcliffe College, Harvard University.