Yuri Kochiyama

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Yuri Kochiyama
Kochiyama at Central Park anti-war demonstration c. 1968
Mary Yuriko Nakahara

(1921-05-19)May 19, 1921
DiedJune 1, 2014(2014-06-01) (aged 93)
Berkeley, California, U.S.
EducationCompton College
OccupationCivil rights activist
Bill Kochiyama
(m. 1946; died 1993)

Yuri Kochiyama (河内山 百合子 (ユリ・コウチヤマ), Kōchiyama Yuriko, formerly Mary Yuriko Nakahara; May 19, 1921 – June 1, 2014) was an American civil rights activist. Influenced by her Japanese-American family's experience in an American internment camp, her association with Malcolm X, and her Maoist and Islamic beliefs, she advocated for many causes, including black separatism, the anti-war movement, reparations for Japanese-American internees, and the rights of political prisoners.

Early life and education[edit]

Mary Yuriko Nakahara was born on May 19, 1921, in San Pedro, California, to Japanese immigrants Seiichi Nakahara, who was a fish merchant entrepreneur, and Tsuyako (Sawaguchi) Nakahara, a college-educated homemaker and piano teacher. She had a twin brother, Peter, and an older brother, Arthur. Her family was relatively affluent, and she grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. In her youth, she attended a Presbyterian church and taught Sunday school. Kochiyama attended San Pedro High School, where she served as the first female student body officer, wrote for the school newspaper, and played on the tennis team. She graduated from high school in 1939. She attended Compton College, where she studied English, journalism, and art. Kochiyama graduated from Compton in 1941.[1]

Internment of Japanese-Americans[edit]

Her life changed on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese Empire bombed Pearl Harbor. Soon after she returned home from church, FBI agents arrested her father, as he was a potential threat to national security. He was in poor health, having just come out of the hospital from surgery.[2][3] The FBI was suspicious of photographs of Japanese naval ships found in the family home and his friendship with prominent Japanese, including Ambassador Kichisaburō Nomura.[4] Nakahara's six-week detention aggravated his health problems, and by the time he was released on January 20, 1942, he had become too sick to speak. Her father died the day after his release.[1]

Soon after the death of her father, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced out approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific coast and interned them at various camps across the United States. Yuri, her mother, and her brother were "evacuated" to a converted horse stable at the Santa Anita Assembly Center for several months and then moved again to the War Relocation Authority internment camp at Jerome, Arkansas, where they lived for the next two years. While interned, she met her future husband, Bill Kochiyama, a Nisei soldier fighting for the United States. The couple married in 1946.[1] They moved to New York in 1948, had six children, and lived in public housing for the next twelve years. In 1960, Kochiyama and her husband moved their family to Harlem and joined the Harlem Parents Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

Life as an activist[edit]

External image
image icon "The Violent End of the Man Called Malcolm", LIFE, March 5, 1965. Photo of Kochiyama cradling the dying Malcolm X's head.[5]

Civil rights movement[edit]

Kochiyama met the African-American activist Malcolm X, at the time a prominent member of the Nation of Islam,[6] in October 1963 during a protest against the arrest of about 600 minority construction workers in Brooklyn, who had been protesting for jobs.[6][7] Kochiyama joined his pan-Africanist Organization of Afro-American Unity. FBI files described her as a "ring leader" of black nationalists and a "Red Chinese agent."[8]

She was present at his assassination on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York City, and held him in her arms as he lay dying[8]—a famous photo appeared in Life capturing that moment.[9] Kochiyama also had close relationships with many other revolutionary nationalist leaders including Robert F. Williams who gave Kochiyama her first copy of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.[10][11][12] Kochiyama became a mentor to the radical end of the Asian American movement that grew during and after the Vietnam War protests.

In the mid-1960s, Kochiyama joined the Revolutionary Action Movement, a black nationalist organization dedicated to urban guerrilla warfare which was one of the first organizations in the black liberation movement to attempt to construct an ideology based on a synthesis of the thought of Malcolm X, Marx, Lenin, and Mao Zedong.[13] In 1968 she was one of the few non-blacks invited to join the Republic of New Africa which advocated the establishment of a separate black nation in the Southern United States. Kochiyama joined, and subsequently sided with, an RNA faction which felt that the need to build a separate black nation was even more important than the struggle for civil rights in Northern cities.[14] After Kochiyama became a "citizen" of the RNA she decided to drop her "slave name" Mary and used only the name Yuri.[15]

Several members of Asian Americans for Action along with their guests in 1973. Kochiyama is the woman standing second from the left.

In 1971, Kochiyama secretly converted to Sunni Islam, and began traveling to the Sankore mosque in Greenhaven Prison, Stormville, New York, to study and worship with Imam Rasul Suleiman.[16]

In 1975, Kochiyama's eldest son, Billy, died by suicide. This followed a 1966 car accident that resulted in Billy's leg amputation. The accident later led to many mental health issues for her son.[17]

In 1977, Kochiyama joined a group of Puerto Ricans who took over the Statue of Liberty to draw attention to the movement for Puerto Rican independence.[18] Kochiyama and other activists demanded the release of four Puerto Rican nationalists convicted of attempted murder—Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, and Irving Flores Rodríguez—who in 1954 had opened fire in the House of Representatives, injuring five congressmen. The nationalists occupied the statue for nine hours before giving up peacefully when the police moved in. President Carter pardoned the attempted assassins in 1979.[19]

Support for political prisoners[edit]

Kochiyama supported people she saw as political prisoners and victims of FBI oppression.[20] She worked on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an African-American activist sentenced to death in 1982 for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. She was a friend and supporter of Assata Shakur, an African-American activist and member of the former Black Liberation Army (BLA), who had been convicted of the first-degree murder of a New Jersey State Trooper before escaping from U.S. prison and receiving asylum in Cuba. She stated that to her Shakur was like "the female Malcolm [X] or the female Mumia [Abu-Jamal]."[21] She also supported Marilyn Buck, a feminist poet, who was imprisoned for her participation in Shakur's 1979 prison escape, the 1981 Brink's robbery and the 1983 U.S. Senate bombing.[22] Yuri was also in correspondence with Mtayari Shabaka Sundiata, her first teacher in the Republic of New Africa's (RNA) Nation Building class, for six years while he was imprisoned.[23]

In 1987, when David Wong was sentenced to life in prison, Kochiyama founded and sustained the David Wong Support Committee. After a fourteen-year battle they succeeded in exonerating Wong of the murder of a fellow inmate. Kochiyama wrote letters to, fund-raised for, and visited Wong in prison.[24][17]

East Coast Japanese Americans for Redress and Reparations[edit]

In the 1980s, as organizers of East Coast Japanese Americans for Redress and Reparations, Yuri and Bill advocated for reparations and a government apology for the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and spearheaded the campaign to bring the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to New York.[1][18] Additionally, Kochiyama founded the Day of Remembrance Committee in New York City to commemorate the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066, which caused the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988 which, among other things, awarded $20,000 to each Japanese-American internment survivor. Kochiyama used this victory to advocate for reparations for African Americans.[1] In later years, Kochiyama was active in opposing profiling of and bigotry against Muslims, Middle Easterners, and South Asians in the United States, a phenomenon she viewed as similar to the experience of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Later life and death[edit]

In 1989, Kochiyama's daughter Aichi was fatally hit by a cab. In 1993, Bill passed away.[17] Half a year later, Kochiyama joined a delegation to Peru, organized by the American Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, to gather support for Abimael Guzmán, the imprisoned leader of the Peruvian Maoist guerrilla group Shining Path.[25][26][27][page needed][28] Kochiyama stated "[t]he more I read, the more I came to completely support the revolution in Peru."[25]

Kochiyama also taught English to immigrant students and volunteered at soup kitchens and homeless shelters in New York City.[29] In Debbie Allen's television series Cool Women (2001), Kochiyama stated, "The legacy I would like to leave is that people try to build bridges and not walls."[30]

In response to the US's actions following the 2001 September 11 attacks, Kochiyama stated that "the goal of the war [on terror] is more than just getting oil and fuel. The United States is intent on taking over the world" and "it's important we all understand that the main terrorist and the main enemy of the world's people is the U.S. government."[31]

In 2004, Kochiyama published a memoir, Passing It On, which was edited by Marjorie Lee and Kochiyama's children Audee Kochiyama-Holman and Akemi Kochiyama-Sardinha.[32]

She died on June 1, 2014, at the age of 93 in Berkeley, California.[33]

Philosophy and controversies[edit]

Kochiyama has been described as a woman of "complicated political beliefs" and at times "contradictory views" who managed to combine support for both racial integration and separation.[34] She admired Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh.[25]

Interviewed in 2003, she said, "I consider Osama bin Laden as one of the people that I admire. To me, he is in the category of Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Fidel Castro ... I thank Islam for bin Laden. America's greed, aggressiveness, and self-righteous arrogance must be stopped. War and weaponry must be abolished."[25][35]

Kochiyama also supported Yū Kikumura, alleged member of the Japanese Red Army arrested in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in 1986 when he was found carrying a bomb in his luggage and subsequently convicted of planning to bomb a US Navy recruitment office in the Veterans Administration building. Kochiyama felt the 30-year sentence given to him was motivated by his political activism.[24]


Kochiyama's speeches were published in Discover Your Mission: Selected Speeches & Writings of Yuri Kochiyama (1998), compiled by Russell Muranaka.[36]

In 1992, an oral history Kochiyama recounted to Joann Faung Jean Lee was published in Lee's book Asian Americans: Oral Histories of First to Fourth Generation Americans from China, the Philippines, Japan, India, the Pacific Islands, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Her narrative has been performed by Sandra Oh (in 2005) and Deepa Fernandes in 2007.[37][38]

During her life, Kochiyama was the subject of many biographical works. She was the subject of Japanese-American filmmaker Rea Tajiri's 1993 documentary film Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice, co-produced by African-American filmmaker Pat Saunders'.[39] In 2005, Diane Carol Fujino published a biography of Kochiyama, Heartbeat of a Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama.[27][page needed] She, along with Angela Davis, were the subjects of the 2010 documentary film Mountains That Take Wing[40] by C.A. Griffith & H.L.T. Quan.[40][41]

In 2005, Kochiyama was one of 1,000 women collectively nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through the "1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005" project.[7][42] In 2007, Yuri and Malcolm X, by Japanese-American playwright, Tim Toyama, was first put on by the East West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Los Angeles.[8][43][44] The next year, Marlan Warren's play Bits of Paradise, which focuses on Kochiyama's life, was showcased at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco.

In 2010, Kochiyama received an honorary doctorate from California State University, East Bay.[29]

The Yuri Kochiyama Multicultural Lounge, located within the South Quad dormitory on the University of Michigan's Central Campus, is dedicated in her honor. Kochiyama visited South Quad shortly before the lounge's interior was completed.[45]

Kochiyama is mentioned in the Blue Scholars' album Bayani on the title track and has a track titled in her honor in their 2011 album Cinemetropolis. The chorus of the Cinemetropolis song begins with "Cause when I grow up I wanna be just like Yuri Kochiyama."

Shortly after Kochiyama's death, upon realizing the dearth of materials documenting Kochiyama in the Smithsonian collection, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center curated "Folk Hero: Remembering Yuri Kochiyama Through Grassroots Art", a digital exhibition it characterized as a "tribute".[46][43] Kochiyama was further memorialized by the White House on its website for dedicating "her life to the pursuit of social justice, not only for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, but all communities of color."[47]

Kochiyama was featured as the representative for the letter "Y" in Kate Schatz's book Rad American Women A–Z. [48] She was later portrayed as a part of the Rad Women A-Z Initiative in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This project was supported by Lions & Rabbits Center for the Arts, Women's History Month and International Women's Rights, commissioning artists to paint the book's featured women on mechanical boxes.[49]

On May 19, 2016, Kochiyama's 95th birthday was commemorated with a Google Doodle, [50] prompting both praise[51][52] and criticism[25][53][54] of Kochiyama and Google. Notably, Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) called for a public apology from the company.[55]

Marlan Warren is producing a documentary film project, What did you do in the War, Mama?: Kochiyama's Crusaders, which features interviews with Japanese-American women internees.[39][56] As of May 2023, this project was in post-production.[57]

Media appearances[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Fujino, Diane C. (June 3, 2014). "Yuri Kochiyama". Densho Encyclopedia. Densho.org. Archived from the original on December 9, 2023. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  2. ^ Fujino 2005, pp. xv–xxi.
  3. ^ "May 19, 1921: Yuri Kochiyama Born". Zinn Education Project. Archived from the original on March 24, 2024. Retrieved February 19, 2024.
  4. ^ Murase, Kenji (June 28, 2007). "An "Enemy Alien's" Mysterious Fate". Nikkei Heritage. IX (1). National Japanese American Historical Society. Archived from the original on May 8, 2023. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  5. ^ Ross, Janell (May 19, 2016). "Google Commemorates a Very Controversial Civil-Rights Figure, Yuri Kochiyama". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 20, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Kochiyama, Yuri (1994). "The Impact of Malcolm X on Asian-American Politics and Activism". In Jennings, James (ed.). Blacks, Latinos, and Asians in Urban America: Status and Prospects for Politics and Activism. Westpost, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 129–141. ISBN 978-0-275-94934-1.
  7. ^ a b Selby, Jenn (June 2, 2014), "Yuri Kochiyama dead: Japanese American human rights activist, revolutionary, and close Malcolm X ally dies aged 93", The Independent, archived from the original on May 7, 2022, retrieved May 28, 2016
  8. ^ a b c Wang, Hansi Lo (August 19, 2013). "Not Just A 'Black Thing': An Asian-American's Bond With Malcolm X". NPR. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  9. ^ Cosgrove, Ben (June 2, 2014). "Yuri Kochiyama, at Malcolm X's Side When He Died, Is Dead at 93". TIME. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
  10. ^ "In Memory of Yuri Kochiyama, 1921–2014 With Justice in Her Heart... All of Her Life", Revolution, Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, June 9, 2014, retrieved May 28, 2016
  11. ^ Fujino 2005, p. 194.
  12. ^ Wang, Hansi Lo (June 2, 2014). "Yuri Kochiyama, Activist And Former World War II Internee, Dies At 93". NPR.org. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  13. ^ Fujino 2005, p. 162.
  14. ^ Fujino, Diane C. (2008). "The Black Liberation Movement and Japanese American Activism: The Radical Activism of Richard Aoki and Yuri Kochiyama". In Ho, Fred; Mullen, Bill V. (eds.). Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections Between African Americans and Asian Americans. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-8223-4281-6.
  15. ^ Fujino, Diane C. (1997). "Revolution's from the Heart: The Making of an Asian American Woman Activist, Yuri Kochiyama". In Shah, Sonia (ed.). Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire. Boston: South End Press. pp. 173–181. ISBN 978-0-89608-575-6.
  16. ^ Fujino 2005, p. 206.
  17. ^ a b c Aliano, Kelly. "Life Story: Yuri Kochiyama". Women & the American Story. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  18. ^ a b "May 19, 1921: Yuri Kochiyama Born". Zinn Education Project. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  19. ^ "The Statue of Liberty Has Long Been a Magnet for Protest". HISTORY. August 23, 2018. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  20. ^ Fujino, Diane Carol (2013). Zhao, Xiaojian; Park, Edward J. W. (eds.). Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, Economic, and Political History. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. p. 666. ISBN 978-1-59884-240-1.
  21. ^ Fujino 2005, p. 232.
  22. ^ Fujino 2005, p. 311.
  23. ^ Kochiyama, Yuri (2004). Passing it on : a memoir. Marjorie Lee, Akemi Kochiyama-Sardinha, Audee Kochiyama-Holman. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press. ISBN 0-934052-38-7. OCLC 55693404.
  24. ^ a b Fujino 2005, p. 282.
  25. ^ a b c d e Matthews, Dylan (May 19, 2016). "Yuri Kochiyama, today's Google Doodle, fought for civil rights – and praised Osama bin Laden". Vox. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  26. ^ Mikaberidze, Alexander, ed. (2013). Atrocities, Massacres, and War Crimes: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 598–. ISBN 978-1-59884-926-4.
  27. ^ a b Fujino 2005.
  28. ^ "Shining-Path". Encyclopædia Britannica. March 7, 2016. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  29. ^ a b Zepel, Barry (May 6, 2010). "Civil rights leader to receive honorary doctorate from CSUEB". California State University, East Bay. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  30. ^ Kochiyama, Maya (August 24, 2011). "A Heart Without Boundaries – Part 3". Discover Nikkei. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  31. ^ Fujino 2005, p. 310.
  32. ^ Kochiyama, Yuri (2004). Passing it on : a memoir. Marjorie Lee, Akemi Kochiyama-Sardinha, Audee Kochiyama-Holman. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press. ISBN 0-934052-38-7. OCLC 55693404.
  33. ^ Japanese-American Activist Who Helped Win Reparations, Witnessed Malcolm X Shooting Dies at 93, Slate.com, June 4, 2014. Retrieved February 1, 2020
  34. ^ Katagiri, Yasuhiro (May 2006). "A Passion for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness". H-1960s. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  35. ^ Nopper, Tamara Kil Ja Kim (2003). "Yuri Kochiyama: On War, Imperialism, Osama bin Laden, and Black-Asian Politics". The Objector: A Magazine of Conscience and Resistance. Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. Archived from the original on October 11, 2003. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  36. ^ "UCLA Asian American Studies Center Publishes Yuri Kochiyama's Speeches and Writings".
  37. ^ History, Voices of a People's (July 3, 2008), Sandra Oh reads Yuri Kochiyama, "Then Came the War" (1991) on Japanese internment, retrieved May 6, 2023
  38. ^ "Yuri Kochiyama: "Then Came the War"". Zinn Education Project. August 9, 2015. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  39. ^ a b c d "Yuri Kochiyama". IMDb. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  40. ^ a b "Mountains That Take Wing: Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama – A Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation (2010)". IMDb. June 17, 2010.
  41. ^ "Women Make Movies – Mountains that Take Wing: Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama A Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation". wmm.com.
  42. ^ "The initiative: 1000 PeaceWomen". PeaceWomen Across the Globe. Retrieved May 27, 2016.
  43. ^ a b "Folk Hero: Remembering Yuri Kochiyama Through Grassroots Art". Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Accessed 1 June 2016.
  44. ^ "Drama Queen with Judith Bowman: Yuri and Malcolm X". Archived from the original on June 25, 2016. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  45. ^ "Yuri Kochiyama Multicultural Lounge – Michigan Housing". Retrieved February 2, 2024.
  46. ^ Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund [@aaldef] (June 5, 2014). ".@SmithsonianAPA: 14 artists pay tribute to #YuriKochiyama" (Tweet). Retrieved May 28, 2016 – via Twitter.
  47. ^ Ahuja, Kiran (June 6, 2014). "Honoring the Legacy of Yuri Kochiyama". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved May 28, 2016 – via National Archives.
  48. ^ "BookDragon | Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl". smithsonianapa.org. May 26, 2015. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  49. ^ "Rad Women A-Z Initiative". Lions & Rabbits Center for the Arts. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  50. ^ "Yuri Kochiyama's 95th Birthday". May 19, 2016. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  51. ^ Cavna, Michael (May 19, 2016). "Yuri Kochiyama: Today's fierce Google Doodle salutes former Japanese internee's lifetime of activism". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  52. ^ Hinckley, Story (May 19, 2016). "Yuri Kochiyama: a nisei ahead of her time". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  53. ^ Tobin, Jonathan (May 20, 2016). "Hating America at Google". Commentary. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  54. ^ Hemingway, Mark (May 20, 2016). "Google, Smithsonian Honor Activist Who Praised Bin Laden, Mao, Terrorists". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  55. ^ Trujillo, Mario (May 20, 2016). "GOP senator slams Google for tribute to controversial civil rights figure". The Hill. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  56. ^ "What did you do in the War, Mama? Kochiyama's Crusaders". sites.google.com. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  57. ^ What Did You Do in the War, Mama? Kochiyama's Crusaders - IMDb, retrieved May 6, 2023
  58. ^ "My America..." Renee Tajima— PeÑa. Retrieved May 6, 2023.


Further reading[edit]

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