Kochiyama Remembered as Dedicated Leader for Social Justice

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The family of Yuri Kochiyama issued the following statement on June 2:

“Life-long activist Yuri Kochiyama passed away peacefully in her sleep in Berkeley, Calif. on the morning of Sunday, June 1, at the age of 93. Over a span of more than 50 years, Yuri worked tirelessly for social and political change through her activism in support of social justice and civil and human rights movements.

The March 5, 1965 issue of Life Magazine included this photo of Yuri Kochiyama comforting Malcolm X as he lay dying.

The March 5, 1965 issue of Life Magazine included this photo in which Yuri Kochiyama is trying to comfort Malcolm X after he was shot.

“Yuri was born on May 19, 1921 in San Pedro, Calif. and spent two years in a concentration camp in Jerome, Ark. during World War II. After the war, she moved to New York City and married Bill Kochiyama, a decorated veteran of the all-Japanese American 442nd combat unit of the U.S. Army.

“Yuri’s activism started in Harlem in the early 1960s, where she participated in the Harlem Freedom Schools, and later, the African American, Asian American and Third World movements for civil and human rights and in the opposition against the Vietnam War.

“In 1963, she met Malcolm X. Their friendship and political alliance radically changed her life and perspective. She joined his group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, to work for racial justice and human rights.

“Over the course of her life, Yuri was actively involved in various movements for ethnic studies, redress and reparations for Japanese Americans, African Americans and Native Americans, political prisoners’ rights, Puerto Rican independence and many other struggles.

“Yuri is survived by her living children — Audee, Eddie, Jimmy and Tommy, grandchildren — Zulu, Akemi, Herb, Ryan, Traci, Maya, Aliya, Christopher, and Kahlil, and great-grandchildren — Kai, Leilani, Kenji, Malia and Julia.”

Following are some of the eulogies from Asian American community leaders and organizations.

• Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus: “Yesterday, the world lost an American icon with the passing of Yuri Kochiyama. A tireless civil rights activist and fierce coalition-builder, Yuri was at the heart of numerous movements, including efforts to provide redress for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“With her deep commitment to creating a more just society, she mentored and empowered generations of Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders. While she is no longer with us, her life and legacy will continue to inspire Americans for generations to come.”

"Yuri," a biography of Yuri Kochiyama written by Mayumi Nakazawa and published in Japan.

“Yuri,” a biography of Yuri Kochiyama written by Mayumi Nakazawa and published in Japan.

• Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), CAPAC chair emeritus: “Today we celebrate the life, and mourn the loss, of an incredible civil rights activist and community leader. Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American who, like me, was interned during World War II, used her experiences from both the war and living in the housing projects in New York City as fuel for her activism and community organizing. During a time of incredible racial tension, her work was inclusive of all communities and connected people across many different walks of life.

“Mrs. Kochiyama was a dedicated leader who successfully fought for redress for the internment of Japanese Americans. She was a true visionary and trailblazer. She will be missed.”

• Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland): “I was deeply saddened to learn of Yuri Kochiyama’s passing yesterday in Berkeley. A champion for social justice and equality, Yuri’s tireless commitment to activism spanned generations. From her experience living in an internment camp during World War II, her fight to secure reparations for Japanese American internment survivors, and her close friendship with Malcom X, Yuri sought to root out racism and injustice in every form.

“The world will miss her boundless optimism and wisdom, but her legacy lives on in the people she inspired and the change she affected.”

• Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis): “You shared your birthdate, May 19, with Malcolm X, along with a thirst for justice. You cradled his head as he lay dying on the floor of New York’s Audubon Ballroom, felled by an assassin’s bullets on Feb. 21, 1965.

“Today, as your spirit soars above our nation’s troubled landscape, violence and inequality continue to rage. Thank you for what you taught us and told us: ‘Tomorrow’s world is yours to build.’”

• Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco): “Yuri Kochiyama passed away this week. She was a giant in our community and the meaning of what it meant to be a human rights activist. I was honored to meet her a few times during my days at the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and had the pleasure to work with her daughter Audee Kochiyama-Holman. She was a model to all of us.”

• San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi: “One of our community’s greatest heroines and freedom fighters, Yuri Kochiyama, has passed. We will miss you but will never forget what you taught us! You taught us to stand up for what we believe and not be afraid. Thank you and rest in peace!”

• David K. Yoo, director and professor, UCLA Asian American Studies Center: “Yuri Kochiyama’s stint as a scholar in residence at UCLA in 1998 enriched the life of our Center and the campus. Those connections deepened as we were honored to work with her on the publication of her memoir, ‘Passing It On’ (UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2004). The center is also honored to house some of Yuri Kochiyama’s papers relating to the Asian American movement. We are grateful to be part of preserving her legacy for future generations. Our condolences go out to her family and friends. Rest in power and peace.”

Yuri Kochiyama with her daughter Audee Kochiyama-Holman, who co-edited her memoir, "Passing It On." (UCLA)

Yuri Kochiyama with her daughter Audee Kochiyama-Holman, who co-edited her memoir, “Passing It On.” (UCLA)

• Bruce Embrey, co-chair of the Manzanar Committee: “This is a tremendous loss for our communities because she led by example … Whether it was around redress and reparations, or the rights of the wrongly convicted, Yuri Kochiyama was fearless. Her life’s work will surely inspire others to work to make our world a better and more just place … On behalf of the Manzanar Committee, I want to extend our condolences to her family. She will be sorely missed.”

• Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Washington, D.C.): “Yuri was a trailblazer. She was ahead of her time as she worked to make life better not just for Asian Americans, but for many who had been wronged or had not received justice. We mourn her loss, and are committed to carrying on her legacy as we work every day to address the human and civil rights issues faced by Asian Americans and other vulnerable and underserved communities.”

• Sharon M. Wong, OCA president: “As many of you may already be aware, Yuri Kochiyama passed away over the weekend at the age of 93. She was a prominent and influential Asian American social justice, human rights, and civil rights activist who served as an inspiration to all civil rights leaders. Yuri was a lifelong advocate who staunchly supported and advanced civil rights, redress and reparations for Japanese Americans, various movements for ethnic studies, and other causes.

“Yuri demonstrated the need for our community to work within and outside ourselves. She was perhaps most well-known for her friendship with Malcolm X, her work within the African American and Native American movements, and the bridges she built between communities of color. Civil rights is not a zero-sum game and her work has single-handedly demonstrated this principle. Yuri has shown us that the movement cannot only lift one community but must simultaneously uplift all of us. In 2001, we were honored to award her with the OCA Outstanding Citizen Achievement Award at our National Convention in Seattle, Wash. for her work and passion for our community.

“She has paved many roads for our communities and built strong bonds with other communities through her work and dedication to justice. Though she may no longer be with us, her legacy lives on as a new generation of leaders continues the march toward equality and equity for all. Let us remember her with gratitude and open minds.”

• Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco): “We have received the devastating news that civil rights hero Yuri Kochiyama passed away in Berkeley, Calif. on June 1, 2014. Yuri was a legendary champion of civil rights who dedicated her life to the pursuit of social justice across communities of color. Yuri was also the mother of our dear colleague Audee Kochiyama-Holman, who has been on our staff for 19 years.

“Yuri’s activism began during World War II, when she and her family spent two years in an internment camp. Decades later, Yuri and her husband Bill fought for reparations for Japanese Americans through the Civil Liberties Act, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1988.

“While living in Harlem in the 1960s, Yuri participated in the Asian American, Black and Third World movements for civil and human rights. Through Yuri’s friendship and political alliance with Malcolm X, she joined the Organization for Afro-American Unity. Yuri was at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated and the moment was captured in Life Magazine, with Yuri cradling Malcolm X.

“Yuri dedicated herself to a lifetime of activism in so many causes, ranging from advocacy for political prisoners who were victims of human rights violations, to anti-apartheid organizing and international liberation movements including Puerto Rican independence. Her commitment to social justice has inspired an entire generation of activists.

“Rest in power, Yuri, and thank you for your legacy and inspiration.”

Kochiyama’s family has created a memorial Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RememberingYuriKochiyama.

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