Yuri Kochiyama, a prolific civil rights activist, died this past Sunday in Berkeley, Calif. at 93 years old. Known for her friendship with Malcolm X (she held him in her hands as he lay bleeding from gunshot wounds the night of his assassination,) Kochiyama was equally a revered activist in her own right. She, along with her husband, pushed for reparations and a government apology for the many Japanese-American internment camp victims under the Civil Liberties Act, and her legacy and determination has inspired a slew of young activists.
Kochiyama was born in San Pedro, Calif. to Japanese immigrants. After leading a figuratively normal teen life, it would not be until Pearl Harbor in 1941 that she would become involved in political issues after her father was taken into custody by the FBI. Like many other Japanese-Americans, Kochiyama and her family were just one of 120,000 Japanese-American victims who were unjustly sent to internment camps following the attack.
Kochiyama and her husband lived in the housing projects in New York City, where her African American and Puerto Rican neighbors inspired her to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Upon meeting Malcolm X, she reportedly challenged his harsh stance on integration — a move causing him to move away from the strict Nation of Islam viewpoint he preached to a more inclusive acceptance of all kinds of people. Upon Malcolm X’s death, Kochiyama continued to fight for the rights of those whose voices needed to be heard. She was constantly fighting.
Her home, which was the permanent “meeting place” for activists in the area, will be forever remembered by Kochiyama’s eldest daughter, Audee Kochiyama-Holman, who described her upbringing as a “24/7” movement. And that it was: until her death, Kochiyama continuously fought for the under-represented voice. Her activism against the discrimination of South Asians, Muslims, Arabs and Sikhs after 9/11 was just one example; her fight toward equality was all-inclusive.
Shailja Patel, poet and activist, is just one of many who remembers Kochiyama in this light. “She made us all larger, reminding us always to think globally and organize locally,” she says. “She emphasized that all struggles for justice are connected — and she lived that truth.”
– Nick Magnanti