Yuri Kochiyama (1921-2014), an Asian American activist, was part of the Black Power and Asian American movements. She was friends with Malcolm X, who died in her arms. They were both born on May 19th. The FBI said she was a ringleader of Black nationalists and a Red Chinese agent.
Her parents were born in Japan. She was born in San Pedro, California. Hours after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, the FBI took her father away. He came back six weeks later – and died the next day.
Then came the Japanese American internment:
“I was so red, white and blue, I couldn’t believe this was happening to us. America would never do a thing like this to us. This is the greatest country in the world. … I didn’t feel the anger that much because I thought maybe this was the way we could show our love for our country … I was naive about so many things. The more I think about it, the more I realize how little you learn about American history. It’s just what they want you to know.”
It was not till she read W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and others that she came to truly understand the US.
By 1960 she was living in Harlem in public housing bringing up six children. At first she protested the schools. By 1963 she was protesting construction sites that would not hire Blacks or Puerto Ricans. That was how she met Malcolm X. She was amazed by his knowledge of Asian history.
She joined his Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). The police regularly came to their public meetings, but one day they did not. On that day three men started shooting. Malcolm X was falling backwards. She ran to the stage:
“[I] picked up his head and just put it on my lap. I said, ‘Please, Malcolm … stay alive.'”
She went on to protest against the Vietnam War, for Puerto Rican independence (taking over the Statute of Liberty in 1977), for freeing political prisoners, like Mumia, and for prison reform:
“Do you know there are 2 million people in prison in America? That’s almost a country. The treatment of prisoners is so bad that Abu Ghraib has nothing on places like Corcoran and San Quentin.”
She was against the War on Terror.
She also pushed for ethnic studies and reparations for Black, Native and Japanese Americans. In 1988 the US government, in part because of her, paid reparations for the Japanese American internment.
She served as a bridge between Black and Asian American activists and between those on the east and west coast.
Heroes: Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Fidel Castro and Osama bin Laden:
“Besides being strong leaders who brought consciousness to their people, they all had severe dislike for the US government and those who held power in the US. I think all of them felt the US government and its spokesmen were all arrogant, racist, hypocritical, self-righteous, and power hungry.”
– Abagond, 2016.
- Welcome to Asian American History Month 2016
- Japanese American internment
- Black Power
- James Baldwin
- W.E.B. Du Bois
- The case for reparations
- mass incarceration