Yuri Kochiyama

Lysiane Sublet – Switzerland

“Remember that consciousness is power. Consciousness is education and knowledge,” said Yuri Kochiyama, who spent an important part of her life fighting for the human rights. The 19th of May was Yuri Kochiyama’s 95th birthday. Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese-American, who was born in 1921 as Mary Yuriko Nakahara, was raised in San Pedro, California. Months after the Pearl Harbor bombardment, Yuri and her family were sent to a World War II internment camp and it is at that moment that she started to see tla-me-yuri-kochiyama-20140604he world with all new eyes and that she understood how important it was to fight for human rights.

During the war, she met her husband, Bill Kochiyama, who was also a Japanese-American. In 1960, Yuri moved with him to Harlem, where she gave birth to six children. She lived in a housing project with African and Puerto-Rican and that is what inspired her interest in Civil Rights Movement. She fought by their side for better schools and safer streets.

In 1963, Yuri first met Malcolm X, and from this moment she radicalized her activism. Then she plunged into action to help Puerto-Rican and African rights, nuclear disarmament and reparations for Japanese American internees. Yuri met Malcolm X during a protest of Puerto-Rican and African construction workers. She saw many children and teenagers run in the same direction and then she realized it was for Malcolm X arrival. She was so surprised and also so happy to see him, but she felt bad not being Black, because she thought she wouldn’t have the chance to talk to him. Yuri finally yelled and asked him if she could shake his hand. First surprised and suspicious that an Asian woman was interested in shaking his hand, Malcolm asked Yuri why it was important for her. She answered that it was because he “was giving directions for his people.” From then, a friendship was born between them two.

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In the 1980s, Yuri and her husband pushed the government to apologize for Japanese-American internees through the Civil Liberties Act, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1988. She was a huge source of inspiration for younger generations of activists, especially for the Asian-American community.

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In 2014, Yuri Kochimaya died of natural causes in Berkeley, California, at age of 93. According to her family, she died peacefully in her sleep.

I chose to write about this inspiring woman because she touched me. There are still a lot of issues in this world and there are still many things to do for the human rights. In my opinion, it is very important that some people devote themselves to help minority communities to be more accepted. No one should suffer because of one’s race, sex, sexual orientation, or because of the way they want to live. Everyone should be allowed to be oneself and I feel very concerned about all kind of injustices related to that. I really hope that one day all of us will succeed in being equals and I admire people like Yuri Kochiyama, who fights for that right.

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