Today marks the birthday of Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American activist who dedicated her life to social justice movements and the liberation of so many different communities and people. In her 20s, Kochiyama and her family were detained and sent to a concentration camp in Arkansas during World War II when the U.S. implemented Executive Order 9066. This incident would fuel her political awakening (NPR).
She would become a staunch defender of human rights, advocating for Japanese Americans, and was also a vocal advocate for Black nationalism, Puerto Rican independence, and the treatment of Muslims post-9/11.
Her work and activism were paramount in passing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This federal law granted reparations of $20,000 and a formal presidential apology to the Japanese-American survivors of the U.S. concentration camps (PBS).
• Learn the importance of solidarity and how to build it across different identities.
• Participate in the National Nikkei Reparations Coalition Week of Action starting 5/21 as they mobilize the Japanese American community to support Black reparations. You can also donate to the organizations organizing it like Tsuru for Solidarity, Nikkei Progressives, and more.
Yuri Kochiyama worked alongside the hibakusha, the survivors of the 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and advocated for nuclear disarmament. She stood in solidarity with the Young Lords as they took over the Statue of Liberty in 1977 to raise awareness of the fight for Puerto Rican independence (KQED). And she was active in the Civil Rights Movement and Black empowerment alongside Malcolm X.
Kochiyama’s commitment to revolutionary activism and human liberation allowed her to build solidarity among all activists and oppressed people. So in honor of what would be her 101st birthday, here are some notable quotes that commemorate her life and legacy.
On Her Political Awakening
“I was red, white, and blue when I was growing up. I taught Sunday school and was very, very American. But I was also provincial. We were just kids rooting for our high school…
Everything changed for me on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. On that very day, Dec. 7, the FBI came and took my father. He had just come home from the hospital the day before. For several days we didn’t know where they had taken him. Then we found out that he was taken to the federal prison at Terminal Island. Overnight, things changed for us” (SF Bay View).
On Using History to Build Solidarity
“Malcolm [X] used to always reiterate study history and learn about ourselves and others. There is more commonality in all of our lives than we think. It will help us understand one another. Knowledge of history can be used as a weapon to divide us further or seek truth and learn from past errors and flagrant remisses. Our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society than we have seen” (Discover Nikkei).
“Remember that consciousness is power. Consciousness is education and knowledge. Consciousness is becoming aware. It is the perfect vehicle for students. Consciousness-raising is pertinent for power, and be sure that power will not be abusively used, but used for building trust and goodwill domestically and internationally. Tomorrow’s world is yours to build” (Global Citizen).
On Activism and Marginalized Communities
“Do you know there are 2 million people in prison in America?” she said during a speech in 2005. “That’s almost a country. The treatment of prisoners is so bad that Abu Ghraib has nothing on places like Corcoran and San Quentin” (SF Gate).
“Serve the people at the bottom. The people at the top don’t need your help” (AAWW).