By MIYA IWATAKI
Activist and beloved community leader Yuri Kochiyama, who passed away on June 1 at the age of 93, will be remembered at a memorial on Sunday, Aug. 31, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Aratani Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo.
The program, “Celebrating the Life of Yuri Kochiyama,” will honor her rich life and her impact on thousands of people whose lives she touched locally, nationally and internationally.
Personal memories, music and spoken word by her family and those who have known and worked with Yuri will create a program of shared love, learning and respect for her extraordinary life and her many contributions to civil and human rights causes.
Born Mary Yuri Nakahara in San Pedro, she was a leader, an organizer, that special person with an ability to draw people to her, to causes, and to one another. The first female student body officer at San Pedro High, where she was also a sports writer, Yuri became known by the 442nd soldiers during World War II as a “one-woman USO” in Jerome, Ark., working to provide a place of comfort and a taste of home for these brave soldiers who went on to win more medals than any other Army unit of its size. It was there she met, fell in love with and married 442nd S/Sgt. Bill Kochiyama. They moved to Harlem and had six children — Billy, Aichi, Audee, Eddie, Jimmy and Tommy.
New York in the ’60s was rife with issues and actions — another palette for Yuri’s life work. She met and became a disciple and friend to Malcolm X. She worked with Asian American activists on the East Coast on many issues, including the struggle for JA redress/reparations. The small Kochiyama apartment in Harlem became the meeting (and sleeping) headquarters for activists from throughout the world.
As such, Yuri was instrumental in bringing the East Coast and West Coast Asian movements together. And she had the ability to and provided the inspiration for uniting activists from the Black, Puerto Rican, Asian Pacific Islander and international movements across the country through meetings and rallies.
Please visit facebook.com/RememberingYuriKochiyama. More can be learned about Yuri in a number of books, including “Passing It On” (2004), edited by Marjorie Lee, Audee Kochiyama-Holman and Akemi Kochiyama-Sardinha; “Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama” (2005) by Diane Fujino; and two documentaries, “Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice” (1993) by Pat Saunders and Rea Tajiri and “Mountains That Take Wing: Angela Davis and Yuri Kochiyama” (2009) by C.A. Griffith and H.L.T. Quan. Additionally, “My America…or Honk If You Love Buddha” (1997) by Rene Tajima-Pena includes a special segment on Bill and Yuri.
Yuri lost her beloved husband Bill in 1993, her son Billy in 1975, and daughter Aichi in 1989. She is survived by her children, Audee Kochiyama-Holman, Eddie (Pamela Wu-Kochiyama), Jimmy (Alison), and Tommy (Julie), nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The family requests no flowers.
(Editor’s note: A Northern California memorial was held on Aug. 3 at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland. A New York memorial will be held Saturday, Sept. 27, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at First Corinthian Baptist Church, 1912 Adam C. Powell Blvd.)