Blue Scholars - Yuri Kochiyama
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Born Mary Nakahara, Yuri was raised in a San Pedro, California. Mostly sheltered during her childhood, she grew up in a predominately white neighborhood with a lifestyle that included sports and Sunday school.
Her life changed on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese Empire bombed Pearl Harbor. Soon after the bombings, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested her father, whom they considered a “suspect” who could threaten national security. While her father was in federal prison he was denied medical care and by the time he was released in January, he became too sick to speak. Her father died the day after his release.
Right after the death of her father, the U.S. government ordered Yuri, her mother and brother to leave their home in San Pedro. They were moved into a horse stable in Southern California for a couple months and then moved again to Jerome, Arkansas, a Japanese internment camp where they lived for the next three years. While interned, she met her future husband, Bill Kochiyama, a Nisei Soldier fighting for the United States. The couple got married right after the war.
Human Activist Work
In 1960, Kochiyama and her husband Bill moved to Harlem in New York City and joined the Harlem Parents Committee. She became acquainted with Malcolm X and was a member of his Organization of Afro-American Unity, following his departure from the Nation of Islam. She was present at his assassination on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, and held him in her arms as he lay dying.
In 1977, Kochiyama joined the group of Puerto Ricans that took over the Statue of Liberty to draw attention to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence.Kochiyama and other activists demanded the release of five Puerto Rican nationalists that were jailed in the United States for more than 20 years. Despite a strong movement, they all “had planned to give up peacefully when the police came, but we seized the statue for nine hours,” according to her. The five Puerto Ricans were eventually released.
Kochiyama also became a mentor during the Asian American movement that grew during and after the Vietnam War protests. Many young activists came to her for help for several of the Asian American protests. Due to her experience and her skill in connecting Black and Asian issues, Yuri and her husband were able to get reparations and government apologies for some injustices against Asian American , like the Japanese internments. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988 which, among other things, awarded $20,000 to each internee still alive. The process of issuing checks still continues to this day.
Over the years, Kochiyama has dedicated herself to various causes, such as the rights of political prisoners, freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal, nuclear disarmament, and reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned during the war.
In 2005, Kochiyama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through the “1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” project.
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