Yuri Kochiyama Passes Away

yurirally_vert-0c62c75e3b7214127057d0907da968c5be2c83b9-s3-c85Yuri Kochiyama was an amazing woman who stood up for the civil rights of Asian Americans, and others of color in California. Kochiyama was born in 1921 as a first generation Japanese immigrant living in San Pedro, CA just outside of Los Angeles. She was among those Asian Americans who were rounded up during WWII and put in camps by the U.S. government. 100,000 Japanese American families had their property stolen, their liberty taken away, and were moved into these camps. Kochiyama and her family were sent to a camp in Arkansas. This traumatic experience had a huge impact on Kochiyama and started her on her life-long quest for equal rights for those in marginalized and minority communities.

Kochiyama understood how the situation she went through was similar to that of African Americans in the segregated Jim Crow south. She and her husband Bill began to work towards equal rights, using the Civil Rights Movement as their context for fighting for all men and women of color in the United States. The activities that she organized and her prominence as a Civil Rights leader led to her acquaintance and friendship with Malcolm X. She was in the Audubon Ballroom in 1965 when he was assassinated. While everyone else ducked for cover after the shots started she ran to Malcolm X and cradled the Civil Rights leader as he died in her arms.

Later in life she used her position and activism experience to help others in a variety of social justice issues. She spoke about the rights of political prisoners, nuclear disarmament, Puerto Rican independence, and reparations for those, like her, who were Japanese American internees. She dedicated her life to uniting many in marginalized communities and was a model for other activists. The president of Advancing Justice- LA, Stewart Kwoh, said of Kochiyama, “We honor her memory by continuing to fight for justice for all marginalized communities and standing up for everyone whose rights have been infringed upon, regardless of race or ethnicity.”