Feminist Hero Friday: Yuri Kochiyama

by Abaki Beck

Yesterday was the 95th birthday of radical Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama, who passed away in 2014. (Yesterday was also the birthday of Malcolm X, who Yuri became friends with in the 1960s).

Yuri was born and raised in California to Japanese immigrant parents. Tragically, as a young woman, her and her family were forced to move to a concentration camp in Arkansas after President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the forcible relocation of over one hundred thousand Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants during World War II. She later moved to Harlem with her husband and had children. Her activism began by joining other parent-activists in Harlem in the 1960s. Yuri soon became a prominent human rights activist, and was involved with many revolutionary movements, including black liberation, the struggle for Puerto Rican independence, and advocacy for political prisoners. Yuri is an outstanding role model and inspiration not only as an activist, but as an ally to other communities of color. But it is best to learn from Yuri, from Yuri.

Thus, in honor of her birthday, here are some of Yuri’s words of wisdom:

“I think today part of the missions would be to fight against racism and polarization, learn from each others’ struggle, but also understand national liberation struggles — that ethnic groups need their own space and they need their own leaders. They need their own privacy.”

“My priority would be to fight against polarization. Because this whole society is so polarized. I think there are so many issues that all people of color should come together on, and there are forces in this country who want this polarization to take place.”

“Unless we know ourselves and our history, and other people and their history, there is really no way that we can really have positive kind of interaction where there is real understanding.”

“Remembering what happened, not to my happened to my father, but to Japanese as a whole, I see similar things that happened to other ethnics. Years later, I would see that these kind of things happened to others all along, all the time, especially to blacks.”

“Political philosophy is not just something you obtain, it’s something that you develop through your lifetime. And of course, as different events happen to you and different people you meet and writings that you read, your philosophy is going to change.”