“So, transform yourself first… Because you are young and have dreams and want to do something meaningful, that in itself, makes you our future and our hope. Keep expanding your horizon, decolonize your mind, and cross borders.”
Photo Credit: Kochiyama family photo
Yuri Kochiyama was an Asian American and civil rights activist. She was born in San Pedro, California in 1921 to Japanese immigrants. She spent her early twenties in a Japanese American concentration camp alongside her family in Arkansas during World War II as result of the Executive Order 9066. In response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the order imprisoned approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific coast in various camps across the U.S. for nearly three years. Growing up in a predominantly white area, she developed a racial pride in the all-Japanese interment. Kochiyama later actively fought for redress and reparations for former Japanese American internees following the end of the war, which eventually led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that awarded each Japanese American internment survivor with $20,000. She used this victory to advocate for reparations for African Americans. Her involvement with Black, Latino, Native American, and Asian American liberation and empowerment after her family’s move to Harlem, New York made her a staple at many of the civil rights protests and rallies fighting ongoing racism and discrimination in the U.S. Kochiyama is well known for the famous photo that appeared in Life magazine, in which she is seen holding Malcolm X in her arms right after he was assassinated. Kochiyama continued to be active in the fight against injustice after Malcom X’s assassination even in her 90s and often encouraged the next generation become politically involved. She remains one of the most prominent Asian American activists of the 20th century for her six decades of intensive social justice efforts in the fight against racism in all its many forms.